Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Land ?

Jerusalem Day 2001

May, 21 2001
"Only those who do not understand the depth of the total emotional bond of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, only those who are completely estranged from the vision of the nation, from the poetry of that nation's life, from its faith, and from the hope it has cherished for generations - only such people could possibly entertain the thought that the State of Israel would actually concede even part of Jerusalem."
- Prime minister Ehud Barak, on Jerusalem Day 2000.

What a difference a year makes. Since last Jerusalem Day, Ehud Barak did much more than entertain the thought, he agreed to negotiate on the basis of the deepest possible division of Jerusalem, including its heart, the Old City. The unthinkable has not only been thought, but has become the new frame of reference for final-status negotiations, whenever they might resume.

Even today, it is not clear whether Barak did what he did because he thought that Yasser Arafat could be satisfied by dividing Jerusalem or to "unmask" the true Palestinian positions. Before Camp David, it was assumed that if only Israel would agree to divide Jerusalem, the Palestinians would snap up that deal in a moment. Indeed, it is not widely appreciated that the Palestinians do not acknowledge Israeli sovereignty over "western" Jerusalem.

Arafat, for example, in a 1994 speech in Johannesburg stated, "[the Israelis] say that Jerusalem is their capital. No it is not their capital, it is our capital." In 1995, the most visible Palestinian spokesman on Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini, claimed that 70 percent of the land in western Jerusalem was Palestinian owned.

Before last summer's summit at Camp David, it might have been possible to dismiss these positions as so much rhetoric or just negotiating positions.

At Camp David itself, however, the Palestinians were no less extreme.

According then-mediator Dennis Ross, Arafat insisted before stunned US officials that there never were Jewish temples on the Temple Mount.

Accordingly, Palestinian leaders not only rejected proposals that Israel retain any sovereignty on (or under) the Temple Mount. The Palestinians also claimed that the Western Wall was a Muslim holy site over which they must have sovereignty. After Camp David, Arafat explained Palestinian generosity thus: "I have offered them free access to pray at the Western Wall. They will have an open corridor to reach the Western Wall."

In retrospect, as the Palestinian gun down Israelis on the roads, blow themselves up in shopping malls, and fire into the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, the idea that an Israeli government was considering dividing the intricately intertwined neighborhoods of Jerusalem can only be considered a case of temporary insanity. It is obvious, for example, that Beit Jala would never have been handed over to full Palestinian control (Area A) if Israel had known that doing so would have turned Gilo into a shooting gallery.

That Beit Jala was included in Area A reflected a level of trust that what has already happened would never happen. The lesson and the price of Arafat's post-Camp David offensive must be that any arrangement that does not wrap Jerusalem in a sizable security zone - let alone divide the city by neighborhood - is a non-starter with the current and perhaps any future Palestinian leadership.

More than simply stating that Israel will not consider dividing Jerusalem, the government should take concrete actions that emphasize the change in policy. The first should be to prevent all unauthorized building and destruction on the Temple Mount and ending the denial of press access to the area. This should be done initially by closing off the Temple Mount to heavy earth-moving and stone-cutting equipment. Subsequently, construction would only be allowed in close coordination with Israel.

Second, Israel should end the practice of allowing Palestinian security services to operate in Jerusalem. This practice is left over from the now disproven idea that these security services would work against terrorism. Whether or not Palestinian security forces were acting appropriately, it is now important to reassert Israeli sovereignty throughout the city.

Lastly, Israel should very belatedly work to reverse decades of under-investment in the Arab neighborhoods of the city. If Israel were serious about keeping Jerusalem whole, it would not have tolerated the large infrastructure gap between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in the city. The system of Arabs pretending to pay taxes, while the municipality pretends to provide services and infrastructure, should stop. Israel's seriousness regarding keeping Jerusalem whole will be judged by whether these steps are taken, not by declarations made on Jerusalem Day.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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