Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Jerusalem – Settlement or Capital?

I must say that I swelled with pride when I heard Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say that Jerusalem is not a settlement. And that it is the capital of Israel.(See video below)

This fact is being almost completely ignored or at least discounted by both the media and the administration. The sad thing is that there are many Jews who do not see Jerusalem in that way. They see it as a disputed territory where many Palestinians live. Never mind that the Kotel and Har HaBayis are there. Jerusalem is both the religious and historic capital of Israel since the time David HaMelech conquered it. There can be no more Jewish place than that.

Thankfully the participants at AIPAC where Netanyahu made that statement do understand that fact and applauded him when he said it.

I must also admit that it really irks me when I hear an administration official talk about Jerusalem as disputed territory. It really drives home the way they think of Israel itself. They do not in any way see Israel as a biblical heritage for the Jewish people. They see it as a response to the Holocaust in a ‘Never Again!’ sense.

Ironically it was Rabbi Meir Kahane – if I understand correctly - who coined the term, ‘Never Again!’ Rabbi Kahane was never held in any kind of esteem by American or Israeli government officals. No one would be more opposed to the US administration policy on Israel than he was. And no one would be more opposed to current Israeli policy than he. While I never agreed with his inflammatory rhetoric or some of his tactics, I understood his passion. His heart was in the right place. He understood the true relevance of Jerusalem and the entire state of Israel.

He lived those values and ultimately paid a very high price for them. I both admired Meir Kahane and at the same time was very troubled by him. Rav Ahron Soloveichik was vigorously opposed to his tactics. I recall that he took out time from Shiur once to make that clear to us.

There are some people who question whether Netanyahu should have been making these kinds of remarks in light of the recent controversy. The announcement of 1600 new housing units during a visit by the Vice President has caused quite a flap. This was widely seen as a slap in the face to Israel’s strongest ally and biggest supporter. The ally who backs up its support with money and weapons. Weapons that are indespesible to Israel’s security. Indeed this may have been the biggest rift between the two countries since the Eisenhower era when in 1956 then President Eisenhower forced Israel to retreat for the Suez Canal.

But as much as I support Netanyahu’s comments - my position on settlements is well known to readers of this blog. Just to review, I am in favor of land for peace in theory. A true peace would be worth the price. But I do not see any realistic possibility of a true peace as long as there is a dangerous radical Islamist presence in the area. Hamas and Hezbollah provide that presence in spades - courtesy of Iran. So I am opposed to ‘land for peace’ as things stand now. Nonetheless as a practical matter I have been and still am strongly opposed to makeshifts settlements in sections of the West Bank that are densely populated by Palestinians.

This does not however diminish my admiration for the courage displayed by Benjamin Netanyahu for stating the truth to power. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Period. There should never be any doubt about that. It is not a settlement. Those Jews who so cavalierly treat it like one are either ignorant about their own heritage or don’t care about it.

That said - I have not changed my mind about the error made by the Israeli government in making an announcement about building new housing in Jerusalem during an official visit by the Vice President. He had came there to show solidarity with Israel. To make that announcement then - knowing the American position and attitude was wrong and even stupid. I therefore think that Israel ought to include Jerusalem in its moratorium on new housing. Even though we do not relinquish our rightful claim to our heritage it would be a nice gesture on the part of Israel to show good faith to the American administration on this issue. It can do no real harm. Israel’s position is clear. Netanyahu reiterated it. Putting a temporary halt to construction will in no way indicate abdication of our religious and historic rights there.

So to those who might think that Netanyahu comments were impolitic and could strain relations with the US, I say don’t worry about it. No one in the US administration will blame the Prime Minister of Israel for claiming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Not anymore than they will blame the Palestinians for insisting that East Jerusalem is theirs. Why should we back off from our claims if they do not back off from theirs?

The right thing to do is to now quietly without any fanfare NOT proceed with any construction in Jerusalem until the end of Netanyahu’s declared moratorium.

If the so-called proximity (shuttle) talks commence and lead to direct talks – they will almost certainly end in failure – precisely because the positions on Jerusalem on both sides are irreconcilable. Not to mention the fact that Islamic radicals will never allow it! They will start killing Jews again to make certain of it. At that time when talks between Israel and the Palestinians break down – as they inevitably will, construction in Jerusalem can resume.