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Akiva Eldar on Har Homa

The Har Homa test*

_By Akiva Eldar <mailto:eldar@haaretz.co.il>

It is difficult to think of a place more suitable than Har Homa for
holding the first test in the spirit of Annapolis. The comparison
between Har Homa Crisis No. 2 and the development of Har Homa Crisis No.
1 can teach us whether the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has indeed
started a new track or whether all the players are stuck on the old line.

Does Ehud Olmert, who pressed for the establishment of the new
neighborhood in East Jerusalem, really see something different from the
Prime Minister's Bureau than what he saw from the office of the mayor of
Jerusalem? Will President George W. Bush pay lip service and eventually
have to eat his words, just as Bill Clinton did 10 years ago?

Meanwhile, it is difficult to find the differences. Har Homa Crisis No.
1 also broke out a short while after an American attempt to revive the
peace process. In February, 1997, a few weeks after it signed the Hebron
agreement, the Netanyahu government decided to erect 6,500 housing units
on the southern border of East Jerusalem, about one-third of them on
private land owned by Palestinians. In the Palestinian Authority (and
the Israeli peace camp) this plan was seen as another step in a scheme
to cut off their capital from the West Bank. Yasser Arafat threatened to
declare the establishment of an independent state and the Palestinian
Legislative Council announced a general strike in the territories.

T
hat crisis was the focus of Arafat's visit to the White House the
following month. Clinton asked the Palestinian leader to be sensitive to
Netanyahu's "coalition pressures." Arafat explained that he, too, had
troubles at home and begged the president to at least demand that Israel
delay the implementation of the decision to establish the neighborhood.
The president sent envoy Dennis Ross to Netanyahu with a letter in which
he demanded that the establishment of the neighborhood be postponed.

On the other side were the settlers and the activists from the right.
They were flanked by then-mayor Olmert, who a short while earlier had
pushed Netanyahu into the Western Wall tunnel - an adventure that ended
with the death of 16 Israeli soldiers and dozens of Palestinians. Olmert
declared that Har Homa was "the most substantive test of the
government's ability to withstand pressure and demonstrate leadership."
Work at the site began four days later. The U.S. secretary of state,
Madeleine Albright, called U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk at 5:30 A.M. and
instructed him to go to Netanyahu with a firm message stating that the
United States saw the establishment of the new neighborhood as "a step
that undermines everything that we are trying to do."

The ambassador made his protest, the Arabs demonstrated, the UN Security
Council met, the United States cast a veto - and Har Homa was taken off
the international agenda. Arafat licked another wound and Hamas threw
more salt on it.

The new neighborhood - or, from one point of view, the "settlement" -
which arose on the southern hills of Jerusalem became a mark of Cain on
the forehead of the Oslo camp in Ramallah. Ed Abington, who was then
American consul general in Jerusalem, said later, "Arafat understood
that we do not understand, or do not want to understand, the enormity of
the troubles that the settlements cause him at home. Arafat understood
that he was left alone in the campaign."

Netanyahu identified the weakness of the international community and
continued to nurture the settlers. The response today of spokesmen for
the Olmert government gives rise to the fear that the Annapolis
conference did not change the situation on the Israeli side. They claim
that "the neighborhood is within the area of the municipal boundaries of
Jerusalem, over which Israeli law is binding, and therefore there is no
prohibition to building there, just as there is no obstacle to building
in any other part of Israel."

We have already forgotten that the prime minister agreed that everything
would be open to negotiation, including Jerusalem. Is this the way to
build a wall to fortify the status of PA President Mahmoud Abbas? And
what will "the world" do - all those people who were in attendance at
Annapolis - if Olmert decides to hide behind "pressures from the
coalition" and approves the new construction?

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said over the weekend that new
construction in the territories does not contribute to building mutual
trust. She also stressed the special importance of refraining from moves
that could have influence a final status agreement. The UN secretary
general, Ban Ki-Moon, said that the decision to expand the neighborhood
"is not helpful."

So the gentiles say these things - and thousands of Jewish residents
laugh all the way to Har Homa. And what will happen to the spirit of
Annapolis? The same thing that happened to the spirit of Hebron.

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