Next Year in Jerusalem

Next Year in Jerusalem


Tonight here in Israel families, throughout the country will be sitting down to celebrate the Passover. The traditional Seder meal will be served to celebrate the Exodus of the Jewish people out of the bondage of Egypt. At the end of the meal, it's tradition to declare "Next Year in Jerusalem."

It's a saying the Jewish people have exclaimed for two thousand years and expresses the profound attachment they have for their ancient - and now modern - capital.

But right now, many of them feel that capital is under threat, not from an enemy power but from a trusted friend, the United States of America. Here's how the Israeli daily Ha'aretz described the latest developments on the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations on Monday:

U.S. President Barack Obama's demands during his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Tuesday point to an intention to impose a permanent settlement on Israel and the Palestinians in less than two years, political sources in Jerusalem say. Israeli officials view the demands that Obama made at the White House as the tip of the iceberg under which lies a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward Israel.

Of 10 demands posed by Obama, four deal with Jerusalem: opening a Palestinian commercial interests office in East Jerusalem, an end to the razing of structures in Palestinian neighborhoods in the capital, stopping construction in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and not building the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

But another key demand - to discuss the dispute's core issues during the indirect talks that are planned - is perceived in Jerusalem as problematic because it implies that direct negotiations would be bypassed. This would set up a framework through which the Americans would be able to impose a final settlement.

It is not just Obama's demands that are perceived as problematic, but also the new modus operandi of American diplomacy. The fact that the White House and State Department have been in contact with Israel's European allies, first and foremost Germany, is seen as part of an effort to isolate Israel and put enormous political pressure on it.

Here's how one commentator Efraim Inbar of the BESA Center also wrote recently about the situation in regards to Jerusalem:

Obama administration's attempt to force Israel to accept the division of Jerusalem as a prerequisite for peace talks is astonishing. Despite the obvious reluctance to confront an American president, Prime Minister Netanyahu can effectively resist such American pressure on Jerusalem. In fact, Jerusalem is the issue on which Netanyahu can best make a stand against Obama.

President Barack Obama capitalized on a minor Israeli glitch - the announcement of Israel's plans to build in Ramat Shlomo - to fabricate a crisis in US-Israeli relations. Obama seeks to renegotiate the agreement reached for starting proximity talks with the Palestinians and to extract additional concessions from Israel. Most striking and central is the administration's effort to force Israel into accepting the division of Jerusalem even before the talks start.

The White House expects that the Israeli prime minister will bend under pressure to its wishes. While in the past Netanyahu has proven susceptible to such pressure, the administration may be overplaying its hand on the issue of Jerusalem.

The division of the city is opposed by the current democratically elected Israeli government and by over 70 percent of the Jews in Israel. Few issues in Israel command such a large and clear majority.

The timing of the crisis also serves Israel well. A few days before Passover when Jews repeat a 2,000-year-old text pledging, "Next year in Jerusalem," Netanyahu can say no to American demands for concessions in Jerusalem. Rejection of the division of Jerusalem expresses the deepest wishes of an overwhelming number of Jews living both in Israel and the Diaspora."

Most of those Jews will be repeating that 2000 year old pledge tonight. For the first time in more than 2500 years, the Jewish people gained control of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. It's unlikely world pressure - or pressure from the Obama Administration - will get Israel to stop building in their ancient - and now modern - capital.

The Obama Administration may well be underestimating the resolve of both the Netanyahu government and the Jewish people over this ancient city.

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