The division of Jerusalem has to be faced now
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August 11, 2009
LONDON - Poets as diverse as William Blake and Yehuda Amichai have sung the praises of the heavenly Jerusalem, a land without strife or rancour, war or bitterness, envy, acquisitiveness or hatred. Israel, Fatah and Hamas have the historic opportunity to take a giant step towards making the present day Jerusalem acquire, at least in some of its aspects, the earthly prototype of the heavenly Jerusalem. For once we can see whether the work of imams, rabbis and priests can bare fruit. The secular politicians may be the ones doing the negotiations and ordering the compromises but it is the teachers of the three great deistic religions who have been charged from above to exert their mandate to teach compassion, goodness, tolerance and brotherhood.
These traits of virtue, as common to them all as is their God, is being tested in the hottest of fires. Have their peoples imbibed the true message of their faiths? Or have they been diverted along life's way by political position over moral principles and by nationalistic myth over historic perspective?
Right now the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is shunning all compromise. He has rebuffed American demands for a total freeze on Israel’s colonisation of occupied Palestinian land, by allowing both the size of the settlements and the numbers living there to expand by the month. Last week he went a step even further - announcing that Israel had decided to evict Palestinian families in Arab East Jerusalem to allow Jewish families to take over.
This is setting the fire for combustion in the very heart of the city. How insensitive can Netanyahu be? And why does the Obama Administration appear to take it on the chin? Netanyahu’s tactic seems to be to prove to all that the American emperor has no clothes. The “emperor” is walking naked into the conference chamber, and Israel will continue to run rings around him.
President Bill Clinton was profoundly wrong after the Camp David meeting broke up towards the end of his term in office to lead the U.S. side in berating Arafat publicly for not compromising on Jerusalem. He seemed not to understand Yasser Arafat's observation: "The Arab leader has not been born who will give up Jerusalem". Clinton looked at the enormous compromises the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, had already made and, in the detached manner of Western diplomacy, assumed this was a very fair deal. It was, indeed, but it wasn't enough.
First, consider the fallout from contemporary history.
There is no question that at the time of the ending of the British mandate Jerusalem belonged to the Palestinians. They lost West Jerusalem in their ill-judged war with Israel in 1948. Only in 1967 during the Six Day War did Israel capture and annex East Jerusalem and its Old City. (But it did allow Islamic authorities to continue to exercise control over the two ancient mosques and the great stone plaza atop the Temple Mount.) At one time the U.S. itself recognised there would be no peace until this occupation was reversed, hence its vote for UN Resolution 242 in 1967 that called on Israel to withdraw from "territories occupied". Thus it is a matter of international justice that at the very least the Arab parts of East Jerusalem be returned to Palestine, as long as Jews have free, untrammelled, access, to their sacred site, the Western Wall which sits at the foot of Temple Mount. (Imagine, by comparison, the wrath of the German people if Berlin were still occupied by the Allies.)
Nevertheless, it is also just as obvious that the Jewish identity is now so bound up with the idea of Jerusalem (a fuzzy concept if ever there was one, since present day Jerusalem is four times the size of the one that existed in 1948) that to prize Israel loose by a process of capitulation is probably not within the realms of possibility
Once again we have to begin to think seriously about the idea (first mooted in this column) of internationalising part of East Jerusalem. For the present the suggestion of a UN Security Council fiefdom only extends to the Temple Mount, but once that principle is accepted the possibilities of geographical extension to include some of the neighbourhoods around shouldn't be so difficult to swallow. The Palestinians are still balking, but that is probably only because the Palestinian leadership sees the idea as presently drawn as too geographically limited. Extend it somewhat and an agreement could be at hand.
With his audacious and damning move on the Sunday before last, Netanyahu has raised the stakes over Jerusalem. Is Obama prepared to widen his focus from just settlements to Jerusalem as well? If he is not, Netanyahu will have proved once again that Israel can always best America, whoever is president.
Copyright © 2009 Jonathan
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