It is not a perfect analogy, but imagine King George III asking America’s founding fathers to surrender Philadelphia in exchange for ending the Revolutionary War. America’s birthplace, including Independence Hall — where the Declaration of Independence was signed — would fly the Union Jack.
That might help you understand why most Israelis — and many American Jews — balk at the current suggestions that Israel surrender large parts of Jerusalem in return for peace with the Palestinians. And this is not just a suggestion; it’s assumed by some administration officials and other advisers. They argue that President Barack Obama needs to put forward his own Israeli-Palestinian “peace plan” — including this trade.
After recent news reports of just such discussions between Obama and former national security advisers, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was at that meeting, and former Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-NY) wrote about it in The Washington Post.
Obama, they wrote, should leapfrog the stalemate and restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by laying out his own proposal to settle the conflict.
“The basic outlines of a…comprehensive [Mideast] peace plan that Obama could propose are known to all,” Brzezinski and Solarz asserted, including a “genuine sharing of Jerusalem as the capital of each state, and some international arrangement for the Old City.”
They described this element of an assumed plan as “a bitter pill” for Israelis. But the nation would swallow it, the writers said, because “most Israelis…would rather have peace without all of Jerusalem, than a united Jerusalem without peace.”
Their assertions are fundamentally flawed. Jerusalem cannot be equated with any other Israeli-Palestinian border arrangement in pursuit of a peace accord. The city is at the core of Jewish theology, history, and identity.
From the religious perspective, Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish identity. Observant Jews pray each day for Jerusalem’s welfare, facing toward it. We read biblical accounts of our forefathers that take place there. We conclude our holiest days — as we did at the Passover seder last month — with a prayer that, next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem.
Historically, King David made Jerusalem his capital 3,000 years ago, and it has been the national capital of the Jewish people ever since. Only brute force kept them out.
From 1948 to 1967, when Jordan held the Old City and east Jerusalem, Jews were barred entry, denied worship at the Western Wall at the foot of the Temple Mount, and denied access to the ancient cemeteries on the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion.
Synagogues were destroyed. This is what happened to the Hurva Synagogue, which was finally rededicated this month, amid Palestinian denunciations and incitement to violence. Christian sites were degraded, too. But after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel unified the city and opened the holy sites to people of all faiths.
Under Israeli control, Jerusalem has been restored and improved. Its religious diversity is again flourishing. Pilgrims of all faiths come to Jerusalem for spiritual sustenance. They are not turned away. Muslim mosques, even those built on the mount where the most sacred Jewish temple once stood, operate freely under Muslim religious oversight. This status quo — de jure Israeli sovereignty with de facto Muslim control — is more commendable than any speculative new “international regime.”
Americans who seek to visit Jerusalem in peace and security should not want Washington proposing an arrangement that all evidence shows would make such pilgrimages far more dangerous — if not impossible.
There are many other reasons that the president’s proposal of a United States peace plan is ill-advised — not the least of which is that it will drive the Israelis and Palestinians further apart, if that’s possible. They will settle into hardened positions as they angle for U.S. pressure on the other, recalcitrant party.
But putting the redivision of the Holy City forward is neither necessary nor desirable.
Jerusalem — particularly the Old City and its Temple Mount — is central to Jewish identity.
The notion of surrendering it in the face of attack — or U.S. presidential pressure — is anathema to Jews everywhere.