by Eric Margolis © 1997 Eric Margolis
Israeli bulldozers broke ground Tuesday on a new Jewish `housing project' in Arab East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shrugged off worldwide condemnation of Israel, Vatican protests, and threats of violence by enraged Palestinians. Total Jewish control of Jerusalem was more important than anything else - including peace, he said.
Israel conquered and annexed the Arab Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 War. This war, it is often forgotten, was initiated by Israel after blunders and provocations by Egypt. UN resolutions calling on Israel to relinquish the East Jerusalem, or share it with a Palestinian `entity,'have been ignored by Israel, or vetoed by the United States.
Immediately after the 1967 war, Israel began building `housing projects' on a broad arc from NE to SE of the Old City. `Housing' is really a misnomer. As a specialist in modern fortifications, I instantly recognized the massive housing projects for what they truly were - a Jewish Maginot Line.
These massive, ugly apartment blocs form a nearly unbroken wall, cutting off Jerusalem from the West Bank. Constructed of large stone blocks protected by earth revetments, and thick, steel-reinforced concrete, many are capable of withstanding 155mm howitzer shells and even direct fire by 105- 130mm flat trajectory shells. Narrow windows resembling pillbox embrasures face the enemy. These fortress blocs have underground shelters, magazines, and independent water supplies. Their residents are armed and organized to defend the complexes.
The residential forts are designed, like Israeli border settlements and forts along the Golan, to delay an Arab attack, shelter civilians, and serve as tactical strong-points, or `schwerpunkt,' upon which offensive armored formations can manoeuvre.
The latest construction that sparked off this week's furore - at Jebel Abu Ghneim - is extremely significant because it effectively severs the only remaining `open' land corridor between Jerusalem and Palestinian-administered territory. By slamming shut this last gate into Jerusalem, Israel sends Palestinians the brutally clear message that Israel alone will rule Jerusalem, Christians and Muslims will have freedom of worship there, but the City - New and Old - will be forever united under Jewish rule.
The strategy of Netanyahu's rightwing Likud Party: 1.complete Israel's absorption of East Jerusalem, 2. thin out its Arab population by eviction and bureaucratic harassment, 3. sabotage the Oslo Peace Accords which Likud has always bitterly opposed. Behind all the empty talk about compromise and understanding, Likud is trying to humiliate Palestinians and probably provoke them to an orgy of violence that will wreck the peace accords - but saddle Palestinians with the blame.
Arab extremists and terrorists will gleefully join Likud in trying to kill the shaky peace. Bombs are probably already being fused. Palestinians have only two weapons in this uneven struggle: violence and pressure from the world community. But many Israelis say. `to hell with world opinion - where was it during the Holocaust?' The US is the only nation with influence over Israel, . But on this issue, the Israeli tail wags the American dog. Pro-Likud American fat cats top the Clinton Administration's list of dearest donors.
Netanyahu's policy is terribly wrong - bad for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. It assures decades more hostility between Israel and the world's 1 billion Muslims, for whom the city is also holy. Share Jerusalem.
The Palestinian mini-state will need East Jerusalem and the Old City as its political and spiritual epicenter. Sharing what Israel has conquered by force, and holds in violation of international law, won't weaken or imperil Israel. Doing so assures better peace and security than the Jewish Maginot Line. Humiliated, abased, bitter people will fight back for generations - as Jews themselves have shown.
Alas, logic stops on the road to the Holy City, over which Jews, Christians and Muslims often seem more eager to fight than pray. This is a case for King Solomon.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]