x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Jerusalem's wrecking ball wreaks more havoc

Last week, a bulldozer ploughed into a police car in West Jerusalem, the fourth incident in a year of what the Israeli media have dubbed "bulldozer terrorism".

JERUSALEM // Bulldozers are something to be feared in Jerusalem. Last week, a bulldozer ploughed into a police car in West Jerusalem, the fourth incident in a year of what the Israeli media have dubbed "bulldozer terrorism". The driver's family protested that it was a traffic accident, but he himself could not put his side of the case. As in the three other incidents, the driver was shot and killed. But more Palestinians than Israelis are likely to suffer "bulldozer anxiety". For more than three years, 88 families in the Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem have lived with demolition orders handed down against their homes.In all, according to a confidential EU document that was leaked to the media last week, there are about 1,000 demolition orders against Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem. About 400 houses have been demolished since 2004, the latest two of these only last week. It is certainly a tale of two peoples if not two cities. Jerusalem, the eastern part of which was occupied and illegally annexed by Israel in 1967 and is claimed by Palestinians as the future capital of an independent state, has never seemed at the same time more and less divided. It is divided between Israeli and Palestinian residents, never friendly and now increasingly hostile towards each other even, and especially, as more Israelis live in settlements in the east. And it is united by construction: of settlements in the east of the city, illegal under international law; of the separation barrier that is dividing outlying Palestinian neighbourhoods from the city itself; and on the overarching E1 plan that, with Jerusalem-area settlements, is severing the occupied West Bank into two and the city from its Palestinian hinterland. The construction (and destruction) was described in the EU report, according to The Guardian newspaper in Britain, as a way by Israel of "actively pursuing the illegal annexation" of East Jerusalem. It certainly flies in the face of the statement on Friday by Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, that peace depends on a division of the city. "There won't be peace if part of Jerusalem does not become the capital of the Palestinian state," Mr Olmert said in a wide-ranging address to a kibbutz in Galilee. But Mr Olmert has done nothing in his time as prime minister to end the Israeli construction in East Jerusalem; when he was mayor of the city, he instead encouraged East Jerusalem settlement building. Few give his remarks any credibility other than as a scheme for an eventual political comeback. "The problem with Olmert is that what he says and what happens on the ground are opposites," said Walid Salem, a Palestinian analyst. Mr Salem said what is happening on the ground is that Jerusalem is becoming more united with the western, Israeli side, while settlements are scattering Palestinian neighbourhoods and any sense of contiguity in the eastern part. Yet in one sense Mr Olmert was only stating the obvious. Palestinians call the two-state solution the "historic compromise". With it, Palestinians have given up their claim to a majority of historic Palestine to see the creation of a state on only 22 per cent of the land, namely all territory occupied by Israel in 1967 - including East Jerusalem. There is little possibility of any Palestinian leadership accepting anything other than a more or less full return to 1967 borders in the city. Israeli settlement construction both in and around the city, however, would seem to preclude such a possibility. It is not for nothing that Israeli settlements are seen as one of the major obstacles to any successful negotiated peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. "I don't think it is too late to divide Jerusalem," said Yossi Alpher, an Israeli analyst. "But it is becoming harder. I don't know where the critical tipping point for settlement building in Jerusalem is before it becomes impossible. And I do believe that the clock is ticking on a two-state solution because of settlement building and land." The question, Mr Alpher said, was how much pressure the Obama administration is willing to apply on Israel. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, made a point in her first visit to the region last week of criticising the demolition orders on the 88 homes in Silwan as "not helpful" to a peace process. But while Palestinians welcomed that statement, it was little and late, certainly for the two houses demolished elsewhere in Silwan the day before her arrival. And with a likely far-right Israeli coalition assuming power in Israel, any US pressure for a slowdown, let alone a halt, to settlement building in Jerusalem will be fiercely resisted. "I heard Clinton talk about the Silwan demolitions and I hope it was not just talk," Mr Salem said. "But even if it isn't, I think it will be difficult [for the US]. In the end, Israel will do what it wants, especially in Jerusalem." Bill Clinton, the former US president, lent his name to a formula for the division of Jerusalem that would leave Jewish neighbourhoods in the hands of Israel and Palestinian neighbourhoods to a future Palestinian state. The reality his wife now has to deal with is of a vastly increased Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. With that increased presence, dividing Jerusalem seems an ever more distant possibility, and with it recedes the likelihood of a negotiated agreement on a two-state solution. okarmi@thenational.ae