Yes, Israel made a sickening decision to release high-profile terrorist murderers in exchange for the PA’s consent to sit at a table and insist that Israel’s generous concessions do not suffice. However, it seems to have come together with a consolation prize of sorts: The announcement by Housing Minister Uri Ariel of tenders for the construction of nearly 400 new housing units in Judea and Samaria, and another close to 800 in three of Jerusalem’s post-’67 neighborhoods.
Though the decision was roundly criticized by many – most notably and sharply, the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid – it was coordinated with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The latter was surely aware that the harsh criticism he is facing from nearly all quarters on his yielding to U.S. and PA demands to free Israel’s most hated murderers would be slightly toned down by his consent to enable Jews to build homes in the holiest locations of their Promised Land.
Housing Minister Ariel himself said, “No other country in the world accepts dictates from other countries as to where it is permitted to build and where not…. This is the correct thing to do at this time, in terms of both Zionism and economics.”
The decision is expected to ease some of the pressure on Israel’s spiraling housing market. Four hundred apartments are to be built in Gilo, Israel’s southern-most neighborhood, practically adjacent to Gush Etzion, as are 210 in Homat Shmuel (Har Homa) and 183 in Pisgat Ze’ev.
At the same time, 149 apartments will be sold in Efrat, 36 in Beitar (both in Gush Etzion), 117 in Ariel (Shomron), and 92 in Maaleh Adumim.
Another positive aspect of this news is that the land will be cheaper by a lot than in other areas of Israel. A plot of land in Beitar will cost 78,000 shekels, including development, and 62,000 in Ariel; near Netanya and Ramle, similar-size lots cost around 200,000 shekels each.
Solving a Critical Problem: Emigration from the City
The critical importance of new Jewish construction in eastern Yerushalayim, aside from its boost to morale, cannot be overstated. For one thing, the city’s Jewish population, while still a strong majority, has been losing ground to the Arab minority ever since 1967.
The proportion of the city’s Arab population has climbed from 26% in 1967 to 34.3% in 2006, and to 35% at the end of 2011. The #1 statistical reason for the declining Jewish population is the heavy numbers of Jews who pick up and leave the city due to housing difficulties. Some 6,400 more Jews have left the city annually in recent years than moved in – and affordable housing would have made the difference for most of them. Those who leave also cite employment difficulties, which will be obviated as more residents move in.
Can there be a more compelling reason to free up more housing units than the above? Anyone whose heart is bound up with the future of Jewish Jerusalem has to recognize just how valuable is the news of Minster Ariel’s plans to build 800 units in the above-mentioned neighborhoods.
Interestingly, the PA’s attacks on the housing decision did not include threats to walk out on this week’s scheduled “peace talks” with Israel. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose popularity among his voters is not high, fears losing the one major achievement he has brought them: the return, in exchange for nothing at all, of their murderous sons, husbands and brothers.
The PA, of course, is on shaky ground when criticizing Israel for “sabotaging” the talks. The very week that Israel decided to free murderers, the PA continued with particular intensity its encouragement of terrorist activity and hatred of those with whom it claims to want to make peace.
Abbas, who arranged the funding for the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attack in which 11 Israelis were murdered, has made himself quite clear. Just days before the latest round of current negotiations is to start, Abbas declared, “In a final resolution, we will not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.”
So says the leader of the political entity leading the international campaign accusing Israel of being a racist and apartheid state…
Jordan and Jerusalem
Though Jordan has apparently given up its claims to eastern Jerusalem – which it ruled and governed illegally for 19 years until the Six Day War – it continues to intrude on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Last week the culture ministers of Jordan and the PA signed an agreement for a three-year program of cultural cooperation between the two. The Jordanian minister stated that one month of the program will be devoted to Jerusalem, which he called “the Capital of Arab Culture.” This was not his own idea; the PA gave this title to Jerusalem back in 2009, and sought to commemorate it with official ceremonies.
Not only is such a concept illegal – the Israel-PA agreements specifically prohibit the PA from organizing events in Israeli territory, and no official PA bodies are permitted to operate within Israel – it is laughable. As detailed in this column in the past, whatever historic and cultural connections ever existed between Jerusalem and Islam were artificially manufactured for a specific, time-restricted, narrow political purpose.
To underline this point, let us note yet again that while Yerushalayim is mentioned directly in the Bible approximately 650 times, it is not mentioned even once in the Koran – and Muslims actually turn their backs on Jerusalem when they pray! It is ironic that the Muslim name for the holy city is Al-Quds, an abbreviation of a previous Arabic name of the city, “Bet Al-maKDeS,” referring to none other than the Beit HaMikdash, our holy Temple. Thus, the name the Arabs use for Jerusalem for the purpose of “Arab-izing” it is actually one that marks its Jewishness.
Today, when the Muslim word is once again thinking “Caliphate” and worldwide dominion, we must remain alert: The awakening of supposed Muslim ties to Jerusalem means that Islam wants to conquer Jerusalem for political, nationalistic, or military reasons. This phenomenon first occurred in Muhammad’s own lifetime: Seeking to win over the Jews living near his hometown of Medina, he announced that prayers would from then on be directed toward Jerusalem. As soon as he was rebuffed, however, he re-directed Muslim prayers toward Mecca. When the Muslims later conquered the Holy Land, they totally ignored Jerusalem and established their capital in Ramle.
Later centuries saw this pattern repeated at least twice more: Around the year 700, Caliph Abdel Malik, seeking to save face after the capture of Mecca and Medina by a rival Muslim leader, came up with the idea of renewing Jerusalem as “top holy city.” And some five centuries later, Salah a-Din needed to inflame his Moslem warriors against the Christian Crusaders – and suddenly, Jerusalem briefly became the focus of jihad and religious longing. For centuries thereafter, Jerusalem remained way in the background for the Muslim world, overshadowed by the cities of Mecca and Medina.
Today, once again, the Muslim world has taken to claiming Jerusalem as a pinnacle of its religious aspirations – even though as recently as 1964, when the PLO was founded, its original charter did not mention Jerusalem. It has no religious links with Jerusalem; its goal is rather quite simple: to rid the Middle East of Israel.
When Jerusalem is championed as “the Capital of Arab Culture,” it is not only foolhardy to believe this, it is dangerous.
About the Author: Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel's minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.
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