Obama Hesitates as Israeli Bulldozers Demolish

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.

Hillary Rodham Clinton was quick to rebuke Israel for its demolition of part of the historic Shepherd hotel in occupied Arab East Jerusalem where Jewish settlers are hoping to build 20 housing units.

“We are very concerned about the initiation of demolition of the Shepherd’s Hotel,” the secretary of state declared in Abu Dhabi, during her second tour in a month of Arab states in that region. She did not mince any words in her outright condemnation: “This disturbing development undermines peace efforts to achieve the two state-solution.  In particular, this move contradicts the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem.”

Regrettably, Clinton stopped short of using her whip. This Israeli action, was typical of past disruptive moves on the eve of any Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.  This time it came as Palestinian and Israeli representatives where scheduled to come to Washington for separate talks with State Department officials on the steps the two sides needed to adopt in order to pave the way for the resumption of peace talks.

The hotel, a villa built in 1935, was to serve as the residence of  Haj Amin al-Husseini, the late grand mufti of Jerusalem. The mufti, a prominent Palestinian nationalist leader, was sought by the British for his earlier anti-colonial activities in Iraq and later in Palestine, where the Zionists were trying to establish their presence.  As a result, he fled the country and took refuge during World War Two in Italy and Germany.

After Israel occupied East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, the property, was confiscated under its absentee property laws that apply to abandoned properties of absent Palestinians who were chased out of their homeland.  It was later sold to a Miami-based American-Jewish billionaire, Irving Moskowitz, who is said to be “a long-time supporter of Jewish building and settlement in East Jerusalem.”

The Shepherd hotel episode followed several violent Israeli actions in the past fortnight in the occupied West Bank. A 66-year-old Palestinian was (mistakenly) shot dead while sleeping in bed by Israeli troops who burst into his apartment in Hebron and in the presence of his wife who was praying. His wife said, “They didn’t ask a thing – not what his name was or whose house it was – and immediately started shooting.” Another incident involved the killing of a 36-year-old woman who died after inhaling tear gas while watching a Palestinian protest march. Again a Palestinian was shot dead according to the Israeli army rules of engagement because he was approaching an Israeli checkpoint carrying a water bottle but did not heed orders to stop.

All these actions were condemned by Arab American and Jewish- American groups as well as various international organizations. The Washington-based American Task Force on Palestine called on the United States government to ensure that such provocations cease. Americans for Peace Now (APN), an American-Jewish organization, said “(Israeli) settler activities in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, aided and abetted by the government of Israel, directly threaten the two-state solution and have the potential to spark a conflagration that could spread far beyond the city.”

A confidential report by the 25 consuls-general from European Union members warned that “if current trends are not stopped as a matter of urgency, the prospect of East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state becomes increasingly unlikely and unworkable.” The report, obtained by the Independent of London, cautioned: “This, in turn, seriously endangers the chances of  a sustainable peace on the basis of two states, with Jerusalem as their future capital.”
APN President Debra DeLee, whose group is considered a leading American Jewish organization advocating Middle East peace, echoed the views of many in her statement which declared: “The fact that Netanyahu permitted (the demoliton) to take place –– and is now defending it publicly –– during a period when he is demanding that the Obama Administration block a United Nations Security Council resolution criticizing precisely this kind of Israeli action, is thus especially ironic. A forceful response for President Obama –– more forceful than Secretary Clinton’s statement of U.S. concern –– is vital to show Netanyahu that he is mistaken.”
Regrettably, the Obama administration has yet to act on a draft resolution submitted last December to the 15-nation UN Security Council which called for a halt of all West Bank Israeli settlement activity. If Obama is still concerned about the influence of the Israeli lobby, he might feel much better should he read a published letter from Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the J Street, which describes itself as a “pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying organization.”
In the recent letter to The New York Times, he wrote that Jewish voters “remain overwhelmingly supportive of  resident Obama and voted more than 2 to 1 for Democratic candidates, even in a landside year for Republicans.” He continued, “The bottom line is that President Obama would command broad support from Jewish Americans for a bold push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ….”

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at: Hishmehg@aol.com.

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