Har Homa spells out macho message

Patrick Cockburn

Jerusalem

Asked how Israel intended the message of Har Homa to be received by Palestinians, the senior American diplomat was succinct. He told a reporter from the daily Jerusalem Post: "Israel's message of Har Homa for Palestinians is: 'Screw you'."

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has a different explanation of why he decided to provoke a crisis by building the Jewish settlement in Jerusalem. In fact he has two explanations, though they are somewhat contradictory. The first is that the settlement is to house the rising population of the city. His second is that the motive for Har Homa is political, and by building there Israel is asserting its sovereignty in its capital.

"Nobody has been been able to solve the mystery of how Netanyahu's brain operates," writes Israeli columnist Yoel Marcus. "I am willing to bet that just three months ago 90 per cent of Israelis did not even know about the existence of Har Homa. Today, Netanyahu is telling us: 'If we cave in now everything is lost'." In one move, he argues, Mr Netanyahu has turned Israel into an international pariah and squandered the credit it won by withdrawing from Hebron in January.

Others point to a more serious consequence of the crisis. The Oslo accords of 1993 were intended to produce a stable balance of power between Israelis and Palestinians over six years so the two peoples could live together peacefully. The basis of the agreement was land for peace. Mr Netanyahu may ensure that at Har Homa and elsewhere on the West Bank Palestinians get less land, but by the same token Israelis will get less peace.

An alternative explanation for Mr Netanyahu's decision over Har Homa is that he was under intolerable pressure from his right wing. Bitter over his retreat in Hebron they forced him to build at Har Homa in the hope of sabotaging Oslo as a whole. The problem with this argument is that the right of the Likud party has nowhere else to go. They do not want an election and the alternative to the present government is a coalition with Labour which certainly would implement Oslo. In a letter last week, King Hussein of Jordan wrote that he was fed up with Mr Netanyahu's right wing being constantly used to explain why the Prime Minister had failed to meet his commitments.

A bizarre aspect of the Har Homa decision - since it was billed by the government as an issue which united Israelis - is that a majority are against building now. A poll of Israeli Jews by Gallup published in the daily Ma'ariv yesterday shows that 48 per cent oppose starting construction at Har Homa now and 40 per cent are in favour - although a majority believe in the right of Israel to build there. Asked if they supported the decision to go ahead even at the price of international isolation and a conflict with the Palestinians, 28 per cent wanted to build and 57 per cent did not.

These are not pleasing figures for Mr Netanyahu. They underline two important political facts. There is limited appetite in Israel for the military and political effort necessary if Israel tries to continue to occupy large areas of the West Bank. Second, if Mr Netanyahu cannot deliver some sort of peace he can forget about being reelected in three years time.

Why did Mr Netanyahu do it? The most obvious explanation is probably the best. He wanted to create a fact on the map in East Jerusalem. Dr Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian political scientist, says: "The battle for Jerusalem is only just beginning. They felt they could not wait."

But the American diplomat is also probably right. Before his election last May, Mr Netanyahu said the way to deal with Arabs was to be tough with them. Their demands were proportionate to what they thought they could get. By demolishing a home for disabled Palestinian children in the Old City of Jerusalem and then opening a tunnel into the Muslim quarter last year Mr Netanyahu tried to prove his point.

The result was disaster. In three days' fighting in Gaza and the West Bank 61 Palestinians and 15 Israelis were killed. Few exercises in political machismo have proved so counter-effective. Yet six months later Mr Netanyahu has once again picked an issue, this time at Har Homa, which unites Palestinians, divides Israelis and ensures his own isolation in the world.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor