Sherwin Pomerantz
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Do 1,000 new apartments really block peace?

With all the deadly conflict in the region, the fuss over building in existing communities is disingenuous

There is a neighborhood here in Jerusalem, a three minute drive from my office and ten minutes from the center of the city inhabited by 20,000 plus religious Jews who are punctilious in their observance of Jewish law (some people mislabel them as “Ultra-Orthodox” but they are simply a bit more careful than most about their adherence to the tenets of our faith). Given the fact that average families there have 6-8 children, the community is constantly in need of additional housing and the Government of Israel last week authorized adding 600 new apartments in the community to handle the natural growth of the suburb,

On the south side of Jerusalem, just east of the road to Bethlehem, 12 minutes by car from the city center, is another Jerusalem neighborhood with 25,000 residents, composed of religious and secular people. Because the price of real estate there is somewhat lower than in the center of the city, there is a demand for more housing and the government issued permits last week to add 400 units there as well.

To be sure, Ramat Shlomo and Har Homa, as these neighborhoods are called, are just over the “green line” or what some refer to as the pre-1967 borders of the State of Israel. And when I say “just over” I mean a short walking distance from the area inside the “green line.” In neither case is this the creation of a new community or the appropriation of additional land of any sort. Rather the plans call for the construction of additional housing units on open land within the borders of each of those communities.

And what has been the result?

Jordan has asked the UN Security Council to convene an emergency meeting to discuss Israel’s plan to build more homes in Arab East Jerusalem. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said the move was “a breach of Israel’s commitments and would push peace efforts further away.”

A letter to the Security Council president from Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Ryad Mansour called for international intervention to stop “Israeli violations” in Jerusalem, and alleged “attacks” by “settlers” at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Never mentioning, of course, the four month old daily stoning of Jerusalem’s light rail cars by Palestinian demonstrators or why the Palestinian leadership was peeved earlier this week when the Mayor of Jerusalem had the “audacity” to personally visit the Temple Mount. Heaven forfend that the Jewish mayor of Jerusalem should ascend the Temple Mount.

Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub was quoted as saying at a press conference in Ramallah that “Such unilateral acts will lead to an explosion” while Palestinian President Abbas voiced the opinion that “such acts will cause a third Palestinian uprising against Israel.” Really? This is enough to do that?

And of course, not to be outdone, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Monday, in response to the decision to build, that “Israel’s continued building across the Green Line is incompatible with their stated desire to live in a peaceful society.” This was echoed by EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton who said that if the reports are confirmed, “it will call once again into serious question Israel’s commitment to a negotiated solution with the Palestinians.”

Frankly, I think it was a mistake for the government to make such a big announcement about the authorization to add these units although I understand that it was important to some members of the coalition to have this announced publicly. Cooler heads should have prevailed and the building permits could simply have been issued without fanfare but we are, of course, subject to the vagaries of local politics.

But what this does represent is the total lack of perspective both on the part of our neighbors as well as in the worldwide community regarding anything that happens in Israel. In a logical world would it be seen as such a big deal that existing communities are growing and, as such, need additional space for their residents? After all, it is not as if the government here decided to establish new communities over the “green line.” This was simply addressing the need for natural growth.

And in a region such as ours, where hundreds if not thousands of people are being killed every day in Syria, Iraq, Egypt …and the list goes on, are these 1,000 new apartments in existing Jerusalem neighborhoods really the burning issue of our times? No thinking person would answer that question in the affirmative. But it is just easier for the UN Security Council, the EU and Washington to debate this issue rather than constructively address the burgeoning death toll elsewhere in the region which makes our issues pale by comparison.

Plato said: “There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” The question remains, can the world survive until that happens?

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.