Blocking Mideast Peace
The Clinton administration makes Moskowitz pull back
by U.S. Department of State
Originally published 17 September 1997
in Daily Press Briefing Transcripts

The Clinton administration makes Moskowitz pull back
The Clinton Administration fights a Moskowitz settlement
After biding his time for some years, on September 17, 1997, under cover of night, Irving Moskowitz moved a group of militant settlers into Palestinian properties he'd secretly purchased in the East Jerusalem Palestinian of neighborhood of Ras Al-Amud. The location is a segment in a chain of points (including Abu Dis) identified in the 1993 Beilin-Abu Mazen proposal as an access corridor to the future Palestinian national capital in East Jerusalem.

Moskowitz's settler move-in provoked furious reactions from all parts of the Israeli political spectrum [click here for news reports of negative Israeli reaction to the move-in] and became a diplomatic problem for the United States, too, as evidenced in the excerpts of State Department briefings below.

The Israeli media reflected widespread outrage that the Florida-based Moskowitz, who had neither fought in the Israeli military nor risked his life along with Israelis, could provoke such a disruptive crisis in the peace process. The Jerusalem Post (9/18/97) quoted ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Eliezer Schach saying that the Moskowitz settler move-in "is nothing more than an attempt to ignite an explosive situation and destroy all chances for the political process."

The paper also quoted left-learning Meretz leader Yossi Sarid who claimed Moskowitz should be barred from leaving Israel: "[He should] stay here and eat the broth he has spoiled for us. He must not be allowed to escape when the fire spreads and starts burning everything."

As you will read below, the U.S. State Department termed Moskowitz’s actions “a lightening rod for an increase in tensions” that might harm the peace process and the state of Israel. The US and Israeli governments negotiated a stand-down to the diplomatic problem Moskowitz created: settlers would be moved out and construction would stop.

In the end, though, Moskowitz simply bided his time once more. Moskowitz's son-in-law – and contractor on the development – Aryeh King recently gloated to the pro-settler pirate radio station Arutz 7, that the settlers had never left and Moskowitz merely delayed construction while Netanyahu was in office. The moment Ehud Barak won election, Moskowitz sent the bulldozers back to work. Then, this spring, under cover of the war against Iraq, he moved settlers into his Ras Al-Amud development. King also stated that the purpose of the Ras Al-Amud development was to prevent implementation of the "Beilin-Abu Mazen Plan."

U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing Transcripts

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 1997
Briefer: JAMES P. RUBIN


QUESTION: Jamie, since the Secretary's return, has she spoken to any of the leaders in the Middle East, specifically about the settlement controversy going on in East Jerusalem?
MR. RUBIN: I can't get specific with you on the calls that she made. I can tell you that the United States has been in contact with the Israeli government with regard to the Ras Al-Amoud housing project. The move of settlers into this project is not helpful. This action represents a lightening rod for increased tensions, which the Secretary very much hopes we can remove. We are pleased that Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed a similar position. It's just this kind of an action which undermines an action the confidence so necessary to getting the peace process back on track.
We're not going to micro-manage exactly how this should be fixed, except to say that when she talked about a crisis of confidence in the Middle East - a phrase I'm sure you heard a few times, Charlie - that it wasn't about what was legal or what was not legal. It was about what undermined confidence and undermined trust and what could or could not help create a climate for peace.
This kind of action is not wise. If one cares about the peace process, one doesn't want to see these kind of actions taken.

QUESTION: Has the State Department spoken to Dr. Moskowitz about his activities?
MR. RUBIN: Again, I know that it seems like we can talk to whoever we want to about subjects like this. I think the man's views are pretty well-known. I think the issue is about his ability to operate within the Israeli legal system with regard to the purchase and use of land. It's not obvious to me that anything we could say or do would have any impact whatsoever.

QUESTION: Well, has the Secretary considered maybe writing Dr. Moskowitz a letter and setting out her views so that he's --
MR. RUBIN: I can certainly Dr. Moskowitz, through you, that we consider this kind of action a lightening rod for an increase in tensions. Those who support these actions, promote these actions, or otherwise are involved in these actions are harming the peace process; therefore harming the state of Israel. That's our view - we regard them as counterproductive.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 1997
Briefer: JAMES P. RUBIN


QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the apparent settlement in Israel over the housing?
MR. RUBIN: The Israeli Government has informed us - your friend, Mr. Moskowitz. The Israeli Government informed us that it has reached the following solution to the Ras Al-Amoud situation.
The three families that were occupying the house will leave no later than tomorrow. They will not be replaced by other families. A few people will stay in the building to maintain it. There will be no new construction at this site, and no movement to create a new neighborhood.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 1997
Briefer: JAMES B. FOLEY


QUESTION: Back on the neighborhood, the Ras - I'm having a hard time understanding your position. You say that the nature of the neighborhood has not changed, when in fact it has because an apartment house full of Palestinians is now an apartment house full of Yeshiva students. What I don't understand is why you all are endorsing this deal as maintaining the status quo - something that the Secretary repeatedly asked for - when in fact, it doesn't maintain the status quo; it reverses the status quo and allows Moskowitz's and the Israeli Government's sort of ham-handed compromise to stand.
MR. FOLEY: Well, I don't think, first of all, that we've endorsed anything. We received assurances concerning the nature of the disposition of the problem and of the building and of the people who had gone and moved in there and who have now moved out. We've been told they will not move back in there, and have now moved out. We have been told they will not move back in, that there will be no construction, and that the status quo will stand, and that nothing will happen that will change that. [emphasis added]

Click here to read the Israeli pirate radio report on how Moskowitz defied US government and undermined the peace process.

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