Jerusalem City Council member Arieh King was eager for the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump even without the U.S. abstention on U.N. Resolution 2334.
King visited Atlanta on Dec. 6 and 7, more than two weeks before the U.N. Security Council voted 14-0 to chastise Israel for the growth of its West Bank settlements, including housing in East Jerusalem, to which the Dec. 23 resolution emphasized Israel has no right under international law.
But King, who lives on the east side of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives and is the founder and director of the Israel Land Fund, whose mission is to help Jews buy land on both sides of the Green Line, said international pressure led by President Barack Obama has succeeded in freezing Jewish housing construction in East Jerusalem for years.
The same projects make headlines at every step of the bureaucratic approval process, King said, but actual building doesn’t begin. As an example, he said a friend has the proper zoning but can’t do anything with his land in East Jerusalem, even though his Arab neighbors on both sides have built.
“I can bring you official letters showing that (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is not allowing Jews to build in East Jerusalem” because of Obama administration criticism, King said.
He said Hillary Clinton led the attacks on Israeli settlement policy and on the municipality of Jerusalem when she was secretary of state, so he was relieved that she did not win the presidency. King’s optimism about better times for Israel during the Trump administration is as much about that relief as about confidence in Trump.
“I’m also happy that people around Trump aren’t afraid to say the right things, meaning Jews should build any time anywhere around Jerusalem,” King said.
King is representative of the Israeli right wing and the settler community that Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Dec. 28 as primary obstacles to a two-state solution. Kerry warned that Israeli settlements are creating facts on the ground that could make the peaceful coexistence of two states for two peoples impossible.
King used the same terminology in describing his efforts with the Israel Land Fund: “I am hoping by making these facts on the ground we will cause the government to act as they didn’t act the past 15 years.”
Starting Jan. 20, when Trump takes office, King’s primary fear will shift from foreign pressure to internal politics. He blamed Israel’s Gaza disengagement in 2005 on Ariel Sharon’s effort to distract the public from a corruption investigation that was getting closer to him, and King wants to be sure Netanyahu doesn’t do something similarly dramatic and dangerous while facing his own family corruption investigation.
“I just hope that our government would not do wrong things and make mistakes when we have again this positive president and the support of the House and the Senate,” King said.
City planning should not be the concern of the prime minister, he added. “In Jerusalem, unfortunately, the real mayor is the prime minister.”
One obstacle to expanded Jewish land purchases in Jerusalem is a law that treats Arabs differently from Jews, King said. Arabs who own land in East Jerusalem must live there or risk losing their residency rights.
That law makes those Palestinians “Zionist prisoners” and insanely prevents them from moving away, said King, who wants the law changed.
Another move that would treat East Jerusalem’s Arabs just like West Jerusalem’s Jews also would shake up the city’s demography: King is fighting for both sides of the city to get the same government services, infrastructure and cultural programming. That change would improve Palestinian life, but King also thinks it would draw more Jews to East Jerusalem.
Ultimately, King hopes many Atlanta Jews, including the crowd he spoke to Dec. 6 at Congregation Beth Jacob, join the move to settle the Holy Land by making aliyah. But in the interim, he urges Jewish Atlantans to visit Israel and invest in the real estate.
And if you’re visiting, don’t just stop at the Kotel, he said. Walk around the neighborhood, see other archaeological sites, and get to know the people and their lives.
“It gives us a good feeling that what we are doing means something,” King said.