Last week, a so-called "friend of Israel," President Clinton, spoke out against Israel's construction of a new residential neighborhood on an unoccupied hill known as Har Homa. The new neighborhood is to provide housing for Jerusalem's rapidly expanding Arab and Jewish population.
What's going on here? An American law, passed under the first Clinton administration, explicitly recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Clinton's statement therefore seems to be nothing less than a direct affront and insult to Israel's sovereignty and right to exist. What other nation in the world is criticized for building a new neighborhood in its capital?
While one may question the political wisdom of the Israeli government's timing, one cannot question Israel's right to build on Har Homa or that it is clearly in Israel's strategic interest to do so.
Israel's plans to build new housing on Har Homa have been widely misrepresented in the media and by Palestinian spokespersons. Israeli construction is neither a violation of the Oslo Accords nor part of a Zionist plot to "Judaize" Jerusalem by preventing Arab growth in the city.
Most people who are happy to express their opinions on the Israeli-Arab conflict are quite willing to accept what is reported about the Oslo Accords in the media without having read them. What is important to know is that neither the Declaration of Principles nor the Interim Agreement place any restrictions on Israel's control of Jerusalem.
All issues concerning Jerusalem were left to the Permanent Status negotiations. In the meantime, the agreements do specifically restrict the Palestinian Authority (PA) from controlling Jerusalem (Interim Agreement, Article XVII). Accordingly, the Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting Association (CAMERA) reported that Israeli building in Jerusalem is no more a violation of the Oslo Accords than the extensive Palestinian building which is taking place throughout PA-controlled areas.
Governments everywhere in the world expropriate land for major construction projects, reimbursing owners for their property. This practice is both legal and widespread.
This is precisely what Israel did with Har Homa: the state purchased the land from its owners--Israeli Jews and Arabs. According to CAMERA, 348 of the 460 acres of land on Har Homa were previously owned by Jews (most since before 1948) and 112 acres were owned by Arabs.
Although previously privately owned, this land has been entirely unoccupied since 1948 when the Jordanian occupational government planted a pine forest to prevent non-zoned usage of the area. Har Homa is the last open space for the expansion of Jerusalem.
Furthermore, the land at Har Homa has been zoned proportional to the current Arab/Jewish population ratio in Jerusalem (25/71 percent). This hardly constitutes an attempt to "Judaize" Jerusalem. In short, there is nothing illegal or immoral about Israel building at Har Homa.
The only violation of the Accords that has taken place has been by the Palestinians. As Article XXII of the Interim Agreement reads: "[both sides shall]...abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda."
Recent Palestinian propaganda statements have threatened violence in order to bully Israel into more concessions. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestine National Committee member and close confidante of Yassir Arafat, has declared Har Homa to be the issue upon which regional peace rides: "If Israel continues these unilateral actions [in] Jerusalem...they are undermining not just peace with the Palestinians but peace in the entire region."
Mohammed Jadallah, another of Arafat's cronies, was reported as saying, "If Israel decides to go ahead with building at Har Homa, the Palestinian response will be hard and violent."
Aware of Palestinian designs on Jerusalem, Israeli construction policy in recent years has been to surround the city with a ring of primarily Jewish neighborhoods. Har Homa is the last link in this protective ring. A significant Jewish presence at Har Homa would seriously set back Palestinian plans to take over Jerusalem and connect it with PA-controlled Bethlehem.
Thus there is a clash of national interests between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over the future of Har Homa. Nevertheless, by all internationally recognized legal rights, Har Homa is Israel's. The PA is granted nothing in Jerusalem even under the Oslo Accords which the PA itself accepted.