In a controversial move, Israel announced on Tuesday the approval of a plan to build 900 housing units in Palestinian-claimed East Jerusalem, in the wake of American Secretary of State John Kerry’s stated intent to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Officials within the governments of Israel and the city of Jerusalem claim that this housing will increase supply and lower the cost of living for ordinary Israelis, undoubtedly a positive thing. After a similar approval of new settlement units on Sunday, Housing Minister Uri Ariel insisted, “No country in the world will accept dictates from other countries where it is allowed to build and where not to.”
While this is certainly the case, it is also true that no country is allowed to build inside another country without that country’s governmental permission. The issue presented by the Israeli developments, and the issue for the impending peace talks, is that many within Israel, Palestine, and the international community at large do not believe that East Jerusalem and other areas of settlement belong to Israel, and therefore they cannot build without Palestinian permission. For this reason, many Palestinians have claimed that the building of settlements violates the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel, on the other hand, insists that no such violation is taking place, because the territory in question did not belong to any recognized state before Israel gained it in the Six-Day War in 1967. Of course, Arabs and Palestinians did reside in the West Bank and East Jerusalem prior to the war, but there was no officially recognized Palestinian governing body until after the Oslo Accords in 1993.
So while the Israeli assertions that there is no technical violation of international law may be true, the problem is that Palestine sees the West Bank as the heart of its territory, and both Israel and Palestine views Jerusalem as their non-negotiable capital. Discussing these territories and the rights of the residents therein will be key to any talks, and exacerbating the territorial dispute will likely not lead to any faster resolution.
At the same time, it must be noted that attitudes toward Israeli settlements are not universal within either Israel or Palestine. The Israeli government’s announcement did not find universal popularity within Israel, either. Shelly Yachimovitch, Israeli Labor Party head and an opponent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claims that going forth with this plan will brand the Netanyahu regime as “a government that is trying to undermine all possibilities of this [Israeli-Palestinian] agreement.” Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, despite being in Netanyahu’s administration, agreed, citing the settlement constructions as “unhelpful” for the peace process.
It remains to be seen what will come of the talks, or even if they take place at all, but the ownership of Jerusalem may have a simple and peaceful solution. Many view the status of Jerusalem as the most important territorial dispute, considering both Israel and Palestine considers it to be their capital. However, there is operational precedent for divided capital cities. Nicosia in Cyprus has been divided between the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to the north in relative peace, although not universal recognition, since 1974.
By Laura Gates
Source: CNN, Bloomberg