Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Much Ado About Little: the E-1 Controversy

by Elliott Abrams
December 3, 2012


Dozens of governments, starting with our own, have denounced the Israeli announcement–made soon after the UN General Assembly vote last week–about more housing construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In particular, the Netanyahu government has been criticized for building housing in the area known as E-1. E-1 is the space between Jerusalem and the city of Ma’ale Adumim, with its population of 40,000. The Israeli security argument is simple: it is impossible to have Ma’ale Adumim connected to Jerusalem only by one road because that road can all too easily be blocked and communication between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim (and beyond to the Jordan valley and border) cut off. This argument has persuaded all Israeli prime ministers who have faced the question, starting with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. It can be argued in reply that they insisted on the right and intention to build eventually, but did not build–but the same is true today of the Netanyahu government. What the prime minister announced last week was permission to do zoning and planning, not permission to build one apartment.

The argument against any Israeli construction in E-1 is that it would make a Palestinian state impossible because that state would lack contiguity. The contiguity argument cuts many ways: I can recall Israeli officials saying Ma’ale Adumim exists, has a population (of 35,000 back then), and must be contiguous to Israel. But the Palestinian argument suggests that because roads would need to go east of Ma’ale Adumim, or go over or under the Jerusalem-Ma’ale Adumim road, a state is impossible. That is a hard argument to prove. First, there is of course the UN vote: the celebrations in Ramallah reflected the UN decision that Palestine is a state already now, if not yet a UN member. Second, why would the construction of roads that fully permit north-south movement in the West Bank–for example, from Nablus to Bethlehem and Hebron–make mobility and economic activity impossible? That such roads must be available, and must be good enough to carry current and predicted future traffic quickly, is certain but hardly an impossible challenge.

The argument over E-1 is not new, nor is planning there some sort of right-wing plot that reflects this particular Israeli coalition. As noted, every prime minister from the left has had precisely the same position, and all new units in the West Bank today must be approved by the Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. That does not make the Israeli position correct but puts it in a bit of perspective.

The rest of the perspective is last week’s vote, which the United States, Israel, and numerous European countries urged the PLO not to insist on. Israel had long said it would take drastic steps if the PLO went forward, and had to do something in reaction. It has announced that it will apply tax funds owed to the Palestinian Authority to debts owed to the Israel Electric Corporation (debts that now amount to 800 million shekels, about $200 million) for electricity supplied, and has announced planning for E-1 and construction in the major settlement blocks and Jerusalem. Construction in the major blocks and in Jerusalem is hardly a surprise, and does not differ from the policy of Israel’s previous government under Prime Minister Olmert and the Kadima party. The deal reached between the Bush Administration and the government of Prime Minister Sharon in 2004 was to permit construction of additional housing units inside the major blocks and other settlements, but not the construction of new settlements or the physical expansion of existing ones. The current decision fits easily within those terms. The Obama administration has never accepted that agreement between the United States and Israel, but I mention it to show that Israel’s reaction to the Palestinian UN initiative is hardly excessive or surprising.

Post a Comment 14 Comments

  • Posted by neville craig

    More of Ben Gurion’s effective ‘facts on the ground’ strategy?

    Obviously it is necessary to bolster the lie that Jerusalem is the ‘capital’ city of Israel, with such blatant ‘land-grabbing’.

    Judaic revenge, not allowed to good Christians?

    Nearly a century on from Balfour’s expediency (not to mention Truman’s), the Foreign Office has cottoned on?

  • Posted by Robert Rowley, Tucson

    The San Remo conference gave Jews the right to settle in the WHOLE of Palestine in perpetuity. The British Mandate of 1922 includes Gaza and the West Bank as Jewish territory. The British Mandate also provided for the establishment of a Palestinian State. It’s name is JORDAN today. Hence there are today NO Palestinians as the former Turkish Protectorate of Palestine no longer exists. Those who refer to themselves as “Palestinians” are the true occupiers as their legal homeland is Jordan. The ‘pre-1967 borders’ that many speak of were nothing but de-facto cease fire lines, and had no legal basis at all. When Israel took control of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967, they simply reclaimed what was rightfully theirs and so Israel building these 3000 new homes is completely legal. Something else to consider, the UN, in bifurcating Palestine, violated international law, Article 80 of the UN Charter prohibits this action.

  • Posted by Frank Adam

    There is nothing stopping the Palestine “Government” from building fly overs or tunnels between E1 and Mt Scopus for N/S traffic around the East of Jerusalem, and plenty of N/S room between the Jordan and Ma’ale Adumim for a main road.

    The truth is they prefer to waste time spoiling Israel’s picnic and above all to avoid doing anything real and taking responsibility.

    The proof is in their dodging taking up offered railway routes from Gaza via Israel Railways to Tulkarm and via Kiryat Gat to Taqumia West and downhill of Hebron.

  • Posted by R Rands

    “As noted, every prime minister from the left has had precisely the same position, and all new units in the West Bank today must be approved by the Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. That does not make the Israeli position correct but puts it in a bit of perspective.”

    I thought Ehud Barak had resigned. So do others. Here is a “Political Eulogy” which throws doubt on the placating diversion Mr Abrams offers above as analysis:


    Middle Israel: Ehud Barak: A political eulogy By AMOTZ ASA-EL 11/29/2012 15:50

  • Posted by Gary Katz

    Neville, why do I get the feeling that, during the 19 years Jordan controlled east Jerusalem, you would not have been upset? During those 19 years, Jordan refused Jewish access to Jewish holy sites, paved roads with headstones from ancient Jewish cemeteries, built housing over the same cemeteries (which still exists) and trashed any Jewish archeological sites it found. Under Israeli control, Jerusalem is open to all religions and the Muslims have control over their holy places (even the ones they obnoxiously built over Jewish holy places), unlike Mecca, the Muslim holy city off-limits to all non-Muslims. Israel is one-thousandth the area of the Middle East, so enough of your facts on the ground whining.

  • Posted by dave berg

    Here is the future for Israel:
    an apartheid state that is a world pariah. or-
    one state with equal rights for all under its control

  • Posted by David Sternlight

    It is a tribute to CFR’s self-correcting character that the openly anti-Israel positions of the previous CFR incumbent, Henry Siegman and the left-wing establishment have been replaced by a more centrist, rational, experienced, and responsible Elliot Abrams, more in tune with non-polemic pragmatism and US interests.

  • Posted by Kashmir

    As an Israeli, it is infuriating that the world and the UN condemn my country for “occupying Arab land”. We left Sinai. We left Gaza. Close to 95% of the West Bank is Arab. Our non-Jewish Arab citizens within the 67 boarders are treated much more fairly than any minority could hope to be in an Arab country. We have made countless overtures to the PALs since the days of Rabin. Instead we see fanatical Islamists bent on Israeli destruction. And we see a world sympathetic to this view. We see second Holocaust in the making. Iran a major threat. Now surrounded by Iranian proxies to the North & South. Perhaps the West Bank following suite. As if the State of Israel is in the jaws of Iran. We should immediate reveal to the world our 400+ nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missiles and inform all that we are prepared to use them pre-emptively against all enemies. If these barbarians who carried out 911 wish to achieve martyrdom, why then we will serve it up in spades! Let the world know Never Again.

  • Posted by Clairette Rose

    Dave Berg — It is probably a waste of time to correct you, since you use the term without thinking, but you clearly need to consult a dictionary to learn for yourself the definition of “apartheid,” a term applicable to conditions that formerly prevailed in South Africa, but which have absolutely no relevance to the ethnically and religiously diverse state of Israel. In Israel, Arab Israelis, Christian Israelis and other minorities vote and hold seats in the Knesset; Hebrew and Arabic are BOTH official languages; members of minorities attend school and university, work as police officers, magistrates, judges, physicians, pharmacists and in other professions serving all members of the citizenry. The emigration rate of Arab Israelis is exactly 0%. And that is in a country where anyone can vote with his or her feet. Your “kumbayah” call for “one state with equal rights for all under its control” is the battle cry of those who wish for the destruction of any Jewish state. More than 20 Muslim/Arab states surround Israel; Arabs in those countries outnumber Jewish Israelis by 1100 to 1, and their combined land mass is 640 times that of Israel. Not one of those countries — now empty of Jews since their expulsion in 19848, is a place where you can find “equal rights for all under its control — most especially Jews and women. If there were no Israel, which the leaders of the Palestinians and many of their neighboring puppet masters ardently desire, there would be no Jews in the Middle East. It is really detestable to see anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish bigotry masquerading under a pose of “freedom for all.”

  • Posted by papicek

    Robert Rowley:

    “The San Remo conference gave Jews the right to settle in the WHOLE of Palestine in perpetuity.”


    This is, of course, untrue. Apart from the fact that no geography at all is specified in the San Remo agreement in anything but the most general terms, the conference itself was merely for Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan to agree on a set of terms to present to Turkey. The language of San Remo was incorporated into the Treaty of Sevres, however that treaty was never fully implemented, nor even fully ratified. Sevres was nullified after of the Turkish War of Independence in any case, and was then superceded by the Treaty of Lausanne. There is no mention of a Jewish national home at all in Lausanne.

    I’ve heard San Remo mentioned before in this regard, and frankly I’m surprised readers here, of all places, let that stand.

    A provision to designate a Jewish national home in Palestine was, in fact, rejected for inclusion in the League Covenant proper, and resurfaces in the Palestine Mandate instrument. The Mandate and Resolution 181 remain the primary legal authorities for the establishment of a Jewish national home.

    There is one significant problem here, in that Resolution 181, the Mandate Instrument, Article 22 of the Covenant from which the Mandate is derived, the San Remo language and even the Balfour Declaration also express the condition that a Jewish national home must not infringe on the rights and freedoms of what would later become the Palestinian people. I can find no official statement, testimony, proceeding, White paper, command paper, agreement, treaty, letter or any other official statement in favor of a Jewish national home that fails to reaffirm, often in the same sentence, this condition.

    Not one. The absolute consistency with which these two are joined leads me to believe that they were meant to go hand in hand, and that the failure in ensuring the rights of non-Jews may therefore fatally undermine the legitimacy of the state itself.

    Were I supporter of Israel, and I’m not since Cast Lead, I’d be very careful in making the claim that there is any basis at all for Israel’s existence in law.

    Process matters.

    If Mr. Abrams feels that E1 isn’t any great matter, he is wrong. A clearer demonstration of Israel’s attitude, heavy handed behavior, opportunism and intent isn’t possible, and makes the charge of ethnic cleansing effectively undeniable. Netanyahu’s statement that Israel be granted the right to settle and effectively annex the West Bank in any future peace “deal” is merely icing on the cake.

    Whitewashing this, or minimizing it, is a great deal more callous and disingenuous on Mr. Abrams’ part than I am prepared to let go unchallenged. He, and American policy in this are simply unconscionable.

  • Posted by ralph

    1. The authority to administrate the territory of Palestine which
    also included the actual Kingdom of Jordan was given by Society
    of Nations to Great Britain which gave 70% of the land to King
    Abdallah .Did GB have the right to do it ?
    2.In this part the Jews were not allowed to settle down .
    3. The UN voted November 29th 1947 in favour of the division
    of the remaining 30% in a Jewish and in an Arab State.
    4.Not only the existent Arab States refused it but attacked immediatelythe new proclamed State of Israel , May 14th 1948.
    5.The right of the non Jews were respected according the
    circumstances. One can’t expect to be respected if he commits
    violence .
    6.If there are about 1.5 Arabs in Israel actually it is because
    not all were expelled or did leave their homes contrary to
    the affirmation of the Arab propaganda.
    7.One of the conditions put by the actual PA is the “return” of the
    Palestinian “refugees” to Israel before signing a peace treaty with
    Israel. Nobody speaks of the Jews which were obliged to leave
    the Arab countries where they lived f.e. since more than 2.500
    years as in Irak.
    8.Nobody mentions that the Jews were expelled from the Old City
    of Jerusalem by the Jordan Arab Legion in 1948 which destroyed
    all the Synagogues, used the Jewish tombstones as latrines and
    did not allow the Jews to pray at their Holiest places : the Western
    Wall and the Temple Mount.

  • Posted by Yuval Brandstetter MD

    Anti-semites will always find the arguments which disallow the Jews rights applicable to everyone else. That is the nature of anti-semitism. No sense, no history, no logic can imbue the anti-semite to actually think
    So, trying to convince the anti-semite his anti-semitism is wrong is quite useless. Could anyone teach Hitler compassion? Can anyone teach Bashar Assad compassion? So the only exite from this connundrum is to do what is right, and that is to settle Jews in the land of Israel despite the anti-semites, live and prosper, defend and encourage and never give the anti-semties an inch

  • Posted by papicek

    @ Yuval Brandstetter MD

    If David Ben Gurion can tell the MAPAI political committee (7 June 1938):

    “We are the aggressors, and they defend themselves . . . [Palestine] is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country .” (Flapan, Simha, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, (Flapan, Simha. The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities. New York: Pantheon, 1987. Print.)


    If the House of Lords, by a vote of 60-29 on 21 June 1922, rejected the proposed Palestine Mandate on the grounds that the rights of Palestinians could not be protected with inclusion of the Balfour Declaration:


    The debate as recorded in Lords:


    And I could go on . . .

    Then I actually feel fairly confident about my conclusions. I’m in rather good company, in fact.

    The fact is, if a Jewish national home had been carved out of Germany, I’d have to agree with the sense of entitlement I seem to get from your comment. Palestine, however, is a different story.

  • Posted by hugo sanches

    Can anyone teach Bashar Assad compassion? We see second Holocaust in the making. Iran a major threat. Instead we see fanatical Islamists bent on Israeli destruction.West Bank today must be approved by the Defense Minister, Ehud Barak.iddaa banko maçlar

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