The following is most of J. Zel Lurie’s column prepared for the Dec. 18 issue of the Jewish Journal of South Florida:
Har Homa (meaning, “the mountain of the wall”) is back in the news after a 10-year hiatus. Har Homa used to be a green-covered hill in the middle of a group of dusty Arab villages between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It was annexed to Jerusalem in 1967 when Moshe Dayan was delineating the new frontier of Israel. To the south of Har Homa lay the West Bank, which he planned to return to Jordan.
Har Homa was a paradise of trees providing shade. It was the keystone of the green belt around Jerusalem created by Mayor Teddy Kolleck. The green belt remained stuck on the map as most of it was private Arab land and Teddy did not have the money to buy it. But the Palestinian owners could never get building permits, so many built illegally.
Har Homa was owned two thirds by Jews, including the Jewish National Fund, which had bought building plots before the country was partitioned. The southern hillside was owned by residents of the neighboring Arab village and there were a couple of antiquities owned by churches.
About a dozen years ago, an enterprising Jewish developer secured an option on both the Jewish and Arab owned land and hired an architect to make a plan that would preserve many of the trees while building Jewish and Arab neighborhoods and community centers and other amenities.
This sensible environmental-kosher proposal was rejected by the Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Ten years ago, immediately after Netanyahu signed the Hebron agreement with Yasser Arafat, Netanyahu announced that a massive neighborhood of 6,500 homes would replace the trees of Har Homa.
The Clinton government in Washington had hoped that the Hebron agreement would b e followed by other steps towards Israel-Palestinian peace. Instead a protest tent was erected outside Har Homa, which was visited by foreign notables and their cameramen. Arafat went to Washington to complain to President Clinton. Dennis Ross brought a letter from Clinton to Netanyahu. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ignored the seven-hour time difference and awakened U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk in his Herzliyah home at 5.30 a.m. She instructed him to give Netanyahu a firm message that constructing a new neighborhood at Har Homa “undermines everything we are trying to do.”
The UN Security Council was convened. The United States vetoed the resolution on the grounds that it was unbalanced. The protest tent was dismantled and everyone went home.
In 10 years, 4,000 Jews were settled in Har Homa, an isolated enclave surrounded on three sides by Palestinians.
I passed by Har Homa last spring. I saw a forbidding wall on top of which were apartments. I didn’t see any trees.
Today Har Homa is in the news again. Last Tuesday, the day before the first scheduled meeting of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators agreed on at Annapolis, the government of Ehud Olmert trotted out Har Homa. The Minister of Housing issued a tender for the construction of 307 new homes at Har Homa.
Arabs and Jews protested. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator said it sabotaged Annapolis. Americans for Peace Now pointed out that Har Homa is not part of Jerusalem’s urban structure. It is an isolated quarter in the middle of Palestinian villages and it is an obstacle to achieving peace on Jerusalem.” said the Peace Now statement.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the first official meeting of Palestinian and Israel officials since 2001, the Palestinians blasted the construction at Har Homa as contrary to the freeze on settlements promised in the Road Map.
The Israelis talked about the continued rocket and mortar firing from Gaza. The Road Map, they said, did not apply to Har Homa since it had been part of Israel since 1967. It was noted, however, that no country has ever recognized the annexation to Jerusalem of Har Homa and 28 West Bank villages in whole or in part.
There won’t be a second meeting until after the Palestinian donors conference in Paris scheduled for December 17. The Palestinians are asking for $1.8 billion, two-thirds for their budget and one-third for business development.
An agreement is still possible but the settler opposition is rich and powerful. Expansion of Har Homa is chicken feed compared to what the settlers will unleash in the coming months.