Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The fight to prevent the narrow strip that makes up Israel from being divided into two states continues simultaneously on many fronts. One of the main battles is being fought in and around the holy city of Jerusalem.

Just 10 days before the last Israeli elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu boldly declared, “I’ve given instructions to immediately publish for deposit the plan to build 3,500 housing units in E-1.” In other words, the long-delayed implementation of the plan to build up an area between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim would finally begin.

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This construction would stop the creeping encroachment of illegal Palestinian Authority construction on the Maaleh Adumim area, would create a contiguous Jewish population presence between it and Jerusalem, and would all but prevent the formation of a contiguous Arab state in the area. Of course, the Arab world, with European support, strongly objects to the plan.

Given the importance of E-1, are we heartened by Netanyahu’s announcement? Can we rest assured that we have won this battle for a major part of Jerusalem and against the formation of a viable enemy PA state?

Unfortunately, no. For Netanyahu has basically recycled announcements of this sort for many years now, especially when he needs support from the nationalist camp. In October 2018, for instance, he declared that Khan al-Akhmar – the Bedouin encampment in E-1 – would be evacuated “very soon.” That was 500 days ago.

Another area of Jerusalem long in need of Jewish construction to secure Jewish contiguity in the city is Givat HaMatos. Jerusalem expert Nadav Shragai has written that this area “is one of the keys to preventing a division of Jerusalem from the south.” He notes, “From the Palestinian standpoint, freezing construction at Givat HaMatos is the key to preserving the option of urban and political linkage between Bethlehem and Beit Safafa.”

Netanyahu raised our hopes for a moment. At a pre-election appearance in Har Homa, just a stone’s throw from Givat HaMatos, he said the long-frozen plan for 3,000 Jewish homes and 1,000 Arab homes there would now be implemented. He also announced another 2,200 units in Har Homa.

The numbers appear to have been exaggerated as the plan actually calls for 2,160 Jewish homes and 800 Arab units. But the real question is whether these numbers have any value given that Netanyahu already gave “final authorization” for construction in Givat HaMatos some six years ago. How many times can the same plan be authorized without actually being carried out?

It’s unpleasant for us to hit a man when he’s down, and Prime Minister Netanyahu is truly under attack from many quarters. He might even become, within weeks, the target of undemocratic left-wing legislation barring him from serving again as prime minister. The legislation is backed by many of his worst enemies, such as the Arab parties, Avigdor Lieberman, and many in the Blue-and-White party. We stand squarely against this initiative, and truly value Netanyahu’s many years of accomplishments in helping Israel attain the prestigious position it holds in the international arena.

But the truth must be told. Had Netanyahu actually taken the steps he has so often outlined to build up the Jewish presence in Yerushalayim, Israel would not now be under the gun not to take the steps so necessary to ensuring full Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land.

The European Union, for instance, came out squarely against Netanyahu’s announcements, and the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process even said, “All settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace.”

This statement, incidentally, contradicts a ruling by the Court of Appeal of Versailles back in January 2017, in which it stated that “West Bank settlements” and the “occupation” of Judea and Samaria by Israel are unequivocally legal under international law.

The court concluded that PA Arabs not only have no international legal right to contested areas in and around Jerusalem, but to anywhere in Judea and Samaria. Israel, on the other hand, is legitimately entitled to control the region.

The court’s ruling comes as no surprise to readers of this column, who know, for instance, of Dr. Jacques Gauthier’s conclusion that “Jerusalem belongs to the Jews, by international law.” Gauthier is a non-Jewish lawyer who spent 20 years writing a 1,300-page dissertation on the topic.

And of course, Stephen Schwebel, later to become president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, wrote in 1970 that “Israel has better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan and Egypt.”

We wish Binyamin Netanyahu much success in overcoming the hardships he now faces – and remind him that fulfilling his promises regarding the development of Jerusalem might be a good first step towards achieving this success.

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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.