Latest update: March 7th, 2013
With Tzipi Livni a possibility to head Israel’s negotiating team in talks with the Palestinian Authority, it is important to review her stance on the future status of Jerusalem – and to investigate what really is holding up all chances of a successful peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In late 2008, Livni was elected to replace Ehud Olmert as head of the Kadima Party. She then proceeded to fail in her attempt to form a new government under her leadership – and the reason for this was her consent to grant Arab control to parts of holy city. This, together with the economic decrees against the “disadvantaged population,” led the Shas Party to refuse to join her government.
As foreign minister in 2008, Livni promised P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas that Israel would cede it the entire Atarot airport complex in northern Yerushalayim in the framework of a peace agreement. She repeatedly stated that though she believes strongly in historic Jewish rights to the entire Land of Israel, she also believes in the “right of our children to live in peace” – to which end she was willing to make far-reaching territorial concessions even in Yerushalayim.
Is there any chance of reaching an agreement with the PLO that does not include some form of dividing Jerusalem with Muslims? The answer appears to be negative. Former Israeli ambassador to Canada Alan Baker, of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has written an important and thorough historic study of the issue, concluding that the current P.A. mindset “clearly render[s] hopeless any possibility of peacefully governing Jerusalem.”
Specifically, Baker writes, standing in the way of an agreement is the Moslems’ refusal to recognize the Jewish people’s religious and historic rights to Yerushalayim, even without accepting these as absolute and exclusively binding.
Just a few months ago, Abbas referred to “the alleged [Jewish] Temple” in Jerusalem, and vowed that “there will be no peace, security, or stability unless [all Israelis are] evacuated from our holy city and the eternal capital of our state.”
“This statement,” Baker wrote, “basically denying any Jewish linkage or right to Jerusalem, uttered by the head of the Palestinian Authority who is considered in the international community to be moderate and reasonable, serves as an example of the tremendous political, historical, psychological, legal, and religious challenge that the issue of Jerusalem poses to the Middle East negotiating process.”
Any agreement regarding Jerusalem, he continued, must be “predicated on absolute acknowledgement of, respect for, and acceptance by each side of the historic and religious rights of the other in Jerusalem. Continued mistrust, attempts to dislodge, undermine or destabilize the other side vis-à-vis its own constituency or the international community, and attempts to delegitimize the integrity or historical rights of the other side would clearly render hopeless any possibility of peacefully governing Jerusalem.”
It is not only Abbas who negates Jewish rights in Jerusalem. A P.A. survey in 2011 found that nearly three-quarters of the respondents – 72 percent – support the denial of thousands of years of Jewish history in Jerusalem.
We must remember, too, that Abbas has said no Jews would be allowed to live anywhere in a Palestinian state.
From Israel’s side, 77 percent told Dahaf public opinion pollsters in December that “Israel could not rely on the Palestinians to ensure freedom of worship” even in the framework of a peace agreement. Interestingly, it is not well-known that non-Muslims are prohibited from entering both Mecca and the center of Medina. Undoubtedly, if this fact were to be exposed more widely, it would dramatically increase the number of Israelis who realize the division of Jerusalem means the end of their visits to the Western Wall – for there is no reason to believe that if Jews may not visit Mecca or Medina, they would be able to visit the Temple Mount or anywhere else in the Old City under Muslim rule.
Ambassador Baker notes in his article that even when Israel supported various internationalization schemes in Jerusalem, this was basically to ensure universal freedom of worship in all holy places, not to give up sovereignty. The Arab sides did not accept even this.
Regarding the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 Partition resolution, historian Shlomo Avineri has written that unlike in the Jewish community, there was no debate within the Arab community: There, “an absolutist position – ‘we have all the rights, the Jews don’t have any right’ – continued to be the foundation of their response…”
And despite all the talk of guaranteeing freedom of worship to all, when Jordan controlled Jerusalem from 1949-1967 Jewish rights of access to holy sites there were brutally denied. Baker notes that 55 synagogues and yeshivot in the Jewish Quarter were either destroyed or desecrated by Jordanian forces; it is also known that thousands of gravestones in Jewish cemeteries were turned into latrine walkways and worse.
Baker makes an important point: “Despite this blatant violation by Jordan of its international commitments pursuant to the 1949 Armistice Agreement, between 1952 and 1967 the U.N. did not consider the question of the status of Jerusalem and Jordan’s violations as being worthy of being placed on its agenda.”
Can it possibly be conceived that if the situation today were reversed, it would not be a major subject of anti-Israel discussion in the U.N.?
In any event, when Israel liberated Jerusalem and other biblical areas in the Six-Day War of 1967, Foreign Minister Abba Eban told the UN, “For twenty years there has not been free access by men of all faiths to the shrines which they hold in unique reverence. This access now exists. Israel is resolved to give effective expression, in cooperation with the world’s great religions, to the immunity and sanctity of all the Holy Places.”
Given the wide gaps in the respective Jewish and Arab positions regarding Jerusalem, there can be only two alternatives: Either Israel weakens and allows its position to be whittled down – or the Jewish people stands strong in its love for its eternal holy city so that it will remain united under Israeli sovereignty. It is up to us.
About the Author: Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel's minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now live in Beit El.
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