A week later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still apologizing for the timing of his government's announcement of plans to build 1,600 housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of East Jerusalem. But Netanyahu is missing the point: The problem isn't the timing of the announcement, which came during Vice President Joe Biden's trip to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It's the plan itself, under which Israel intends to build housing for Jews on land that was captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and subsequently annexed to Israel. Israelis and Palestinians both claim a capital in Jerusalem, and they will not make peace until they negotiate a solution to those competing claims. The more Israel acts unilaterally to build in traditionally Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, just as it does in the West Bank, the more difficult it is to make peace.
This editorial incorrectly says that Israel erected a barricade between itself and the occupied territories. In fact, the barrier does not directly follow the line separating Israel from the territories but cuts into West Bank land.
That's the problem.
Netanyahu said again on Monday that he does not intend to cancel the project, and that once a 10-month U.S.-backed moratorium on new housing in West Bank settlements expires this summer, construction would resume there too. Building in East Jerusalem has "in no way hurt the Arabs . . . and did not come at their expense," Netanyahu told the Knesset. "For the past 40 years, no Israeli government ever limited construction in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem."
He's certainly correct on that last point. Nearly 200,000 Israeli Jews have moved into East Jerusalem since it was taken in 1967. Nor have Israeli leaders held back in the West Bank, where the settlement population has grown steadily to about 300,000 under Labor, Likud and Kadima governments. While several U.S. presidents have criticized the expansion, only President George H.W. Bush made a serious attempt to stop it, by threatening to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees to finance the resettlement of Soviet Jews. Bush's threat won a temporary halt to West Bank settlement expansion in 1992.
The Obama administration is apparently furious about the latest plan for Jerusalem. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton railed at Netanyahu for 45 minutes over the weekend, according to news reports, calling on him to scrap the project and seeking promises that Israel will address the core issues of borders, refugees and Jerusalem in peace talks. But the administration has not clarified what, if anything, it plans to do if the prime minister refuses to budge. And looking to history, Netanyahu appears to be calculating that the answer is nothing.