Grabbing Land, And Criticism
Rabin unprepared for uproar over expropriating Arab property in east Jerusalem.
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takenly argued that the majori- that mind-set, it may be easier to
the issue considered so ex- ty of the land in question was be- understand why the political ef-
quisitely complex that the ing seized not from Arabs but fect of the latest measure — cre-
Israelis demanded, and the from Jews. Before the avalanche ating a united front against Israel
Palestinians agreed, to postpone could be stopped, it was barrel- in an otherwise divided Arab
discussing it until the final-sta- ing straight into the U.N. Secu- world — was grasped too late. All
at once, the Israeli government
tus settlement — has been in the rity Council.
Yet the most punishing blow faced the predicament of trying
headlines for weeks now.
Some of the news (albeit timed came from two sources close to Is- to contain the damage abroad
to meet electoral needs in the rael's (and particularly Mr. Ra- without losing electoral points at
United States, rather than the bin's) heart: Morocco and Jordan. home. (A poll conducted last week
dictates of the peace process) has In a sharply worded letter, Mo- yielded the surprising result that
been good, namely, broad con- rocco's King Hassan II demand- 51 percent of the Israeli public
gressional support for recogniz- ed that Israel rescind the deemed the latest expropriations
ing West Jerusalem as Israel's expropriation order lest it threat- in Jerusalem a mistake.)
The solution to this dilemma,
capital by moving the American en the continuation of the peace
Embassy there in 1999 (by which talks and impair Morocco's reached at last Sunday's Cabinet
time the permanent status of the nascent ties with Israel. Almost meeting, was a typically Rabi-
city presumably will have been simultaneously, Jordanian Am- nesque compromise: The expro-
But most of the abiding news
about Jerusalem has been bad.
And it was precipitated not by the
Palestinians but by Israel itself,
through its almost off-handed an-
nouncement of the expropriation
of 134 acres of Arab land in east
Jerusalem in order to extend the
Jewish neighborhood of Ramot
and to relocate the city's police
headquarters to an expansive
area in the south.
In other times, this fairly mod-
est expropriation would hardly
be dramatic news. Actually, it
was deemed so mundane that it
was not even deliberated by the
Israeli government. The 134
acres were in fact but a fraction A Palestinian works on a Jewish settlement.
of an earlier plan (approved a
year and a half ago by the Min- bassador Marwan Mouashar priations would stand, but no
isterial Committee on Jerusalem) verbally delivered a similar warn- others would take place for Jew-
to expropriate 720 acres of Arab ing to the Israeli Foreign Min- ish housing in east Jerusalem
land, in various parts of east istry. When reports of these (public works were deliberately
Jerusalem, for exclusively Jew- messages reached Mr. Rabin in excluded from the ban).
The reaction to the decision
ish housing. When that area was Washington, he was so aston-
slashed by more than 80 percent, ished by their vehemence that at from the Israeli right was pre-
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin first he questioned their veraci- dictably angry. But even more to
the point, Israel will have paid
took it upon himself to publish ty.
a steep price — in a bitter clash
the expropriation order without
consulting his foreign minister or ing made to play down the sig- with the Arab states and a pos-
the rest of his government. It sim- nificance of the expropriations. sible condemnation by the Se-
ply did not seem necessary to What's another 134 acres, the ar- curity Council — for little
him, for as political analyst Uzi gument went, when Israel al- concrete gain. Perhaps the best
Benziman observed last week, ready has expropriated close to one can hope for is that the affair
"No one envisioned the stormy 6,000 acres of land in east will at least generate a deeper
response and grave political Jerusalem? Almost 85 percent of awareness that to advance to-
straits in which Israel would find this land (about a third of the ward true reconciliation, neither
area annexed in 1967) was owned side can play by the old rules of
Arabs, but all of it has been doing as it pleases.
After the fact, however,
The Palestinians often have
"stormy" seemed practically an used to build 36,000 housing
of such behavior as a
understatement. Convening in
Cairo, the Arab League poured Jews. The fact is that the num- typical Israeli bent summed up
out its ire. A meeting between ber of Israelis inhabiting the area by David Ben-Gurion's famous
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres loosely termed East Jerusalem dictum: "It matters not what the
and his Egyptian counterpart, already surpasses the number of world says; it matters what the
Amr Moussa, was soured. And at Palestinians. So why the fuss Jews do." Cynics take a different
view, speculating that with the
the subsequent session of the top- now?
Indeed, given these statistics, hard part of peace directly ahead,
level Israeli-Palestinian Liaison
Committee, Mr. Peres — who it may be easier to understand Mr. Rabin, some of his ministers,
had been armed with misleading why Israelis tend, out of sheer and many of his compatriots
statistics by the Israeli Housing habit, to regard expropriations in would like nothing more than for
Ministry — innocently but mis- Jerusalem as normal. And given the process to collapse.
erusalem — yes, Jerusalem,