US Cash for Israeli Settlements Making a Mockery of the Moratorium

AFP

By and

Part 2: 'Irresponsible and Provocative'


Even when an Israeli government does halt a settlement project -- which happens rarely enough -- American foundations step in to make up the difference. When Jerusalem wanted to prevent the construction of permanent homes in Maskiot, a tiny settlement near the Jordanian border, CFOIC and One Israel Fund raised tens of thousands of dollars for temporary bungalows -- until the official building freeze was lifted.

"Funding such activity is both irresponsible and provocative," says Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, a lobby group founded in Washington in 2008 to advocate a critical view of the Israeli government. "Ongoing settlement construction is diminishing the chances of a two-state solution."

Still, it's hardly likely the representatives of the pro-settler groups will change their tune. "American presidents come and go, but our communities have continued to grow," says Sondra Baras of CFOIC. "It seems a bit silly that the president of one of the greatest nations on Earth would get so involved in a family's personal decision to buy or build a new home somewhere in Israel."

Steven Orlow at the One Israel Fund also claims settlement construction had never been an obstacle to peace talks, and that Obama himself "decided to throw that issue into the mix." When it comes to diplomacy in the region, Orlow says that "the sheer level of incompetence demonstrated to date by the US administration has been, regrettably, breathtaking."

Dead End

The American president does in fact share some of the blame for the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process. At first he lent his full support to the call for a complete freeze on settlement building, including in East Jerusalem. Palestinians took that as a sign that Obama would expect extensive concessions from Israel before negotiations could begin. But Obama caved in last September, welcoming Israel's half-hearted settlement moratorium and since then calling on the Palestinians to join in direct talks.

Obama has maneuvered himself into a dead end. Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is demanding concessions before he returns to the negotiating table. At the same time, many ministers in the Israeli cabinet are so unhappy with the current moratorium that under no circumstances will they want to extend it beyond September.

Still, the largest problem isn't the settlements in the West Bank -- the majority of American donations go to the large settlement blocks that would in all likelihood be given to the Jewish state in the event of a peace accord. The main obstacle is instead settlements in annexed East Jerusalem. House by house, they form a ring around the old city and make the division of Jerusalem into an Israeli and a Palestinian capital virtually impossible.

Buying Up East Jerusalem

Arieh King, 35, stands on the roof of a four-story apartment building called Maale HaZeitim. Ras al-Amud is what Arab residents call this neighborhood, where the Dome of the Rock glows golden in the background.

King wears a crocheted kippah, something that has become a symbol of the settlers and those who sympathize with them. He is founder and head of the Israel Land Fund, an organization that uses front men to buy up houses and property from Palestinians in East Jerusalem, subsequently settling Jewish residents there. King is also the son-in-law of Irving Moskowitz, a Jewish multimillionaire from Miami Beach who is the primary sponsor of the Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

"Of course we receive donations from the US," King confirms. "That's perfectly legal." Left-wing Israeli organizations such as B'Tselem and Peace Now also receive American money, he adds, and they too can benefit from American tax law.

King stresses that he abides by the law -- Israeli law, of course. He doesn't recognize the international law that views East Jerusalem as an occupied territory. Because there was never a Palestinian state in "Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria," the realtor says, there can be no talk of occupied territory.

A Jewish state, on the other hand, King asserts, certainly did once exist. He is referring to the biblical kingdom of King David. As evidence, he points to the large Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives across the way, where Jews have been buried for more than 2000 years.

'King Hussein'

King scoffs at talk of a "two-state solution." He insists on referring to Obama as "King Hussein" -- drawing on the president's middle name -- and calls him "a Muslim, an anti-Semite and a hater of Jews." Netanyahu, King says, is only implementing the settlement moratorium to curry favor with the American president. "He's weak and he's harming the Jewish people," King says of the prime minister.

Netanyahu also halted settlement projects in deference to the US government during his first term in office in the late 1990s, King points out. Then he smiles widely and points out 66 new apartments that will be ready for occupancy by November.

"You just have to have patience," King says, "and all problems work themselves out over time."

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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