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State Department tangled in its own rhetoric on Jerusalem

The city of Ma’ale Adumim, located four miles from Jerusalem’s municipal boundary. Credit: Gilabrand via Wikimedia Commons.
The city of Ma’ale Adumim, located four miles from Jerusalem’s municipal boundary. Credit: Gilabrand via Wikimedia Commons.

By Stephen M. Flatow/

The U.S. State Department has accused Israel of “undermining” peace by planning to build homes in areas in and around Jerusalem that happen to be beyond the pre-1967 armistice line. Washington considers those areas to be “illegal settlements” that ultimately need to be dismantled to make room for a Palestinian state.

Yet most of the new homes in question will be located in an all-Arab neighborhood, Beit Safafa.

So does that mean the State Department is calling for the dismantling of one of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods? Or is Foggy Bottom simply caught in the web of its own illogical, double-standard rhetoric when it comes to Israel and the disputed territories?

This peculiar situation began on July 5, when State Department spokesman John Kirby denounced Israel’s latest housing construction plans. He expressed “deep concern” at Israel’s plans, warned that they were “counter-productive,” claimed that they “raise serious questions about Israel’s intentions,” and accused Israel of “a systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions, and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution.”

It’s troubling that State Department officials seem to use their harshest language when they comment on peaceful, legal home-building by Israel. State’s passionate tone was conspicuously absent just a few days earlier, when an American citizen (13 year-old Hallel Ariel) was brutally murdered in her bed by a Palestinian terrorist on July 1. Nor did the State Department seem outraged when three other American citizens (Chava Mark and her two children) were severely wounded in another Palestinian attack the following day.

But back to the Jerusalem construction issue.

According to the Associated Press, the Israeli government has authorized construction of “over 600” new homes in Beit Safafa, and 560 in Ma’aleh Adumim, a nearby Jewish town. Ma’aleh Adumim, which is just four miles from Jerusalem’s municipal boundary, is essentially a commuter suburb of the capital.

There may be disagreements among Israelis about the future status of some parts of the territories, but poll after poll has found that the overwhelming majority of Israelis believe Ma’aleh Adumim should remain part of Israel under any future peace agreement.

As for Beit Safafa, that area was a Jewish town in biblical times. A mikvah from the Second Temple period was found there by archaeologists in 1996. No Palestinian or Muslim artifacts from ancient times have ever been unearthed there, for one simple reason: there were no Palestinians or Muslims in ancient times. Islam was founded in the 7th century CE. And the local Arabs did not claim a “Palestinian” identity until recent decades.

Both Ma’aleh Adumim and almost all of Beit Safafa are situated beyond the pre-1967 lines.

If the State Department considers Ma’aleh Adumim to be an “illegal settlement in occupied territory,” then it should consider Beit Safafa to be an “illegal settlement in occupied territory,” too.

If the State Department regards Ma’aleh Adumim an “obstacle to peace,” then so is Beit Safafa.

And if the State Department wants to claim that both Ma’aleh Adumim and Beit Safafa are on land that belongs to “the Palestinians,” and should be part of a Palestinian state—well, Mr. Kirby should go ahead and try to make that case.

Let him show us where in the Bible those areas are called “Palestine,” and I’ll show him where they’re called “Judea.” Let him recount for us when in history they were part of the State of Palestine, and I’ll recount for him all the centuries that they were part of the Jewish state. Let him explain the basis in international law for declaring those areas Arab or Palestinian, and I will explain how international law proves that those areas belong to the Jewish people.

Until then, the State Department should stop applying a double standard when talking about home construction for Jews and Arabs in and around Jerusalem. State’s position is not just unfair; it’s an insult to the intelligence of every reasonable person.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.

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