Happy New Year! These selections constitute most of J. Zel Lurie’s latest column in the Jewish Journal of South Florida:
The year was 1997. The Oslo Accords were slowly being implemented. The Israel Army had been withdrawn [except for part of Hebron] from the six largest West Bank cities. … These peaceful developments were ruined by Israel’s announcement that a new neighborhood of 6500 densely-packed housing units for 32,500 Jews would replace the Har Homa forest on the southern border of Jerusalem.
The forest was owned by Jews from Jerusalem in pre-State days and Arabs from the West Bank village of Beit Sahour which lay just across the border. Christian families from Beit Sahour would spend their Sundays picnicking under the shady trees of the Mountain of Jebel Abu Gheneim, the Arabic name for Har Homa.
The land was expropriated by the Israel Government. The Jewish owners have argued for many years over the amount to be paid them. The final settlement will be about $180,000 an acre. The Arab owners have refused to accept a single shekel.
As I wrote in my last column, the announcement of a new Jewish neighborhood, entirely surrounded by several Arab villages, caused an uproar, undermining the Oslo peace process.
In 1997, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), an Israeli-Palestinian peace organization, proposed that Har Homa become a Palestinian-Israeli Peace Forest. The only building would be a center in the heart of the forest where Arabs and Jews could meet.
“There isn’t a single piece of real estate in Jerusalem today which is shared,” IPCRI pointed out in 1997. “Every building, institution or landmark is either Israeli or Palestinian. The Har Homa-Jebel Abu Gheneim Peace Center would be shared property.” IPCRI’s suggestion was much too sensible to be implemented.
Ten years later we have the Annapolis Declaration and 4.000 Jews already living in Har Homa.
The Annapolis declaration calls for Israel and the PLO to negotiate seriously and continuosly to reach an agreement before the end of 2008. But the Olmert cabinet had a monkey-wrench ready to be thrown into the peace machinery. Like 1997, it was Har Homa.
Olmert’s housing minister announced a tender for the construction of another 370 housing units in Har Homa. The monkey-wrench served its purpose. The continuous discussion of the serious issues dividing Arabs and Jews–borders, refugees, security and Jerusalem–were halted in its tracks, to the relief of both sides.
Two meetings have been held so far. At both meetings, the Arabs talked about Har Homa … while the Israelis complained about the rockets flying into Sderot from Gaza.
Was Olmert’s readiness to return to the future Palestine state some of the 28 Arab villages annexed to Jerusalem in 1967 discussed by the Arab and Jewish negotiators? I doubt it. Was the sovereignty of the Temple Mount, where no Jew is allowed to pray, mentioned? Certainly not.
The possibility that the Arab residents of Jerusalem, who vote in Palestinian elections, might be part of a Palestine state has excited the Conference of Presidents if Major Jewish Organizations. Under the skilful hands iof executive director Malcolm Hoenlein the Conference has adopted a resolution opposing the divisision of Jerusalem. Two former chairmen of the Conference, Seymour Reich and Eric Yoffe, blasted the resolution. …