Is President Trump siding with J Street?
Has the Trump administration taken J Street’s side in the dispute over an illegal Arab settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem?
That disturbing question has suddenly entered the ongoing controversy over a piece of Israeli public land near Ma’ale Adumim, a major suburb of Jerusalem. Several dozen Arab families began squatting there some years ago, alongside the highway that goes from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. They call their encampment “Khan al-Ahmar.”
The illegal settlers in Khan al-Ahmar don’t own the land. They don’t rent it. They don’t have any construction permits. They simply set up some tents there and waited for sympathetic journalists and Jewish “peace” activists to go to bat for them, which didn’t take long.
The Israeli authorities have more than enough reason to remove the illegal settlers. It’s obviously a security hazard to have an Arab encampment situated adjacent to a heavily traveled Israeli highway. It’s also hazardous to the children of Khan al-Ahmar itself, who reportedly run back and forth across the road at will.
But most of all, there is a vital principle at stake: Should Israel enforce its own laws, or should it bend those laws whenever The Washington Post or the European Union start complaining?
The E.U., by the way, has its sordid fingerprints all over this one. It has been providing financial assistance to the Khan al-Ahmar squatters and to other groups of Arabs illegally settling on Israeli land. This is consistent with the Palestinian Authority’s strategy of creating “facts on the ground” in the Israeli-controlled part of Judea and Samaria, known as Area C, in the hopes of one day turning those “facts” into part of the “State of Palestine.”
Israel’s courts have repeatedly ruled that Khan al-Ahmar is illegal and should be dismantled. But court rulings don’t interest J Street unless they serve the far-left’s political agenda. The J Street web site, explaining the group’s campaign on behalf of the illegal Arab settlers, boasts that “in the past, the State Department has helped to deter the Israeli government from carrying out major demolitions.”
I guess it’s no surprise that the Obama administration’s State Department would actively and outrageously interfere to pressure the Israeli government not to enforce its own laws. But the current State Department, under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is supposed to be different.
Yet according to Likud Knesset Member Yoav Kisch, it’s the Trump administration that is now preventing the implementation of the Israeli Supreme Court’s May 2018 order to dismantle the illegal settlement. In an interview this week with the Knesset television station, Kisch said the Israeli government is delaying fulfillment of the court’s ruling “until after the [Trump] peace plan is presented” because “the Americans asked that we not do anything on the subject until afterwards.”
It’s not surprising that J Streets sides with the illegal Arab settlers. But why should President Trump?
I’m not surprised, for example, that J Street spreads misinformation in order to protect the illegal settlers. Its website declares, “Palestinians lived in the Khan al-Ahmar area prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.” That’s supposed to demonstrate their deep roots in the land on which they are squatting. What J Street doesn’t say is how many “Palestinians” (they didn’t call themselves that) lived there. According to the British census of Palestine in 1931, there was a grand total of three Arab houses in Khan al-Ahmar, with a combined population of 27 people.
I’m not surprised that a handful of U.S. senators, led by Bernie Sanders and the soon-to-be-disgraced Al Franken, signed a letter in November 2017 demanding that Israel leave Khan al-Ahmar alone. There are always a few politicians who will support almost any cause.
I’m not surprised that the people opposing the dismantling of an illegal Arab settlement are simultaneously supporting the dismantling of perfectly legal Jewish settlements. Hypocrisy, after all, is the calling card of Israel’s critics.
And I’m not surprised that supporters of Khan al-Ahmar make it seem as if dismantling it would be cruel and inhuman, when in reality, the Israeli authorities have repeatedly offered to simply move them to another location.
But I am very surprised and deeply concerned at the possibility that the Trump administration could be falling into the old Obama pattern of pressuring Israel to make unilateral concessions in order to appease media pundits and Israel-bashing activists. I hope that Knesset Member Kisch was mistaken. I am anxiously awaiting an unequivocal denial from U.S. officials that they are asking Israel to let the squatters of Khan al-Ahmar continue their theft of Israeli public land.
( A version of this post first appeared at JNS.ORG)