Israel today celebrates the 36th anniversary of its capital's liberation and reunification, but despite Jerusalem Day festivities, never has the future of Jerusalem been as fraught with uncertainty.
The city is ominously threatened with a return to its sad, divided pre-Six-Day-War days. Loud and sincere as official declarations of intent to steadfastly safeguard Jerusalem's status may be, they are less convincing in view of other taboos which have already fallen by the wayside, as the country embarks on the road map to peace.
The road map doesn't chart an auspicious course for Jerusalem. Its future was left to the very end of a problematic peace process. Some perhaps assume that the thorny issue will never be tackled, as the entire road map may be discarded after the first obstacles appear. No less likely, however, is that the Jerusalem land mine will only be encountered at the end of the tortured route, after Israel has made the "painful concessions" foreseen by Ariel Sharon.
Each side will offer different solutions for defusing the device, and it will take a miracle to keep it from exploding.
Moreover, for much of the world, many sections of Jerusalem are settlements no less than Ariel or Ofra. The neighborhood of Gilo, home to more than 45,000 Jerusalemites, is routinely described abroad as "the Gilo settlement." This can impact on the continued development of many city neighborhoods. It's not inconceivable that the Palestinians will decry any development as an infringement of road map strictures and the Quartet, slated to oversee the process, may agree.
In fact, the challenge to Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem may come long before final-status negotiations. Provisions for reopening East Jerusalem PLO institutions, including Orient House, are made early on the road map's path.
While in the past PLO adjuncts may have functioned illegally or "unofficially," they might now be protected by international recognition and rendered all but untouchable. Yet while PLO activity in the capital may enjoy immunity, Israel's every move will be subject to strict Quartet scrutiny.
Jerusalem is beset by numerous problems. It's statistically Israel's second poorest city (only Bnei Brak is poorer) and is plagued by communal tensions like no other. This leads inevitably to economic woes, which can only be aggravated by a new formal frontier, rendering it again the same outlying, dead-end town it was 36 years ago.
But the biggest threat to Jerusalem's prospects is its reduction to the status of a de facto international city, much as envisioned by the 1947 UN partition plan. Only by virtue of David Ben-Gurion's defiant perseverance was it declared our capital. All this may be undone by a creeping loss of control, which will usher an informal internationalization process via the back door.
Jerusalem a city with an unequivocal Jewish majority since the mid-19th century could well become a city in which Jewish rule is delegitimized by a world eager to appease the Arabs and give preference to their claims, although Jerusalem was never the capital of any other nation.
Making matters worse is the fact that Israel's Palestinian interlocutor is the very weak Mahmoud Abbas, appointed prime minister by none other than Yasser Arafat, the man with whom our government vowed not to parley. But if any further proof were needed of the extent to which Arafat pulls the strings, it was provided by the postponement of Wednesday's meeting between Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The precise pretext for the cancellation and rescheduling details are equally immaterial. What counts is that Abbas isn't his own man and that Arafat calls the shots. He has demonstrated who's boss by preventing Abbas from keeping his original date with Sharon.
With Arafat the real man in charge, it would do us all well to recall who violently scuttled the Camp David deal with Ehud Barak.
Despite Barak's egregious generosity and readiness to accede to nearly every Arafat demand on Jerusalem, Arafat sought to deny any Jewish historic connection to the Temple Mount, maintaining that no temple ever existed there.
Such adherence to falsehoods doesn't augur well. Israel will have to evince the greatest vigilance over even the minutest feature on the road map's route to make sure that there will be many happy returns of Jerusalem Day.
Any untoward interpretations or additions to the map could considerably curtail our sovereignty over our capital. Collectively, we will have to stay faithful to our national anthem's refrain: "to be a free nation in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem."
©2003 - Jerusalem Post
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