Despite an announcement on Friday that Benjamin Netanyahu delayed construction in the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and the West Bank, Jewish religious leaders delivered a letter to the Prime Minister’s office today signed by more than 700 American rabbis, cantors and rabbinical students decrying the controversial settlement plan. E1 is situated in the last large open space of land between an Israeli settlement bloc in the West Bank and Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem. If the plans go into effect to built the 3,000 new units that were approved in late 2012 following the successful Palestinian United Nations non-member statehood bid, the religious leaders fear it will be the end of a future viable Palestinian state.
“We fear that building settlements in E1 would be the final blow to a peaceful solution. If Israel builds in E1, it will cut East Jerusalem off from its West Bank surroundings and effectively bifurcate the West Bank. In doing so, E1 will literally represent an obstacle to a two-state solution,” said the letter.
The statement against E1 construction was circulated by J Street, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, and Americans for Peace Now. The letter in full reads:
We write as American rabbis and cantors who are deeply committed to the long-term security and viability of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. We have lived in Israel, visited frequently, brought our communities there, and preached and taught about Israel within our synagogues, schools, camps, and other institutions. Many of us have children, parents, siblings, and other relatives and friends living in Israel. Some of us hold Israeli citizenship.
We and our communities have worked hard to build bipartisan support for Israel. We have raised millions of dollars to develop the State of Israel and its civil society. And we have vigorously opposed efforts to delegitimize the Jewish State.
All of us believe that the ultimate safety and security of Israel as a Jewish state will depend on reaching a peace agreement that also allows Palestinians to live safely and securely in their own state.
For these reasons, we are deeply concerned about the recent announcement to advance the construction of settlements in the E1 area of the West Bank, as well as to authorize the building of thousands of new settlement units in East Jerusalem. The current situation in the occupied territories violates Palestinian human rights and undercuts the very values on which Israel was founded – democracy, liberty, justice, and peace.
We fear that building settlements in E1 would be the final blow to a peaceful solution. If Israel builds in E1, it will cut East Jerusalem off from its West Bank surroundings and effectively bifurcate the West Bank. In doing so, E1 will literally represent an obstacle to a two-state solution.
As American rabbis and cantors, we also fear that construction in E1 damages the critical relationship between Israel and the United States. Construction in E1 would violate repeated commitments to the United States, dating back to 1994, not to build settlements in the area.
The Mishna (Pirke Avot 1:12) tells us, “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving humankind and bringing them closer to the Torah.” The commentary on this saying in Avot d’Rabbi Natan tells us that it is not enough merely to love peace, but that one must pursue it as strenuously as Aaron did.
For the sake of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, we urge you to cease plans to construct new settlements in E1, elsewhere in the West Bank, or in East Jerusalem. We pray that you follow Aaron’s example by returning to the negotiating table as quickly as possible.
We cannot afford to weaken the strong bond between Israel and the United States. Nor can we risk sabotaging our best chance to end the decades-long conflict that has claimed too many Israeli and Palestinian lives.
With prayers for the peace of Jerusalem,
Yet inside of Israel there is a consensus amongst officials to pressure Netanyahu to move forward with construction. But outside Europe is leading the international battle to undo settlement expansion. Today Israel Hayom reported 27 European Union foreign ministers will met on Monday to discuss strategy, while yesterday the Jerusalem Post reported the mayor of Ma’ale Adumim is awaiting the Prime Minister’s signature on the proposed new buildings.
Despite international outcry against developing E1, it should be underscored that the area currently severs East Jerusalem from the West Bank—even without Israeli outposts. Although there are no permanent structures inside of E1 aside from a police station funded by American settlement mogul Irving Moskowitz, the land is enclosed by a highway system and its only inhabitants are Jahalin Bedouins. In order to connect to the outside road system, residents from the Khan-Al-Ahmar community, one of several Jahalin villages inside E1, are forced to jump over a highway median. And meanwhile, pipes carrying settlement sewage run underneath the encampment.