Israeli home demolitions in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan have finally been getting increased attention in the US press. The map to the right (click to enlarge), from the Foundation for Middle East Peace, shows the strategic importance of the area. Silwan is located between the Old City of Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement Ma'ale Adumim. It is a strategically located Palestinian neighborhood that Israel has been settling as part of their plan to create a line of settlements across the West bank from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. This stretch of settlements, which is referred to as the E-1 plan, would isolate Jerusalem and bisect the West Bank. Many people believe this would be the final nail in the two-state solution's coffin.
The map to the left (click to enlarge) from the UN shows a close up of the Silwan area. You can see the areas that have already been taken under Israeli control through settlements and archaeological projects (shaded in red), and the area slated for demolition (outlined in yellow). Nearly 90 houses and 1,500 people are facing demolition in what Palestinian organizations are calling an ethnic cleansing campaign to clear the way for Israeli settlements.
The EU report goes further, saying that the demolitions are "illegal under international law, serve no obvious purpose, have severe humanitarian effects, and fuel bitterness and extremism." The EU raised its concern in a formal diplomatic representation on December 1, it says.
It notes that although Palestinians in the east represent 34% of the city's residents, only 5%-10% of the municipal budget is spent in their areas, leaving them with poor services and infrastructure.
Israel issues fewer than 200 permits a year for Palestinian homes and leaves only 12% of East Jerusalem available for Palestinian residential use. As a result many homes are built without Israeli permits. About 400 houses have been demolished since 2004 and a further 1,000 demolition orders have yet to be carried out, it said.
The US has engaged Israel on this issue as well. Hillary Clinton raised it on her recent visit when she said that the demolitions violated international agreements and were "unhelpful" in regards to the peace process. Ha'aretz is now reporting that the US has presented four official complaints to Israel since the Obama administration took over:
A senior government official in Jerusalem told Haaretz that the complaints represent a gradual increase in American pressure vis-a-vis settlement activity. "This is going to be one of the main issues that the Obama administration will be dealing with in the coming weeks and months," the official said. "It is not going to be easy to argue with them."
The four separate complaints relate to the demolition of Palestinian-owned homes in East Jerusalem, reports of Israeli plans to construct additional housing in the E1 area, between Maaleh Adumim and Jerusalem, the relocation of the illegal outpost at Migron to a new, as-yet unbuilt neighborhood of the Adam settlement and to plans to build thousands of new residential units in the settlement of Efrat.
The LA Times says, "the dispute is an early test for the Obama administration as it tries to foster peace in the region." It's already a step in the right direction that the Obama administration has raised the issue with Israel after eight years of infrequent criticism from the Bush administration (Rice did mention it at least once). But the question remains – will the US and EU add some bite to their bark? The incoming Likud government has noticed the change in the way the US is talking, but isn't concerned there will be a change in policy. It's up to Obama to prove them wrong.