Israel and Judaism: For Genuine Peace, an Equitable Resolution of the Status of Jerusalem Is Increasingly Viewed as Essential

By C, Allan | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

Israel and Judaism: For Genuine Peace, an Equitable Resolution of the Status of Jerusalem Is Increasingly Viewed as Essential


C, Allan, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


ISRAEL AND JUDAISM: For Genuine Peace, an Equitable Resolution of the Status of Jerusalem Is Increasingly Viewed as Essential

In mid-March, Israel's cabinet narrowly approved a long-overdue Israeli troop withdrawal from 6.1 percent of the West Bank. Prime Minister Ehud Barak presented a heavily revised withdrawal map that did not include the Arab village of Anata on the border of Jerusalem. His reversal on Anata raised questions about negotiations on a final peace treaty. In the accord, among the key issues which must be resolved is the status of Jerusalem, whose eastern sector is claimed by the Palestinians as a capital.

There was some fear that if Mr. Barak was unable to get political backing for a troop withdrawal from an Arab neighborhood close to Jerusalem, it appears virtually impossible to win approval for concessions in the city itself.

At the same time, a consensus seems to be growing that only an equitable resolution of the status of Jerusalem can lead to a lasting peace in the region. A hopeful sign is that many prominent American Jews, and many Israelis as well, seem to be coming to this conclusion.

In January, a group of American rabbis, concerned that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks might collapse over the tangled issue of Jerusalem, called for the two sides to share the city.

A statement signed by more than 300 rabbis organized by the Jewish Peace Lobby declared that, "The question is whether Jerusalem should be under the exclusive sovereignty of one nation. The question is whether the pursuit of both justice and peace requires that, in some form, Jerusalem be shared with the Palestinian people. We believe that it does."

Professor Jerome Segal, a research scholar at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland who founded the Peace Lobby a decade ago, said: "We know there has been no serious discussion inside Israel about any general compromise on Jerusalem. Jerusalem is still viewed as the third rail of Israeli politics, with the right claiming that the left will redivide Jerusalem and the left saying that is a lie." According to Segal, the subject is so emotional that no one has ever analyzed the actual geography involved in detaching western Jerusalem from the eastern portion, where all 180,000 Palestinians live.

A survey devised by Segal with researchers from both sides found that neither Israelis nor Palestinians viewed the borders of the city as sacrosanct when it was broken down neighborhood by neighborhood. "When you ask people what parts of the city are important," he said, "only the Mount of Olives and the Old City are really important to both peoples."

The Old City constitutes only one percent of the area of modern Jerusalem, the rabbis pointed out in their statement. Sovereignty in this area, which contains places of religious significance to Jews, Christians and Muslims, could come through creative negotiations that would not have to apply to other lands. They also suggested that the borders of Jerusalem -- which Israel has expanded a number of times since it captured the city in 1967 and reunited its eastern and western parts -- might be reduced to create a more Jewish city. By giving up control over the mostly undeveloped Arab areas, the rabbis say, Israel would remove from Israeli Jerusalem most Palestinians, who would most likely become citizens of a future Palestinian state anyway.

Rabbis who signed the statement said they felt it was a moral question and that peace was the most important goal for Jews. "The notion that Jerusalem belongs to the Jews and only the Jews, if that precludes peace, is wrong," said Rabbi Burton Visotzky, a professor of rabbinic literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. "I think in the end we will have to live with our neighbors and there is no way around it, and that includes Jerusalem."

The fact is that Jerusalem's present border is only 32 years old.

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