Overwhelming silence. That’s been the public stance of the leaders of most major American Jewish institutions since the Israeli government announced that they were reactivating plans to construct a new settlement in the area of East Jerusalem known as E1. This absence of public response represents a missed opportunity for leadership on an issue that threatens both the vital relationship between Israel and the United States and the very future of the Jewish state.
Constructing settlements in E1 almost definitely destroys hopes of ending the occupation, which violates the human rights of Palestinians and threatens the long-term viability and security of Israel. Since E1 links East Jerusalem with the West Bank, Israeli settlements there would literally present an obstacle to a two-state solution. While final plans have not been released, previously-proposed plans suggest that such settlement will probably also limit Palestinians’ freedom of movement, restrict access to private agricultural land, and displace the Jahalin Bedouin living in the area.
Today, virtually every major Jewish organization publicly voices support for the creation of a Palestinian state. However, our leadership cannot profess commitment to this solution while closing our eyes to actions that undermine this very possibility.
NEWS UPDATE: The Union for Reform Judaism said it opposes the Israeli decision to build new settlements, “especially in the critical ‘E1’ area” of the West Bank. The declaration came in a policy document that addresses fallout from the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations.
The announcement of plans to build in E1 is a slap in the face to the United States, Israel’s closest and most important ally. The U.S. just recently stood with Israel in being one of the only major countries to oppose the Palestinian Authority’s bid to elevate its status to “non-member observer state,” and even used political capital to persuade other nations to vote no or abstain.
President Barack Obama strongly and publicly supported Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of rocket attacks by Hamas, while financing the Iron Dome system that saved Israeli lives. Construction in E1 would violate repeated commitments to the United States, dating back to 1994, not to build settlements in the area.
American Jewish communal leaders — including heads of major institutions, rabbis, and local leaders — have a historic opportunity to respond to these new developments by taking leadership on three fronts: vis-à-vis the Israeli government, the American government, and our own communities.