US-Israeli Tensions Rise Over Jerusalem Incidents

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal, undivided capital. Conflict over that view has fueled resentment against Washington.

IN 10 tumultuous days, the divided city of Jerusalem has provided a troubled backdrop to a deterioration in United States-Israeli relations and a British diplomatic fiasco. In the tense, bitter aftermath of the Oct. 8 killing of at least 20 Palestinians by Israeli security forces, international attention has once again been focused on a city claimed by both Arab and Jew.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its eternal, undivided capital, and this has fueled Israeli resentment against the UN and Washington, which do not recognize Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem.

For Israel, the Bush administration's sins are twofold. First, it supported UN Security Council Resolution 672, which condemns the recent killings, and backs the decision to send a UN delegation to Jerusalem to investigate.

Then the administration pressed Israel to guarantee it would not use US funds to build housing in the city's Arab sector.

``We insist on the sovereignty of Jerusalem,'' said Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday. ``We think that the sending of [an investigative] delegation would impinge on that sovereignty.''

Washington's perceived challenge to that sovereignty led Yosef Goell, a senior staff writer on the Jerusalem Post, to conclude in a recent column that the Bush administration is the least friendly American administration since the 1950s and is ``pushing the Likud government into ... a collision course'' with the US.

Shortly after Israel's Cabinet challenged Washington by rejecting the UN probe, Housing Minister Ariel Sharon announced plans to build 5,000 apartments for new Soviet immigrants in Arab East Jerusalem.

In response, the US made public an earlier letter to Secretary of State James Baker III by Foreign Minister David Levy.

The letter promised that, in return for $400 million in US-backed housing-loan guarantees, Israel would not settle Soviet Jewish immigrants beyond the ``green line,'' Israel's pre-1967 borders. A Levy aide says the wording of the letter was a mistake, that it should have said that Israel only intends to refrain from settling new immigrants in ``Judea and Samaria'' (the Israeli-occupied West Bank).

Mr. Levy, blamed for a recent series of gaffes, has since sent another clarifying letter that claims he did not promise that Israel would not to build beyond the ``green line,'' but only promises to refrain from using US funds for such purposes.

THE right-wing Levy has found himself in the unfamiliar position of being attacked by government hard-liners, who accuse him of caving in to US pressure on settlement activity.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, faces criticism from supporters of Israel in the US Congress for its position on Jerusalem. Mr. Baker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the administration still believed in a united city.

``One of our aims is to ensure the city is never divided again,'' he told the committee yesterday, adding that Jerusalem's precise status should be determined ``through negotiation.''

On the streets, away from the political wrangling, the city remain as tense and divided as ever. Those tensions came to the fore Wednesday, when Palestinian leaders boycotted a meeting with Douglas Hurd, the British foreign secretary.

Palestinians were angered by reports that quoted Mr. Hurd as saying the British government was opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. Hurd later said he was ``completely misrepresented'' by the news media. But Palestinians denounced the British minister anyway, and both sides were left wondering what had gone wrong.

In 1988, US Secretary of State George Shultz was left standing alone in the courtyard of East Jerusalem's American Colony Hotel after a similar Palestinian boycott.

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