(Image credit: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)
In an unfortunate mimicking of his two predecessors, US President Donald Trump signed a waiver on June 1 delaying the transfer of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and thereby reneged on his campaign promise and turned his Jerusalem Day eve visit into a mere gesture.
And yet, what can be expected of Trump when the government of Israel itself does not recognize Jerusalem as its undivided capital in practice?
Indeed, there are many indications that the “right-wing” government is instituting a de facto division of the city that will spell disaster for its survival, if certain policies of freezing Jewish construction while turning a blind eye to rampant illegal Arab construction are not rapidly rectified and actual sovereignty is not implemented.
Divide and Be Conquered
There was a flurry of new statistical data released in the lead-up to Jerusalem Day on May 24, marking the 50th anniversary of the city's liberation from Jordanian occupation, and the numbers offer a stark warning.
Research by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research quoted by Israel Hayom on May 16 reveals that in the 5-year period of 2012-2016, the number of new housing units for Jews in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem liberated from Jordanian occupation 50 years ago stood at a paltry 639 units (not including the geographically non-contiguous Har Homa where 700-1,000 units were built). That calculates out to an average of only 128 units per year.
A mere 128 housing units for a population of over 200,000 Jewish residents, to be sure, is not so much a drop in the bucket as it is a drop in the parched desert.
What is more, this unofficial building freeze – overseen by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and which largely began in 2013 when Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett was Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, and Uri Ariel of his party was Minister of Housing and Construction – is still in place. Current Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin confirmed to Arutz Sheva in mid-May that there are no new construction plans being advanced for the liberated neighborhoods.
The Jerusalem Institute research also looked at population, and found serious threats to the demographic balance of the city. The figures revealed that there are 50,000 additional Arab residents living within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries who were not included in previous tallies. As a result, the real figure of the Jewish to Arab ratio in the city is along the lines of 59% Jewish to 41% Arab. Likewise, the study tracked that while the Jewish population in Jerusalem has jumped 174% since 1967, the Arab population has skyrocketed by 374%, more than doubling their Jewish counterparts.
Meanwhile, even as Jewish building in Jerusalem is asphyxiating, illegal Arab construction runs rampant alongside the legal construction projects for Arab residents. Jerusalem City Council member and Israel Land Fund Director Arieh King has in recent years warned that there are over 40,000 illegal Arab housing units in the city, and that number is ballooning at a pace of 700-800 new units per year – a figure dwarfing the annual 128 units for Jews in the same areas.
Asleep at the Wheel
How has Jerusalem reached this state of affairs? The answer is an unofficial government policy of not enforcing construction laws in Arab majority neighborhoods, by not supplying police protection to enable city inspectors to enter the often hostile neighborhoods. Likewise municipal property taxes and utilities fees often go uncollected in these areas.
Meanwhile the Jewish residents are packing into ever more crowded and expensive neighborhoods given the lack of natural growth from housing freezes. This, compounded by the threats of Arab terrorism and lack of job opportunities, has led to ramifications for the whole city, not just those sections liberated in 1967.
As a result, Jerusalem has been leading the nation in negative migration, with the majority of those leaving being young Jews full of potential who are unable to cope with the volatile situation created by government policy. Newly published official figures show Jerusalem had a net loss of 7,800 residents in 2015, following a loss of 6,740 in 2014.
Yet the government is showing no indication of a change in policy. Fifty years after the liberation of the 3,000-year-old Jewish capital, the time has come for Israel to act as an independent sovereign state by asserting Jewish rights to the Holy City and recognizing it in practice as its capital. When it does, perhaps Trump and the rest of the world will follow suit.