Contrary to statements by the White House, the natural growth of Gilo, a popular suburb on the outskirts of Jerusalem, is in no way a political statement or a land grab on the West Bank.
In fact, it is within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, not in East Jerusalem – erroneous reports by the Guardian and The New York Times notwithstanding. None of this has stopped some who have jumped on this issue as an example of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s allegedly violating his promise to suspend expansion in the West Bank for 10 months.
Recently, members of the European Union seemed intent on appropriating this issue as well and attempted to use it to push a resolution through their body that would call for the designation of East Jerusalem as the capital of “Palestine.”
Following intense lobbying from the Israeli government throughout December, they settled on the statement “If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.”
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs only fueled this manufactured fire by saying that, “at a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed.”
Whether Gilo is allowed to grow to accommodate more Israeli families has more to do with urban planning than it does the peace process and it is far beyond the purview of the United States, the European Union or the United Nations to comment on. It is a suburb, not a settlement, and is part of the natural growth of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Advertisement
I worry that the administration is levying too much criticism at Israel in an attempt to allay fears that a peace process negotiated by the U.S. will be a lopsided endorsement of Israeli policy.
The real problem is accountability, and it always has been. Promises were made in Madrid, in Oslo, at Camp David and in Annapolis. In all of those negotiations, concessions were agreed upon, but the Palestinian Authority has never lived up to its end of the bargain and has never been held accountable for their failure to do so.
The Congress passed, and President Obama signed, legislation that prohibits aid to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Just like previous presidents, Obama signed a waiver, known as a presidential determination, allowing aid to continue to flow into the West Bank and Gaza. I will be requesting that upcoming foreign aid packages continue to include a provision prohibiting all aid to the West Bank and Gaza until the Palestinian Authority comes back to the negotiating table, and I will ask the president not to sign a waiver unless this goal is met.
Gilo, like other areas populated by Jewish Israelis, is frequently the target of terrorist attacks. Parents living in other sections of Jerusalem often, out of fear, forbid their children from entering Gilo. But the families in Gilo have thrived and the neighborhood is expanding.
The approval to expand Gilo was given not by Prime Minister Netanyahu but by Jerusalem’s Construction and Planning Committee, which has jurisdiction over all of Jerusalem, not just Jewish neighborhoods. Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, succinctly commented: “Israeli law does not discriminate between Arabs and Jews, or between east and west of the city. The demand to cease construction just for Jews is illegal, as in the U.S. and any other enlightened place in the world. The Jerusalem municipality will continue to enable construction in every part of the city for Jews and Arabs alike.”
Israel remains the only true partner of the United States in the Middle East and the sole democracy in the region. While it is certainly President Obama’s right to voice his opinion, in recent statements I think he has stepped over the boundary in how one speaks about another democracy’s internal affairs – and this has hurt the peace process by isolating our ally, Israel.