To follow up on my West Bank column, we have two brilliant examples today of Israeli efforts to illegally extend its control into Palestinian areas under the guise of high-mindedness. First, there’s Ethan Bronner’s report about the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem’s plans to clear a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The intent sounds benign: the mayor wants to create a new tourist area near the Old City that will “look like Tuscany” and provide housing for Palestinians in new buildings fitted out with shops and cafes. Sounds great, except for this: The Israeli mayor of (West) Jerusalem has no standing to determine what happens in (East) Jerusalem, which–the rest of the world believes–should be the capital of Palestine. This is an act of arrogance and annexation.
And then there’s the Orthodox Union, which is protesting the U.S. State Department’s criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to spruce up some historic sites–revered by Jews and Muslims–on the West Bank as “provocative.” Again, note the reasonable tone:
“It is not ‘provocative’ to invest in and rehabilitate holy/historic sites – that are open to both Jews and Muslims. Nothing PM Netanyahu has proposed precludes a peace agreement.
It is provocative for the Palestinians to assert that there is no Jewish connection to these sites and for them to use this as yet another false basis for refusal to engage in peace negotiations.”
The Orthodox Union is right about one thing: The Palestinian assumption that there is no Jewish connection to historic sites that are clearly Jewish is obnoxious. (Indeed, the Palestinian paranoia about archeological efforts to investigate the Temple Mount area in recent years was also an effort to provoke anger among Palestine’s infuriated young men.) But the fact remains: Netanyahu has no standing to unilaterally “improve” any historic site on Palestinian lands. It seems to me a deliberate attempt to provoke a violent reaction on the West Bank, an attempt to destroy the improvements that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is attempting there. And again, as I said yesterday: If Natanyahu is so concerned about these sites, he should appoint a tri-partite commission, including Jews, Christians and Muslims, to select the sites that need restoration and issue the necessary contracts to improve them.