Friday April 18, 2014
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18.04.2014
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Nadav Shragai

A wake up call to build in Jerusalem

There was never any need to draw a connection between building in Israel and releasing terrorists. It's a crooked comparison, but since the world is also crooked, we're left with one of two options: Either we can fix it, or we can mitigate the damage and isolate the benefits. This time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose the second option, and because of that decision, Jerusalem and its environs have to form the core of the Zionist enterprise.

We've almost forgotten, but Zionism was formed in Zion. Building in Jerusalem -- the manifestation of the Jewish right to return to the homeland -- is Zionism. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his European counterparts may not applaud those sentiments, but its high time we got used to that. More importantly -- Kerry has, for months, been speaking to us in one language, the language of security and security arrangements. We need to remind Kerry that Jews are living in Jerusalem and other cities and towns in Israel because of our bond and right to the land itself, not for the sake of security. We absolutely need to hold a discussion with Kerry and his counterparts about Jewish rights. That's what the Palestinians have done and that's what we need to do. Security is indeed a goal in and of itself, but it's also a means, and we tend to ignore that fact. Building in Jerusalem is the perfect reminder that we are living here in Israel not simply thanks to our might (which is extremely important), but more importantly by the might of our right.

Whether or not we release terrorists from prison, we must speed up our building in and around Jerusalem for other reasons as well. There's a struggle in the city and its environs that the public does not know about. That struggle is going to determine whether Israel could divide Jerusalem -- as the Left so desires -- or not. As Israelis and Palestinians compete to develop various parts of the city (most Palestinian development is illegal), urban contiguity is called into question.

Take, for example, the Jewish neighborhood in Shimon Hatzadik-Sheikh Jarrah, which is only half finished. The city, under government orders, has halted construction. Once complete, the community would connect the neighborhoods of Ramot Eshkol and Maalot Dafna with Mount Scopus, where the Hadassah Medical Center and Hebrew University are located. If we don't tighten our grip on Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon Hatzadik, the Palestinians are going to do it themselves, bolstering their claims to the area as part of a final arrangement. Disconnecting Mount Scopus from the rest of Jerusalem -- before 1967 it was tiny enclave administered by the U.N. -- is one of the possible outcomes of that scenario.

The picture is similar over the hills between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim (inside the E1 zone). The U.S. has so far prevented Israel from building there, but the consequences of that decision are acute: Either there will be contiguous Israeli development from west to east, connecting Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem, or contiguous Palestinian development from north to south, which would sever Maaleh Adumim from the capital. In the meantime, the Israelis have stopped building, while the Bedouin, encouraged by the Palestinians to disregard the Israeli authorities, are continuing to build. Even the fragile Israeli link between downtown Jerusalem and the string of neighborhoods Israel built up after 1967 is not secure. Between the two, there are swaths of land that, lacking Israeli development, the Palestinians will utilize.

Housing in the capital is also a pressing matter. Some 18,000 Jews leave the city every year. Prices have skyrocketed because of the great demand and minimal supply. The Arabs also use the demographic angle to their advantage -- the Jewish majority is shrinking all the time. For these reasons and more, when Israel decides to build, it needs to be in the direction of Jerusalem.

In the not-so-distant past, the world agreed with Israeli development in Jerusalem. Though the international community may have referred to the Israeli presence in Jerusalem as settlement, it did not practice its policy that way. Is it possible to turn back the wheels of time? Perhaps, but to do that, we would have to change our attitude toward Jerusalem. If we don't refer to Jerusalem as one, unified city that will not, under any circumstances, be divided, the world won't change its attitude either. Jerusalem, therefore, is not just a problem, it's also a challenge and the solution.

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