Daily Alert

27 November 2007

Olmert the Forsaken

Olmert to World Jewry: Israel Makes Sole Decision on Jerusalem
17 Kislev 5768, 27 November 07 05:33
by Hana Levi Julian(IsraelNN.com)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informed American Jewish leaders Monday that Jews outside of Israel have no right to intervene in any decision regarding the status of Jerusalem.

Olmert declared at a news conference Monday following his meeting with leaders of U.S. Jewish communities that "the government of Israel has a sovereign right to negotiate anything on behalf of Israel," making it clear that Jews outside of Israel had no right to participate in decisions about the future of Jerusalem. The prime minister told reporters that the issue had "been determined long ago."

His remarks were seen as a slap to American Jewish leaders who oppose tentative plans by the Olmert administration to put Jerusalem on the negotiating table.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, told hundreds of Jews in Chicago Monday night that "Yerushalayim is not for discussion, Yerushalayim is not for sale, Yerushalayim must remain undivided forever." Participants at the prayer vigil were led by the rabbis of the community in chanting tehillim (psalms) and speaking out against the division of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. A statement sent to the media noted that "for at least one night both the Religious Zionist/Modern Orthodox and Aguda communities stood side by side to pray for what most matters."

The prime minister's statement also did not seem to take into account a declaration that was made decades ago by his predecessor, a founding father and the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, David Ben Gurion during a session of the first Knesset in Tel Aviv.

"The attempt to sever Jewish Jerusalem from the State of Israel," warned Ben Gurion in 1949, "will not advance the cause of peace in the Middle East or in Jerusalem itself. Israelis will give their lives to hold on to Jerusalem, just as the British would for London, the Russians for Moscow and the Americans for Washington."

The Orthodox Union (OU) immediately responded to the prime minister's remarks with a statement saying it did not intend to dictate policy to Israel, but expressed its "resolute stand" that all Jews in the world have a share in "the holy city of Jerusalem." %ad%

Agudath Israel of America adopted a resolution Sunday at its 85th national convention in Connecticut bluntly stating "Israel should not relinquish parts of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty, and the American government should not pressure the Israeli government into doing so."

Both statements echoed an assertion published on the website of the Coordinating Council on Jerusalem which states unequivocally that "World Jewry opposes Israeli negotiations which would include any discussion of ceding sovereignty over part or all of Jerusalem."

The group soberly notes in its statement that this is "the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel that a significant group of American Jewish organizations have created a broad united front to pursue a policy directly involving Israel that is based on an explicit principle that supercedes deference to the sitting Israeli government."

American Jewish and Christian leaders met Monday with White House officials to discuss their concerns about the events taking place in Annapolis Tuesday.

Nathan Diament, public policy director for the Orthodox Union, led the group of American Jewish and Christian leaders who met with Stephen Hadley, the National Security Advisor for U.S. President George W. Bush and other senior White House officials.

Included in the delegation was Jeff Ballabon, head of the Coordinating Council for Jerusalem, as well as representatives from Agudath Israel and the National Council of Young Israel, David Brog of the Christians United for Israel, the Southern Baptist Convention and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

"We had a constructive and meaningful conversation…." said Diament following the meeting, adding "We were happy to share with them the perspective of Americans who in their synagogues and church pews regularly pray for the peace of Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem."
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Where Olmert is technically correct is that the government of Israel will eventually be the party to negotiate and ratify any treaty. He is wrong in that his government will not be the one to do so. Olmert is also wrong if he believes that Israel, under the terms to which he is limiting her decision-making to a mere secular consideration, will have any say on her destiny. Olmert, by denying a stake in Jerusalem to the diaspora doesn't weaken the diaspora but empowers it to pursue separate and distinct policies as to Israel's future, provided a unified front of Orthodox associations can be mustered. By Olmert's very unthoughtful remarks, he is setting a dangerous precedent where well-trained and thoughtful political action by diaspora Jews and their friends are cut lose from Israeli government priorities and actions. Then again, given the history of Israeli government, this may not be a bad thing and could result in better policy making in Israel.

The reality is, that outside the unity of Jerusalem, there are few issues which will result in a unified front by diaspora Jewry. But for Olmert to show his hand and his ignorance answering the call of the State Department which undoubtedly helped him contrive this comment, leaves Jewry in a quandary. Not supporting Israel is unthinkable. How to support Israel is another matter. The best situation would be for the immediate collapse of this government and new elections if for no other reason than to unify Israel and ease the nerves of diaspora Jewry.

It is likely not recognized in Israel how important the role of American Jewry in particular is to Israel and the delicate balance needed to demonstrate the connectivity between the US and Israel and why the close relationship is important. In the US, American priorities in policy making must be stressed. Making the case that US priorities and those of Israel is not always as clear as some might think but usually demonstrable. No trickery is needed, the two nations indeed share so many interests. But this balancing act is probably not so appreciated in Eretz Yisrael. Olmert's comments triangulate the equation, adding State Department professional diplomatease interests (which are not necessarily America's best interests) leaving a three legged table.

To make the case that the US is on the wrong track in middle east negotiations is an easy case to make. Differing with Israel which is in agreement with America's not yet enlightened middle east understanding is much harder. Olmert has turned the table upside down and not to Israel's benefit.

As pushed and shoved as he is, Olmert may have had no choice but to go to Annapolis. However, he could have come locked and loaded to make the best case that Israel could make, pointing out for instance that Abbas is useless and has done nothing in terms of his previous responsibility's nor does he carry and authority in the PA areas. Olmert could make Benny Elon's case or even that of a larger transfer, all for the sake of peace. He could make the case that Al-Qaeda is strenghtened by the creation of PA terror state, not weakened and that Syria will be emboldened to more aggressive actions as a result of a PA state. Olmert though brought with him the only thing of value that he can offer, Jerusalem, city of gold.

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