The Palestinians already had a long list of grievances against the state of Israel. Some are understandable, albeit a function of the conflict they have refused to end. Some are not reasonable. Their objection to the expansion of Jerusalem’s light rail system falls into the latter category. The thinly-veiled threats of terror from Palestinian Authority officials, who claim that the extension of mass transit to the Old City and the Western Wall will “explode” Jerusalem, are not just irrational. They are yet another sign that the PA considers any excuse for exacerbating the conflict a higher priority than what is good for the city’s residents. It’s also a clear sign of their intentions for the city’s future, which ought to send a chill down the spines of those who imagine a two-state solution would bring peace.
The light rail project, which was begun in the 1990s, has been a remarkable success for Israel’s capital. It has made getting around the congested city more manageable and has, as The Tower noted in August, done much to improve the lives of both its Jewish and Arab population. Though Israel has been rightly criticized for not providing the same level of municipal services to Arab neighborhoods as to Jewish ones—an unfortunate truth that is, in part, the result of Arab nonparticipation in local government—the light rail is an example of a project that works for both communities. Even the left-wing Haaretz newspaper reported that it had contributed greatly to social cohesion and integration of Jews and Arabs in the city, as well as to the entire city’s economic well-being.
But that is perhaps exactly why Palestinian leaders have consistently opposed it. The light rail became the target of sabotage and arson from Palestinian terror groups specifically because it united the entire city. Even though affordable and convenient mass transit brought economic benefits to Arabs as well as Jews, the PA and Hamas regard it as a symbol of the “occupation” and a threat to efforts to re-partition the capital.
While their past efforts to undermine improvements to the city’s insufficient infrastructure contradicted their other complaints about the unequal resources devoted to Arab neighborhoods, the threats about the Western Wall expansion represent the kind of incitement that could lead to mass bloodshed.
The PA has sought to politicize improvements to the Old City before with results that were catastrophic. The opening of excavated ancient tunnels that led to the Wall in 1996 were used as a pretext for terrorism, which cost the lives of Jews as well as Arabs. The purposes of those protests, just as threats about a light rail extension to the Old City (which would be constructed in such a manner as to do nothing to the Old City Walls and any other historic buildings or homes) was not to highlight discrimination or even high-handed behavior by the Israelis toward Arabs. Rather, the point is to resist anything that makes permanent both the Jewish presence there or the city’s unity. The attempt to depict mass transit as yet another mythical threat to the mosques on the Temple Mount is a canard aimed at promoting religious hatred and violence.
Should the Palestinians ever relent from the refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it is possible a deal might allow them to gain control of Jerusalem’s Arab-majority neighborhoods. But even under those circumstances—which would be difficult, if not impossible, to manage even with the best of wills on both sides—the light rail system would, in theory, remain to serve all of the city’s people and to ensure that peace could work to enable the city to continue to thrive.
But that is not part of the Palestinian vision for the future. At a minimum, they clearly hope for a return to the situation that existed between 1949 and 1967 when the city was divided between the Western portion controlled by Israel and an Eastern sector illegally occupied by Jordan. During those years, the city was not only blighted by a wall between the two sides and a dangerous no man’s land on either side of the armistice line. Jews were also prohibited from entering the Old City and from praying at the Wall. The light rail ensures that horrible vision would never recur. But the real Palestinian goal, as is evident by their continual refusal to make peace, is to deny Jewish sovereignty in any portion of Jerusalem.
No one who loves Jerusalem–be they Jew, Christian or Muslim–would think of blowing it up under any circumstances, let alone as a protest against an effort to make it a better place to live. Opposition to the light rail system is yet one more indication that Palestinians are unreconciled to coexistence, let alone a two-state solution.