Shrinking East Jerusalem

ONE may look high and low and still find little good to say about an Israeli decision to expropriate hundreds more acres in Arab East Jerusalem. The decision, revealed by Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and coming on the heels of a hotly contested 140-acre land grab in late April, has enraged Palestinians and most of the Islamic world, for whom the land is holy.

And the United States has said it will block any United Nations resolution condemning Israel's expropriation. This is odd for a country that so cherishes property rights. Few US citizens would go along with their own property being taken for housing in which they would not be allowed, because of their ethnicity, to live.

For the US to support this is out of keeping with its own values. Moreover, for the Clinton administration and the Republicans to be talking, as they are, of moving the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is mind-boggling.

Whether or not the expropriation violates the letter of the Oslo peace accords, it is a complete violation of their professed spirit. Jerusalem was to be a ''final status issue,'' negotiated in 1996. Of the 140 acres taken last month, an Israeli wrote a Jewish friend in the States: ''There is no pretense, for the first time, that this land is for public needs. It is clearly stated to be for Jewish neighborhoods.''

Administration officials should consider how such land grabs may feed the terrorism they condemn in the Middle East. They might call former Secretary of State James Baker III, for whom such expansions violated at least the appearance of right.

Sadly, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has no leverage. He is mostly silent -- fumbling and preoccupied.

Israeli officials say the Arab land is vacant. Yet it is vacant because Israel's zoning laws do not allow Palestinians to build there. These laws will now change to allow Israelis to build. This fits a ''Greater Jerusalem'' policy that systematically restricts the number of Arabs in East Jerusalem -- while increasing the number of Jews.

The 33,000 new apartments planned will give East Jerusalem a Jewish majority. It is not hard to predict what would happen next: The land taken and a majority installed, a ''democratic vote'' will decide whether to annex East Jerusalem into one city. This may make some Israelis happy. It will not bring a just peace.

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