Saturday, April 17, 2010

Israel-US crisis deepens

Pastor Mike wants you to have this news update on the
state of Israel/Palestinian relations. David Dolan has
been reporting on news in the Middle East since 1980.
A good and balanced news source. Pastor Mike

By David Dolan

A new wave of Palestinian violence engulfed Jerusalem
and surrounding areas during March, leaving several
dead and many others wounded in its wake. Israeli
officials and political analysts indicated that the
American government was at least partly to blame for
the renewed unrest, which broke out after US leaders
issued harsh condemnations of Israeli home building in
the small country's capital city.

During a late March visit to the United States, Israeli
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made clear that he
will never order a halt to Jewish home construction in
the holy city that has been the Jewish people's most
sacred site on earth for over 3,000 years. He stated
this one day before meeting several times with US
President Barack Obama at the White House. Israeli
media reports said the meetings were extremely tense,
with the US leader himself insisting that Netanyahu
must immediately halt all home construction in areas of
Jerusalem captured from Jordanian forces in 1967,
including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

Netanyahu consulted with six "inner security cabinet"
ministers, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak who
was accompanying him on his US trip, before reportedly
telling the President that Israel's home building policy
in Jerusalem will never be altered. The Israeli Premier
noted that this has been the consistent policy of all
Israeli governments over the past 43 years, and that
fact didn't stop Yasser Arafat from signing the
American-mediated Oslo peace accords in the 1990s,
nor prevent peace agreements from being reached with
Egypt and Jordan. He also pointed out that he has
ordered many actions over the past year that have
significantly eased living conditions in Palestinian cities
and towns, including the tearing down of dozens of
Israeli security roadblocks that has facilitated
Palestinian economic activity. News reports said
Netanyahu was considering a request from the
American leader for additional concessions in order to
get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
While security forces were focused on restoring calm in
Arab populated portions of Jerusalem, fresh violence
broke out in the Gaza Strip, leaving two Israeli soldiers
dead. The clashes began when an army patrol unit
came upon Palestinian infiltrators planting bombs next
to the border fence. Israeli tank and artillery was then
fired at known Hamas militia positions in the area. One
week earlier, a Thai agricultural worker was killed when
a rocket landed on the farm he was working on inside
Israeli territory. Security officials warned that Israel
will need to respond in a major way if the unprovoked
assaults continue, noting that over 325 rockets have
landed inside Israel since the Gaza conflict ended on
January 18, 2009, most of them deliberately launched
at civilian areas.
Vigilance was maintained along the northern borders
with Lebanon and Syria. This came as Israel's armed
forces chief told a Knesset committee that the
Iranian-backed Hizbullah militia is deploying more men
in southern Lebanon in apparent anticipation of a
possible upcoming clash with IDF forces. Arab news
reports revealed that hundreds of Sunni Palestinian
men have arrived in Lebanon in recent months to fight
alongside the radical Shiite Lebanese force. Iranian
leaders issued more verbal blasts against Israel during
the month, saying the Jewish state is in the process of
being abandoned by its Western allies and will soon be


Whenever political relations are strained between the
United States and Israel, anti-American Arab Muslim
groups like Hamas seem to see this as an opportunity
to foment violent clashes with Israeli security forces.
After fairly warm ties during the eight years that the
Bush administration governed America, tensions
between Washington and Jerusalem have been
mushrooming over the past year, sparked off by
Barrack Obama's verbal pressure on the Netanyahu
government to halt all construction in the disputed
territories and eastern Jerusalem.
Relations deteriorated even further while Vice President
Joe Biden was visiting Israel during the first week of
March. The American official was in the country to
inaugurate indirect US-mediated peace negotiations
between the Netanyahu government and the
Palestinian Authority.
The day after Biden arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, an
announcement was released by the Israeli Interior
Ministry stating that permits would be issued to build
1,600 new housing units, mainly apartments, in the
northeast Jerusalem suburb of Ramat Shlomo, which
translates into English as "The Heights of Solomon."
Already home to hundreds of observant Jews, the
suburb lies between the eastern slops of the Mount of
Olives and Mount Scopus and one of the largest Jewish
communities in the disputed territories, Ma'ale
Biden quickly echoed Palestinian leaders in strongly
condemning the announced building project. In his
remarks, he implied that he was personally insulted
that such a declaration was made while he was in
Israel, indicating he viewed it as a deliberate slap in
the face by the Prime Minister.


PM Netanyahu and his top aides tried to explain to the
offended American deputy leader and his entourage
that they did not know in advance the Interior Ministry
would make what officials in the ministry viewed as a
routine announcement. They said American officials
should understand that unlike the United States with its
two party political system, Israel is a parliamentary
democracy that is always ruled by coalition
governments comprised of several different political
parties with varying positions and opinions. Each party
views the ministries they control as their own little
"government" inside the larger coalition quilt.
One of Netanyahu's current partners, the Orthodox
Shas party, runs the Interior Ministry, as they have
done for most of the past 25 years under both Labor
and Likud-led governments. The party always seeks
control of the Interior Ministry primarily because it has
direct authority over marriages (which by law must be
carried out by an ordained rabbi if either the bride or
groom are Jewish), along with funerals. The ministry
also disperses tax revenues to cities and towns for local
projects like synagogue building, and issues housing
Netanyahu explained to Biden that a low level
committee simply finished its routine review of the
proposed Ramat Shlomo project, and simply by
coincidence issued the building permits the day before
the Vice President arrived in Israel. Netanyahu and
other officials apologized to Biden for the bad timing of
the announcement. Later the Premier ordered that all
future Jerusalem building announcements be
coordinated first with his office.
However Netanyahu also told the Vice President that he
should be more mindful of the politically risky actions
he has taken in response to the American demand that
all settlement construction be halted. He noted that
the Civil Administration which oversees Jewish affairs in
Judea and Samaria has issued more than 400
stop-work orders and confiscated over 40 pieces of
heavy machinery used by contractors since the Israeli
building ban went into effect the end of November.
This occurred despite strong protests from many of
Netanyahu's political backers. He also noted that 11
structures and building foundations have been
demolished, despite furious protests from Jewish
residents who see this as feeding Muslims hopes and
expectations that over 350,000 Jews will be uprooted
from their homes as part of any final peace settlement
with Israel.
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton added fuel to the
fire by terming the Interior Ministry announcement "an
insult" to America, adding that Israel needed to make
the current building ban permanent and halt all
construction in the eastern half of Jerusalem. This
came as Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to
America, sent out a memo saying diplomatic relations
between the United States and Israel are more strained
now than they have been since the mid 1970s, when
the Israeli government resisted American pressure to
evacuate IDF forces from the Sinai peninsula, captured
during the 1973 Yom Kippur war that began when Egypt
and Syria attacked Israel on its holiest day with full
Soviet backing.


As violent Palestinian protests spread to several
portions of Jerusalem, Biden seemed to grasp that the
American administration might be adding to the unrest
by making a mountain out of a molehill. On his last full
day in the country, he delivered a speech before
students at Tel Aviv University that Israeli leaders
characterized as quite friendly. He justified his anger
over the home building announcement by stating "Quite
frankly folks, only a friend can deliver the hardest
truth." But then he added that "American support for
Israel is not just an act of friendship; it's an act of
fundamental national self-interest on the part of the
United States, a key component to our broader efforts
to secure this region and a wider world, as well as our
own security."

The Vice President said he fully appreciates Israel's
apprehension to take additional risks for peace after its
military withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000
and Gaza Strip evacuation in August 2005 were met
with "rockets as a reward." Biden also spoke of "the
special connection to Israel" felt by American Jews, and
said the Obama government expects indirect American
mediated peace talks to begin soon, despite the Israeli
Interior Ministry's ill-timed housing announcement.
President Obama himself seemed to realize that things
were getting out of hand. He made a rare appearance
on the Fox News network where he averred that "Israel
is one of our closest allies on earth." He also noted that
"the Israeli people have a special bond with us and it's
not going to go away," although he added that "friends
are going to disagree sometimes" and that the Israeli
building announcement "was not helpful" to American
efforts to re-start the stalled peace process.
Political analysts said the President was partly reacting
to strong criticism of his approach to Israel over the
past year which appeared mid month in both the
normally left of center Washington Post and the more
right wing Wall Street Journal. The Post editorial laid
the blame for deteriorating US-Israeli relations
squarely on the President's shoulders, saying "It has
been startling, and a little puzzling, to see Mr. Obama
deliberately plunge into another public brawl with the
Jewish state." The paper added that this will hardly
help persuade the Palestinian Authority to return to the
negotiating table. The Journal editorial was even more
pointed, maintaining that "If the Obama Administration
opts to transform itself, as the Europeans have, into
another set of lawyers for the Palestinians, it will find
Israeli concessions increasingly hard to come by."

Several members of Obama's own Democratic Party
also voiced criticism of his dealings with Israel.
Representative Gary Peters from Michigan said, he
hoped "the administration will end its unnecessary
denunciations of Israel and will instead turn its focus to
working with Congress to finally enact strong sanctions
on Iran." Former Democratic Party vice presidential
candidate Joe Lieberman, now a registered
Independent, joined with Republican Senator John
McCain to state on the Senate floor that "the American
relationship with Israel is one of the strongest, most
important, most steadfast bilateral alliances we have in
the world."

PM Netanyahu met earlier the same day with Speaker
of the House Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John
Boehner, thanking them for their "constant support and
unflagging friendship." He added that although "the
challenges we face are immense, our will and our
partnership is also immense."

However a substantially different tone was adopted by
a senior American military leader. Testifying before a
Senate committee just days after the acrimonious
Biden visit to Israel, General David Petraeus, the
army's Central Command chief, alleged that "Israeli
government intransigence" was "harming US interests"
in the Middle East. Adopting words that some in Israel
saw as clearly anti-Semitic, he added that this
supposed "intransigence" could contribute to future
American military casualties in the region. Some
analysts said this was yet another worrying sign that
the Obama administration may be backing away from
fully supporting Israel in its ongoing conflict with Iran,
with the consent of at least some senior military


Joe Biden asserted that the ill timed Israeli apartment
building announcement might prevent the Palestinians
from returning to the peace table. This came after
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the PA
"can't go to the talks while Israel is building
settlements." However Arab and Israeli media reports
claimed that PA leader Abbas will order his negotiators
to attend the indirect negotiations after a "suitable
delay" designed to demonstrate their anger that more
religious Israeli Jews will be living not far from the
Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site on earth, which
Palestinian Muslims claim as exclusively their own.

During a speech before the American-Israel Public
Affairs Committee in New York, PM Netanyahu,
countered that Jerusalem is Israel's eternal capital city,
not some "settlement" that might be torn down as a
result of any final peace accord. In a passionate
speech, he reviewed the deep, ancient and enduring
Jewish connection to the holy city, gaining sustained
applause from his mostly Jewish audience. The
Premier later told his cabinet ministers that
"establishing Jewish neighborhoods does not hurt
Jerusalem's Arab residents, and is not at their
expense." Israeli officials pointed out to their American
colleagues that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas had sat
down to discuss peace terms with the former Barak and
Olmert governments while Jewish home building
proceeded in the disputed territories and in all portions
of Jerusalem, as was also the case when Yasser Arafat
discussed the Oslo peace deal with the government led
by Yitzhak Rabin.

It is precisely the Obama administration's repeated
demands last year that Netanyahu halt all construction
that has caused the Palestinians to dig in their heels,
they aver, despite the fact that last November, the
Premier did order a ten month halt to all home
construction in all contested communities north and
south of Jerusalem's municipal boundaries. They noted
that Netanyahu's decision caused a major commotion
with some of his coalition partners and many members
of his own Likud party, even if it at least partially
pleased the White House.

Despite the escalating tensions in US-Israeli diplomatic
relations, Benjamin Netanyahu requested a meeting
with President Obama the day after his AIPAC speech.
In the end, the Premier stayed an extra two days in
Washington to meet several times with the American
leader and to consult with his top aides on what actions
he might take to ease tensions. The Israeli delegation
remained tight lipped on how the meetings went, but
the Israeli press portrayed them as extremely strained.
They noted that Obama abruptly left one of the
meetings mid way in order to eat supper with his wife
and two daughters in his private White House quarters,
suddenly leaving the Israeli leader alone with some of
his aides. American officials also refused to allow the
media to cover the meetings or take any pictures of the
two leaders, despite the fact that photographers are
normally allowed to snap shots of visiting foreign
dignitaries meeting with the President.


An attempt by the radical Palestinian Hamas movement
to stage a massive "day of rage" last October failed to
bring many people into the streets of Jerusalem and
other areas to clash with Israeli security forces.
However just one day after the American Vice
President's official visit ended, many Jerusalem streets
were filled with violence once again. As has been the
case so many times over the past 80 years, the unrest
began on the Temple Mount, which Muslim's call the
Islamic "Noble Sanctuary."

Acting on security tips that violent actions were being
planned on the Friday after Biden left the country,
police forces were beefed up in and around Jerusalem.
Palestinian Muslim males under the age of 50 were
prevented from attending Friday prayers on the Temple
Mount. This sparked off clashes at the holy site and in
nearby neighborhoods, which spread over the weekend
to other parts of the disputed territories. A closure was
imposed on the areas, which was later extended over
five days.

Meanwhile Hamas took advantage of the situation to
call for a "Day of Rage" on Monday, March 15. This
was timed to coincide with the official opening of the
large Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter
which was first constructed in 1701, and served as the
center of Jewish religious and cultural life until
Jordanian troops deliberately blew it up after occupying
the walled Old City in 1948. Several Israeli policemen
were injured as Palestinian rioters took to the streets,
with one officer shot in the process, suffering medium
injuries. Over 100 Palestinians were treated for mostly
minor injuries as the clashes spread to many Arab
Speaking at the dedication ceremony, Ashkenazi Chief
Rabbi Yonah Metzger said Muslim claims that the
restored synagogue will somehow harm their interests
on the Temple Mount, located over two blocks east of
the site, are entirely baseless. "All we are doing is
resurrecting the Hurva, which was destroyed more than
60 years ago. We have no intention of rebuilding the
Temple." He added that "rumors suggesting we will
later march on the Temple Mount are just that, rumors;
inspired by a media spin by anti-Semites who wish us
Israeli officials expressed dismay that the PA leadership
allowed a public square in Ramallah to be renamed in
honor of Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian female terrorist
who participated in a heinous PLO attack upon an
Israeli civilian bus in 1978 that took the life of 13 Israeli
children and 23 adults, along with a visiting American
Jewish photographer. PA leaders had earlier said the
planned ceremony would be indefinitely postponed at
the request of US officials. They claimed that "local
residents and Fatah supporters" had carried out the
renaming ceremony without official PA government
sanction, which Israeli analysts said was absurd given
that PA security forces control the city and could have
easily prevented the large public gathering from taking

The restored Hurva synagogue, with its white painted
dome visible from my Jerusalem apartment window, is
a reminder that the Jewish people continue to thrive in
their capital city, despite how the nations, including
Israel's closest allies, react to that fact. Israel's God
warns that He will also react one day to world meddling
in the status of Jerusalem: "It will come about in that
day that will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the
peoples: all who lift it will be severely injured. And all
the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.
(Zechariah 12:3)



DAVID DOLAN is a Jerusalem-based author and

journalist who has lived and worked in Israel since


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