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American Jewish Opinion Is Divided Over Israeli Construction In Jerusalem

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 1997

While major American Jewish organizations have expressed support for the decision by the Israeli government to build a new Jewish housing project in Jerusalem, opinion beyond the organized leadership appears to be sharply divided.  

Leon Levy, a chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, declared that it is "the inherent right of Israel" to build the settlement at Har Homa. Lester Pollack, co-chair of the Israel Leadership Mission, declared that "The American Jewish community believes in Israel having its eternal capital of Jerusalem." (Washington Jewish Week, March 11, 1997)  

At the same time, in an "Open Rabbis’ Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Har Homa," a group of rabbis from throughout the U.S. declared: "We write to you to respectfully urge that your government not undertake planned construction of a new Jewish housing project at the East Jerusalem area of Har Homa...Israel has agreed to deal with the Jerusalem issue in permanent status negotiations with the Palestinians. To unilaterally create a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, runs contrary to the spirit of the negotiations...Har Homa is not some undeveloped lot within a sprawling urban area. It is a vast tract, equal in size to the Old City itself, sitting within a large undeveloped region that stretches to Bethlehem....It is naive to believe that lasting peace can be achieved with the Arab world without some compromise on Jerusalem..."  

The letter was organized by the Jewish Peace Lobby and was signed by, among many others, Rabbis Balfour Brickner, Arthur Green, Arthur Waskow, Deborah Bronstein, Philip J. Bentley, Jonathan Biatch and Aaron Kriegel.  

Theodore R. Mann, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, declared: "I would have thought that in preparation for the permanent status negotiations, Israel would be seeking to create the mutual trust needed in order to achieve the peaceful presence of Palestinians and Jews living in a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. But Israel’s decision to build 6,500 homes in East Jerusalem for the Jewish population as serious final-status negotiations over Jerusalem were to have begun is not a promising beginning."  

Prof. Jerome M. Segal, a research scholar at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies, is the co-author of a study which shows that 45 percent of Israeli Jews would consider transferring sovereignty over such peripheral parts of East Jerusalem as the Har Homa site to the Palestinians. Dr. Segal notes: "...the study suggests that an Israeli leader who seeks to reach a negotiated solution to the Jerusalem question would be afforded some latitude by the public. Most Israelis make a distinction between those parts of the city that are important to them ‘as Jerusalem’ and those that are not. Moreover, Israeli Jews agree on the priority ranking. For instance, the Western wall and areas where Israeli Jews live are not up for negotiation; areas where the Palestinians live are of less importance. Thus, the 45 percent who would seriously consider Palestinian sovereignty over parts of the 1967 expansion. Building Jewish neighborhoods at Har Homa has the effect of taking out of the realm of negotiability an area that does not fall under the symbolic power of the term ‘Jerusalem’ for most Israeli Jews. Peace with the Palestinians will require some sharing with respect to Jerusalem. By destroying the flexibility that exists, Mr. Netanyahu transforms the Jerusalem question into a more intractable problem."  

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