Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat may or may not be re-elected for a second term this coming Tuesday. But even his opponents had much to learn from a talk he delivered in one of his campaign stops this week, in which he briefly recounted aspects of the glorious history of Yerushalayim, the holy city.
His talk must be understood, however, in the light of the alarming tone taken by a senior Israeli government figure, considered to be close to – i.e., a mouthpiece for – Prime Minister Netanyahu. Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi, speaking about the ongoing, very secret negotiations between top Israeli and PA negotiators, has a solution for Jerusalem that he would actually welcome and that the PA can also accept.
Hanegbi does not expect a breakthrough in the talks: “I don’t see the Palestinians adopting the red-line principles that the prime minister has set any time soon,” he said. “These principles include “no division of Jerusalem,” he reassured, as well as continued Israeli presence/control in the Jordan Valley and retention of settlement blocs – “the extent of which will be the subject of a major argument.”
What exactly does he mean when he says “no division of Jerusalem?” Speaking at the recent J Street national conference in Washington, Hanegbi said, “I think we will be able to give a good answer, a win-win answer, to almost every issue, including the Jerusalem issue.” Jerusalem wouldn’t actually be “divided,” he explained, but there would rather “be some creative idea that will allow them to have their own sovereignty in their neighborhoods and to declare whatever they want to declare about it, and we will have sovereignty over other parts.”
“We will never agree to the division of Jerusalem,” he said later, “but rather to creative solutions that will allow the city’s hundreds of thousands of Arabs, whom no one wants to become Israeli citizens, to become part of the Palestinian entity.”
If this is what a senior government figure feels is an acceptable approach to Yerushalayim – i.e., giving up, in one form or another, on large portions of Arab-populated territory in and surrounding the holy Jewish capital – then supporters of a united, Jewish Jerusalem have reason for concern.
One thing on which Prime Minister Netanyahu truly does insist is, of course, PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish state. He has repeatedly explained that the reason this is so critical is so that the PA will be able to demand neither its own national rights in Israeli territory, nor the return of Arab refugees into Israel – so as not to threaten the country’s Jewish majority.
No Arab National Rights
Keep in mind that the San Remo Resolutions, unanimously confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922, made sure to grant the Arabs of the Holy Land individual civil and religious rights – but specifically not those of a national political nature. Calling for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” it emphasized that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
The League of Nations itself resolved to recognize “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and… the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” No such recognition of Arab rights in Palestine was granted.
Back to Mayor Barkat. He alluded to King David, who turned the city into the spiritual center it was destined to be ever since the Torah alluded to it as the “place that I [God] will choose.” King David also made it the political capital of the Jewish Nation, while his son King Shlomo built the Holy Temple there. The structure was so impressive that it totally bowled over the visiting Queen of Sheba (Kings I 10:5). No wonder even the Arabs call the city “Al-Quds,” short for “Bait al Makdis,” or Beit HaMikdash.
No mention of Jerusalem’s history is complete without mention of the Second Temple; the Talmud states that whoever did not see it (at least in its later stages), “never saw a beautiful building in his life.” After it, too, was destroyed, the loving bonds between the Jewish people and their holy capital were detached – physically. All that was left was prayer, and throughout the coming centuries, the Jewish People prayed thrice every day for the return to Yerushalayim.
In 1948, it almost happened. The Jewish people returned from the four corners of the earth after nearly 1,900 years in exile, and re-established their long-destroyed national home. Yet, amazingly, one thing was still missing: The holy city of Jerusalem. True, the younger suburbs, known today as western Jerusalem, were in Israeli hands – but the site of the Temples and the original City of David were taken over by Jordan.
As anyone who has ever heard the song Yerushalayim Shel Zahav knows, this state of detachment between the Jewish nation and its City of Joy did not last forever: After 19 years, Israel liberated it and restored it to its People.
Let’s recall how this came about. Israel had been facing existential threats from its Arab neighbors for a number of months. “Israel’s existence has continued too long,” Cairo Radio broadcast in mid-May. “The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel.” A few days later, Syria’s president announced, “We want a full scale, popular war of liberation… to destroy the Zionist enemy.” Iraq’s president, too, said, “Our goal is clear: to wipe Israel off the map.”
The liberation of Jerusalem was therefore not on anyone’s mind at that time (except perhaps for Rav Tzvi Yehua Kook, who, just three weeks before the Six-Day War, cried out prophetically against the absence of Judea and Samaria from Israel’s borders). Instead the concern was whether Israel would soon be annihilated, Heaven forbid.
Israel’s leaders informed Jordan’s King Hussein that if he refrained from attacking Israel, Israel would not attack him. But he ignored the warnings and on the very first day of the war launched multiple attacks on Israel. His forces shelled Tel Aviv suburbs, the Ramat David airfield, Netanya and Kfar Saba – and especially western Jerusalem, hit by thousands of mortar shells. It is not often remembered that 20 Israelis died in these attacks, 1,000 were wounded, and 900 buildings were damaged.
All this happened before Israel took any military action against Jordan and its hold on Jerusalem or the west bank of the Jordan River. Only on the third day of the war was the command given to liberate Jerusalem, and the Jewish nation was reunited once again with its beloved holy city. Because Jordan attacked without provocation, Israel’s response was an act of self-defense, and its new borders were the result of Jordanian aggression.