October 18, 2010 - 12:00am

Why did the Israeli government see fit to approve, at this particular juncture, the construction of 240 housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods east of the Green Line? The only explanation is an attempt to sabotage the efforts to renew direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Washington's angry response, that this announcement was "contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties," and the subsequent cancelation of a scheduled meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in France, both attest to the fact that the attempted sabotage succeeded. The boost given to Abbas' argument that Israel is at fault for the failure of the direct talks, and the simmering tensions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, demonstrate the extent of Israel's political recklessness.

Israel has offered three rationales for its decision to approve the housing. Firstly, it notified the United States in advance that it intended to build in these areas; secondly, there is a housing shortage in Jerusalem; and finally, under no circumstances should Israel "condition" the Palestinians to treat Jerusalem as just another settlement.

The early notice is certainly consistent with the government's pledge that it would not surprise Washington - as it did during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the region in March, resulting in a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. But giving early notice on an unacceptable decision does not legitimize it.

And while there is indeed a housing shortage in Jerusalem, the solution to this problem cannot be to construct in areas whose status is in dispute.

On the issue of whether the Palestinians view Jerusalem as a settlement, they are not the only ones who hold this position. The United States also regards the territories that have been annexed and incorporated into Jerusalem as settlements, whose final status must be agreed upon in talks between the two sides.

Expanding construction beyond the Green Line puts Jerusalem at the center of international discussion. It also contradicts the government's goal of postponing any talks on the future of the city to as great an extent as possible. This construction is an inseparable part of our disagreement with both the Palestinians and the United States, and it would behoove Israel to recognize this. The government must stop pulling the wool over our eyes and cease taking such unilateral steps, which not only lessen our chances of reaching a deal with the Palestinians, but also cause considerable diplomatic damage.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017