During Vice-President Biden’s trip to Israel last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government announced that new homes will be built for Jews living in East Jerusalem. President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and other U.S. officials have all insisted that this announcement embarrassed the U.S. and seriously strained U.S.- Israeli relations.  The U.S. leaders who have spoken out against the announcement insist that East Jerusalem is an area in which Israel should not be building.  They argue that East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights are Israeli “settlements”, Israeli communities built on disputed land – land captured by Israel during wars designed to annihilate the Jewish State. Many assert that since Israel justifiably obtained these “settlements” during attacks on her sovereignty, they are legitimately part of the modern State of Israel.  Israelis consider the entire city of Jerusalem – both the eastern and western portions – to be the capital of their nation.  However, it is clear that some of the most powerful U.S. leaders and many other leaders in the international community consider East Jerusalem and the other “settlements” to be under Israeli “military occupation” and, therefore, not truly part of State of Israel.

The status of settlements, particularly the right of Israel to build in and expand existing settlements, is an issue with a complicated history. Jewish settlements in areas like Jerusalem and the West Bank have existed from time immemorial.  In the “Mandate for Palestine”, the document adopted by the League of Nations that provided for a Jewish State in the Jewish ancestral homeland, Jewish settlements were not only recognized, they were encouraged.  Much later, in the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israeli settlements were still not considered to be a violation. In 2002, however, the “Road Map for Peace” required Israel to freeze all settlement activity – meaning that settlements could not expand in size even if their population increased as a result of “natural growth”.  While Israel accepted the “Road Map” in 2003, she did so with “14 Reservations” which were to be incorporated into the “Road Map”.  The “Reservations” left the matter of expanding existing settlements unresolved.  This and many other matters were to be addressed at the “final status” negotiations that were to take place during the last phase of the peace process.  From a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Sharon, it appears that President Bush, who was intricately involved in the “Road Map”, understood the challenges of denying Israel the right to develop existing settlements: “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete” transfer of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians.  In another letter, Dov Weissglas, the Chief of Prime Minister Sharon’s Bureau, wrote to Condoleezza Rice making it clear that the Bush Administration accepted the fact that existing settlements will indeed expand within “the existing construction line”.  Furthermore, Prime Minister Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert, stressed that: “it was clear from day one to Abbas, Rice and Bush that construction would continue in population concentrations (like East Jerusalem).”

With the understanding that settlement expansion was permitted, Israel entered into the “Road Map”, which required the Palestinian community to establish an unconditional cessation of terror attacks against Israel.  While these attacks did not stop, in 2005, all settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank were forcibly evacuated by the Israeli military.  Sadly, this goodwill gesture had disastrous effects on Israel.  As Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip, chaos overtook the area and Hamas rose to power.  As a result, terrorists determined to destroy Israel were easily able to use Gaza as a launching site for rockets aimed at Israeli towns.  These rocket attacks became so severe that Israel was forced to respond, which she did at the end of 2008.  This response, known as Operation Cast Led, evoked international criticism epitomized by the misleading Goldstone Report.  In an attempt to protect herself from terrorists who were emboldened by the withdrawal from Gaza, Israel was unfairly labeled as the “aggressor”.  Meanwhile, the Palestinians have yet to live up to their end of the “Road Map”: the cessation of terror.

In 2009, President Obama demanded a complete freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In response to this, in December of 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month freeze on new home construction in the West Bank settlements – a gesture intended to restart stalled peace talks with the Palestinians. The Prime Minister, however, made it explicitly clear that the freeze would not affect East Jerusalem, saying: “we do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital.” Israel has never suggested that East Jerusalem might be given to the Palestinians in a final agreement. As the Prime Minister just pointed out this week, “over the past 40 years, there has not been a government in Israel that agreed to limit building in Jerusalem.”

Despite apologies from Prime Minister Netanyahu who has admitted, rightfully so, that the timing of the housing announcement was terrible, U.S. officials continue to refer to the announcement as destructive to U.S.-Israel relations and the entire peace process.  This weekend, U.S. Press Secretary Gibbs went so far as to suggest that it is time for the Prime Minister to bring something constructive to the negotiating table.  In response to this, I share with you the words that Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke before the UN last year: “Any time an Arab leader genuinely wanted peace with us, we made peace.   We made peace with Egypt led by Anwar Sadat.  We made peace with Jordan led by King Hussein.” In addition, Israel has withdrawn from Gaza.  She has exchanged thousands of Palestinian prisoners for the bodies of two kidnapped soldiers and still waits for the return of Gilad Shalit. She has put up with years of terrorism and mourned countless innocent lives taken by rockets, stabbings, and bombs.  She has put up with the unfair attacks by the international community who denounce her while turning a blind eye to the violence of terrorists. She has sat on her hands as Iran continues to fund these terrorists and build their own nuclear bomb. But despite all of this, Israel is still willing to say loudly and clearly: “we want peace!”

Given all of this, why is Israel now being labeled by the U.S. as the one jeopardizing the peace process?  No question, the announcement to build homes within the boundaries of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, within an area that Israel has never agreed to stop building in, should not have been made during Vice-President Biden’s visit.  But, this error does not warrant Israel being labeled by the U.S. as the enemy, undermining the peace process! Again, the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu:

“If the Palestinians truly want peace, I and my government, and the people of Israel, will make peace.  But we want a genuine peace, a defensible peace, a permanent peace.  In 1947, this body voted to establish two states for two peoples – a Jewish state and an Arab state.  The Jews accepted that resolution.  The Arabs rejected it.   We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years:  Say yes to a Jewish state.  Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people.   The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel.   This is the land of our forefathers.”

Sadly, many of those who are going to jump on the bandwagon and attack Israel for continuing to build where she has the right to build are just looking for an excuse to bash Israel.  I share my thoughts today not to change their mind.  I know better.  Rather, I share my thoughts with the hope that those searching for the truth might stumble across this letter.  If that is you, I ask that you appreciate the fact that while Israel is far from perfect (there is no perfect country!), she has taken drastic steps towards peace.  The Palestinians, however, have yet to state that Israel has the right to exist.  You can’t make peace with a partner that is non-existent.  Who is undermining the peace process?  Be upset at the poor timing of Israel’s announcement – but don’t make Israel the bad guy because of this.  Don’t demand, as Washington officials are now doing, that Israel cancel the East Jerusalem construction project and free Palestinian prisoners as a “confidence building measure”!  Don’t assert, as the Vice-President did, that Israel’s decision to build in East Jerusalem puts American troops abroad at risk. Israel’s enemies love words like this as they support the lie that Israel is the enemy. Whether it be a growing Israeli population that needs additional homes, a strong American military committed to bringing a comprehensive peace to areas like Iraq or anything else that shows Muslim extremists that they have not been successful in undermining the “Zionist” and American enemy enrages them and, in turn, puts our soldiers at risk.  Is Israel to stop growing simply because the enemy wants this growth to stop?  I don’t think our soldiers would want us to hinder the growth of our ally any more than they would want us to weaken our troops.  This would allow the terrorists to declare victory.

Might I suggest that the anger that our leaders are directing at Israel be directed towards the leaders of Iran, Hamas, Al Qaeda and all the other extremists who consistently violate international law, seek to build true weapons of mass destruction, and commit themselves to jihad and the murder of countless souls across the globe.  These are the people who are undermining peace.  These are the people we should be condemning.  Why can they continuously fail to live up to their responsibilities, yet the world does little to reprimand, condemn or correct them?

In response to the current administration’s blistering attack on Israel, Representative Shelly Berkley (D, Nev.) asks:  “Where, I ask, was the administration’s outrage over the arrest and month long incarceration by Hamas of a British journalist who was investigating arms smuggling into Gaza?  Where was the outrage when the Palestinian Authority this week named a town square after a woman who helped carry out a massive terror attack against Israel?  It has been the PA who has refused to participate in talks for over a year, not the government of Israel.”

Please do not let Israel become the scapegoat – the reason there is no peace in the Middle East, the reason our soldiers are killed…We have been there and we know how dangerous it is.  Please, get the facts and speak the truth.  Thank you for reading this.  Please feel free to share it with others.

Rabbi Andrew Jacobs

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  1. Alene Fishbein Reply

    Dear Rabbi Andrew

    My daughter, Nancy Blitz, forwarded your note about Israel and the new settlements they propose to build.

    I agree with your sentiments. I also feel that the U.S. under President Obama have couched their feelings toward Israel as they defer also to the Palestinian causes. I can hardly believe it since Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod work so closely with the President.

    However, I do feel that United States needs Israel. We need them as they are our only true friend in the Middle East and will always be our bastion there. Our country does not give all that money to Israel because we are benevolent. It is because we need a friend in that area and Israel is that friend. We can not be naive enough to believe otherwise.

    And on the “homey” side, you know Rep. Berkley from Nevada is Jewish. I have a friend here in Aventura who is her cousin.

    Kindest Regards,

    Alene Fishbein March 16, 2010

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