Netanyahu Activates Ticking Time Bomb Despite U.S. Pressure to Halt Building at Karm al-Mufti

The public disagreement between Israel and the U.S. over continued settlement expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem has heated up considerably. At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rejected the Obama administration’s request for a halt to construction of a planned settlement in Sheik Jarrah, located in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.

The disputed site is owned by billionaire and settlement supporter Irving Moskowitz who bought the property in 1985. Mr. Moskowitz hopes to construct 20 residence units at what is currently the site of the Shepherd’s Hotel. The location was once used as a residence by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. It was also was once the home of author and Palestinian nationalist, George Antonius. The location borders an historic and wealthy Palestinian neighborhood which has many opulent villas. The proposed building site was described at the Israeli (Hebrew) Channel One web site as a “ticking time bomb since 1985.” The municipality of Jerusalem has prevented the development of the site because of Palestinian sensibilities until recently.

During Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous tenure as Prime Minister, two long-contemplated controversial construction projects in East Jerusalem were begun despite intense Palestinian and international protest. The first was the opening of an exit for a tunnel to the Muslim quarter near the Via Dolorosa which runs under the Haram-al-Sharif or the Temple Mount. The second was the construction of a Jewish settlement on Jabal Abu Ghneim or Har Homa on a hill overlooking the city which is located in Israeli-occupied territory.

Despite delays caused by opponents, these projects have been completed as planned. Today the excavated tunnel is one of the most popular Jerusalem tourist attractions, where visitors can use the once controversial Via Dolorosa exit to enter the Arab market located in the Muslim quarter. Jabal Abu Ghneim is today the site of an Israeli settlement containing 4000 housing units. It is difficult for many to recall that in 1997 the General Assembly voted 132 to 3 to recommend a halt to construction of the settlement. The countries that voted against the resolution were Israel, the United States, and Micronesia.

The opening of the tunnel exit (and the tunnel excavation) and the building of the Jewish settlement on Jabal Abu Ghneim were both delayed by previous Israeli administrations, at least, partially because of the many legitimate Palestinian concerns. Benjamin Netanyahu ignored these concerns which resulted in rioting and international condemnation. Now in his second turn as Prime Minister Netanyahu has again chosen to ignore Palestinian sensitivities and international opinion. His government has decided to allow construction of settler residences at the site known to the Palestinians as Karm al-Mufti (Vineyard of the Mufti) when previous Israeli governments have refrained from doing. This new settlement is only a fraction of the size of the one built on Jabal Abu Ghneim and is not as strategically located. The planned construction site, although historic, is not nearly as sensitive as the tunnel construction which caused significant danger to the structure of the Haram (Mosque Compound) which is located above it.

What makes construction at the Shepherd’s Hotel site so controversial is that it demonstrates Israel’s policy of not only generally rejecting the U.S. request to cease building in the territories, but also to refuse a U.S. plea to halt a building at a specific site. An entreaty to stop the planned building on the property was delivered to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren by State Department officials within the last few days. According to Ha’aretz, Oren told the Americans that Jerusalem is no different than any other part of his country and that Israel would not accede to their demand.

In his speech to the cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu declared, “Jerusalem is united, it is the capital of the Jewish people, and its sovereignty is not open to debate.” He further added that any Jew has the right to build anywhere in Jerusalem. The Prime Minister’s statement received support from opposition member of parliament Yoel Hasoon (Kadima), who said,”the American request to refrain from building in Jerusalem is not legitimate. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the Jewish people, and is not a settlement…”

Further evidence that Israel and the United States are far from resolving settlement expansion dispute was the postponement of this week’s scheduled meeting between Special Envoy George Mitchell and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. There has been no official confirmation of when the next meeting between the two will occur.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to obey the U.S. demand to halt construction in East Jerusalem and in the “settlement blocs” has wide support among Israelis, who are mostly dug in against what they consider a betrayal by the Americans. Even politicians that are against the occupation have not spoken out in behalf of the Obama demand for a settlement freeze, according to Israeli journalist Aluf Benn. But if the Americans want to be a credible force for peace in Israel/Palestine it is important that they hold firm on their demand that Israel cease all settlement construction in all of the West Bank including Jerusalem. Each new Israeli structure designated “for Jews only ” prejudices a future settlement and makes a mockery of the “peace process.”

As the journalist and blogger Philip Weiss wrote about the confrontation over Karm al-Mufti, “Isn’t this the whole enchilada? Isn’t this what Obama promised in his Cairo speech, a shared Jerusalem? Harvard professor and blogger Stephen Walt wrote me a couple days ago that he thought that Obama and Netanyahu “are headed for an eyeball to eyeball situation, and …[he has] no idea who will blink first.” Who knows, maybe this is the confrontation Walt just predicted.

Ira Glunts is a Jewish-American, recovered liberal Zionist, retired university librarian and avid fan of the Tottenham Hotspur.  He and his wife live in Madison, NY with their five cats. Read other articles by Ira.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. B99 said on July 20th, 2009 at 9:15am #

    There will likely be no confrontation between Obama and Netanyahu any time soon. Israel will stall until an election is in the works – be it US midterm, or Israeli, or even Palestinian. Only then, when the election results are in, will Israel re-size where things stand. And by then – we are heading for 2012 US presidential elections – time to stall some more (as the absorption of the WB into Israel continues.) Of course, by that time, Obama will want some sort of progress he can point to, so he’ll likely be compromising right and left with Israel.

  2. bozh said on July 20th, 2009 at 9:34am #

    yes, establishment of an israeli or even a ‘jewish’ state must not happen yet!

  3. dan e said on July 20th, 2009 at 2:42pm #

    also, “Z Street”. (disclaimer: may be offensive to some, esp. sane people)

  4. dan e said on July 20th, 2009 at 3:10pm #

    more specifically:

    hold on to your hat, it’ll curl your hair.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 20th, 2009 at 11:55pm #

    Are we joking? The result of a Netanyahu versus Obama ‘confrontation’…oops, I’m laughing so hard I’ll have to re-adjust my surgical as certain as the night following the day. Obama will pose and prattle, make a famous speech or two, full of high, soaring, rhetoric, be praised to the echo by the usual media propaganda suspects and the habitual suckers, then do what Rahm Emanuel tells him. That is, roll over, never forget that he is just an employee who can be brought low by the money power as surely as he was lifted up, and lecture the Palestinians to abjure violence. After six months can there really still be people so deeply into denial that they do not recognise Obama’s modus operandi yet?

  6. opeluboy said on July 21st, 2009 at 2:26pm #

    MM, I have to disagree on one point. I don’t think Obama will even make a speech about it.

  7. Sean O'Neil said on July 21st, 2009 at 4:01pm #

    Mulga Mumblebrain —

    “After six months can there really still be people so deeply into denial that they do not recognise Obama’s modus operandi yet?”

    Yes indeed. All you have to do is visit one of these sites, and you will see the breadth and depth of denial… and it will astound you —

    Daily Kos
    Digby’s Hullabaloo
    Democratic Underground
    Huffington Post

    While there are cracks in the Donklebot Obamessiah facade, revealed by tepid criticism, most of the time people criticize Obama they do it in a way that makes it seem as though Obama’s just stuck in a tough spot and forced to choose one evil or the other.

    This theme of Lesser Evils apparently is now the operating theme of all Democrats in America.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 23rd, 2009 at 3:29am #

    Sean, I was impressed by a brief look at the ponerology website, by the concept of ‘characterpaths’, which I took to mean those not innately psychopathic, but who had had it ‘thrust upon’ them by the real pathocrats. I sometimes find it hard to distinguish between the two, but it does seem to me that psychopathy is, in a way, transmissible, like a disease of the soul. If your spiritual immune system is deficient, in that you haven’t got the bottle to stand up to the manipulators and degraders, or are so brainwashed that you cannot tell your moral arse from your ethical elbow any longer, then you’re likely to fall into bad ways, simply to get along. Anything for a quiet life. Resisting evil, when it is ubiquitous, all-powerful and paints itself as good, takes a lot of guts. To make matters worse, it’s a losing struggle, as the pathocrats have things so tightly controlled that I have no expectation that they will be overthrown before they destroy humanity. Then, of course, despair becomes a seductive poison itself.
    I simply cannot believe people have learned so little from experience that they expected anything different from Obama. There is the two hundred plus years of absolute plutocratic rule in the US. Followed by the last thirty odd years of extreme reaction, the greatest transfer of wealth in human history to the fewest hands, while US median wages went nowhere. Then you have the betrayals of Clinton, Blair and, in Australia, Rudd, all of whom promised ‘change’ and delivered exactly the same, and then worse, of the policies, attitudes and ideology of their pretend ‘adversaries’. Obama is right out of the same mould, although the rhetorical skills and the skin tone introduce novel elements. The system cannot be reformed. If it looked at all likely that a President or Prime Minister would reverse the tide of inequality and elite kleptomania, he or she would be eliminated, politically or, if needs be, physically. If the masses revolted, throwing off the lifetime of brainwashing and the incessant media indoctrination, then the public would be abolished- in other words an authoritarian regime would be installed to protect the real rulers. And all the while, at a time when humanity requires the greatest revolution of heads, hearts and souls in its history, the process of unnatural selection that is market capitalism, produces a ruling elite and an operating system ever more ruthless, ever more obsessed by gain and greed and ever more blind and indifferent to the fate of all others and everything else.

  9. Don Hawkins said on July 23rd, 2009 at 3:55am #

    Mulga I couldn’t have written it better myself.

  10. Don Hawkins said on July 23rd, 2009 at 4:04am #

    Sent this to CNBC a few day’s ago.
    Oh boy,

    Trust in government and Obama is headed South and the business sector is headed North. Oh goodie. Dick Morris was on Hannity last night and said Obama is down in the polls and now policy makers who have to get reelected are moving away from this administration. Yep things will be back to normal very soon. I think we all knew that Capitalism and the free market is the only answer. Don’t think of the problems as being to big. From the East coast to the West coast in the valleys and the mountains in the towns and cities the board rooms of free market Capitalism are this very second hard at work using the wisdom they only have to bring us back to normal. Go for it people go for it we are depending on you and we KNOW you can do it.


    Read DV so called leaders. We love you we love you very very much.

  11. Don Hawkins said on July 23rd, 2009 at 4:10am #

    Oh I forgot for all of you so called leaders and Glenn we will buy your book and for those of you who have not written a book yet please do we will buy it. I have almost ten dollars in a jar. I have been saving or should I go shopping. Please tell me what to do.