Published in The Jerusalem Post, February 28, 2020; and in Israel Hayom, March 1, 2020.
Which of the candidates for Israeli prime minister is truly going to build, and who is going to bury the building in years more of sterile peace processing and doomed attempts to achieve ?international consensus??
The most significant developments of the last week, as Israel approaches yet another election, were Prime Minister Netanyahu?s announcements that he would move ahead with building 3,500 homes in E-1, and that tenders were being issued for 1,000 homes in Givat Hamatos.
Together with the soon-coming American greenlight for the application of Israeli sovereignty to settlements and the Jordan Valley, this raises the acute electoral question: Which of the candidates for prime minister is truly going to reinforce Jerusalem and Judea? Who can most be trusted to capitalize on the incredible opportunities for diplomatic and security advancement now before Israel?
Who is really going to build, and who is going to bury the building in years more of sterile peace processing and doomed attempts to achieve ?international consensus??
And who is going to act with determination on these fronts while acting with equal grit to deter Israel?s main enemy (Iran) and counter Israel?s detractors (in Europe, and in some radical ?progressive? bastions in America)?
In my mind, these are the most critical questions before Israeli voters next week ? notwithstanding all other issues of economic and social policy, political personality, personal probity and legal chastity.
EVERY ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER since Yitzhak Rabin has planned and promised to build in E-1, for salient reasons: municipal and strategic imperatives that have only grown with time. The E-1 quadrant is critical for the future of the city, and for Israel?s long-term security.
E-1 begins on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives and runs along the road towards Maaleh Adumim. It is the last significant piece of unsettled land in the Jerusalem envelope. It is the only place where tens of thousands of homes can be built in order to overcome Jerusalem?s serious housing shortage.
No new neighborhoods have been established in the city since Netanyahu built Har Homa during his first term in the late nineties. Because of Obama administration pressures, Israeli governments also shrunk from critically needed expansions of middle class neighborhoods like Ramot, Ramat Shlomo, Pisgat Zeev, Gilo and Armon Hanetziv (all of which are over the stale ?Green Line?).
Even as such projects are slowly being freed-up now, they won?t amount to anything near the 6,000 new apartments a year that Jerusalem needs just meet the demands of natural growth.
Hard-working, upwardly mobile young families with kids simply have no affordable housing options in Jerusalem. This demographic has fled the city, leaving Jerusalem with socio-economically poor populations; mainly Arab and Haredi residents. This has grim implications for the attachment of Israelis to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem must grow in order to remain a pluralistic and modern metropolitan. It must expand in order to remain a Zionist city. Growth is essential for the viability and livability of Jerusalem, and the proximate E-1 is the right solution.
On the strategic level, Israel needs to secure Highway 1 from Tel Aviv up to Jerusalem and down to the Jordan Valley via an undivided Jerusalem, the E-1 corridor, and the city of Maaleh Adumim. It is the only safe route via which Israel can mobilize troops from the coast to the Jordan Valley in a case of military emergency (such as Iranian-Jihadist destabilization of Jordan). The Jordan Valley also is the eastern buffer zone that prevents the West Bank mountain region from becoming a full-blown terrorist entity.
Building in E-1, and expanding Maaleh Adumim eastwards too, are best ways to solidify Israel?s long-term hold across this strategic arc.
The Trump Mideast peace plan wisely recognizes defensible borders for Israel that necessarily include the Jordan Valley and a broad interpretation of the Jerusalem security envelope.
Palestinian and some European figures argue that Israeli development of E-1 will bifurcate the lands for a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state (? something that, alas, remains a pipe dream for the moment). Outrageously, the EU is even funding the establishment of unauthorized Palestinian and Bedouin settlements in E-1 to create ?facts on the ground? and prevent Israeli development in this zone.
But the accusation of ?bifurcation? is a red herring, as is the unviable Palestinian demand for territorial contiguity. It is quite clear that any Israeli-Palestinian arrangement in Judea and Samaria is going to involve blocs and bypasses, overpasses and underpasses, detour roads and shared spaces.
There are multiple, creative ways of creating livable contiguity in what will always be a complicated mesh of West Bank populations, Arab and Israeli. E-1 is the least of problems in this regard. Israel?s plans to build there need not be regarded as a bar to peace with a serious Palestinian partner (which, again, Israel doesn?t have).
Consequently, E-1 must be developed to revitalize Jerusalem and secure Israel. The same goes for Givat Hamatos, which solidifies Jerusalem?s southernmost strategic ridge.
ONE MUST ASK: Is Netanyahu finally serious about building in E-1 and annexing the Jordan Valley and settlement zones, or is he just pumping out pre-election promises that will fizzle in the face of global diplomatic pressures and International Criminal Court threats? Can we credit him with resisting eight years of Obama administration withdrawal pressures and trust him to implement in real time the new building and sovereignty promises?
Is Blue & White leader Lt. Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz serious about annexing the Jordan Valley and, at least, most settlement blocks, as he claims? Or does he head a political party so riven with contradiction (and among whose leaders are hard-core left-wingers) that he wouldn?t be able to move in any coherent direction? How could he possibly build in E-1 or ?implement? the Trump plan ?only as part of an international and regional consensus,? as he has stated ? a ?consensus? that will never, ever gel?!
Are Yamina leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked going to absolutely adhere to their commitments to only join a government that moves forward fast on the above matters? Or, in the (likely) eventuality of another political stalemate, might they partner with a muddled, aimless Gantz-led government?
And finally, can Yisrael Beytenu czar Avigdor Liberman be trusted to stand for building or deciding anything other than stoking his own ego and purveying a cynical hate-fear agenda, and then selfishly forcing Israel into yet another election campaign?