In the news once again is President Trump’s “deal of the century” – the latest in about a century’s worth of proposals for peace to the Middle East.
This particular proposal, contrary to most others, has an inherent advantage for many Land of Israel lovers in that it calls for full Israeli sovereignty over significant parts of Judea and Samaria.
However, many in Israel still cannot accept it with open arms because the remainder of Judea and Samaria (70 percent!) is being left open for a Palestinian state – an existential danger to Israel, according to many experts. This is especially true given that many of the Israeli enclaves will be surrounded by Arab territory.
What about Jerusalem? What does the Trump Plan say about Israel’s capital city?
As with many other critical issues addressed in the plan, the key word is “vagueness.” In principle, Jerusalem fares relatively well in the plan. For instance, it states, “We believe that returning to a divided Jerusalem…would be a grave mistake.”
The plan then notes that “a security barrier currently exists…that already separates Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem (i.e., Kafr Aqab, and the eastern part of Shuafat) from the rest of the neighborhoods in the city. This physical barrier should remain in place.”
But the next words are problematic: “[This barrier] should serve as a border between the capitals of the two parties… The sovereign capital of the State of Palestine should be in the section of East Jerusalem located in all areas east and north of the existing security barrier” (emphasis added).
The removal of the neighborhoods outside the security barrier from Jerusalem could be acceptable if they were to become separate Israeli municipalities. But to eliminate them from Israel altogether is clearly not something we can sign on to.
True, this plan does not seek to divide Jerusalem “down the middle” like some other plans. And certainly it is heartening that most of the holy sites will remain under Israeli control under this plan. But we must look at the plan in its entirety, including the previously mentioned points.
We must also continue to demand the measures we have long been calling for that will ensure effective Israeli sovereignty in our capital city: more construction in neighborhoods such as Gilo, Har Homa, Pisgat Ze’ev, and of course the Old City; promotion of the Greater Jerusalem plan that will bring Mevaseret Zion, Maaleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, and the areas north of Jerusalem under the Greater Jerusalem “umbrella;” and making the city more attractive for large and small employers.
* * * * *
Rumors abound regarding an area of Jerusalem – Atarot, in the northern part of the capital – that, if correct, would make the Trump plan more problematic. There are indications that Trump’s “conceptual map” designates this area for joint Israeli-PA control.
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King has explained that the Housing Ministry is in the early stages of planning a new Jewish neighborhood of 8,000 units there. However, if the indications are correct, “the chances of a Jewish neighborhood being built there are…zero,” King concludes.
Atarot and northern Jerusalem are essentially a “weak link” in Israel’s critical grasp on the capital. After 1967, when the area was liberated during the Six-Day War and became part of municipal Jerusalem, Israel began massive housing construction in nearby N’vei Yaakov – but showed no interest in renewing settlement in Atarot just to the north. Instead, the Atarot Industrial Zone was built nearby. But even the industrial zone began to deteriorate when the Oslo War began in late 2000.
New solutions for Atarot then began to be pursued – and rejected. A plan to build a sizable charedi neighborhood was floated in 2007, but U.S. pressure scuttled it. The reason was clear: It would have destroyed chances for a viable contiguous Arab presence in Jerusalem. As King said at the time, “It is projects like these that will save Jerusalem [from being divided].”
Left-wing proponents of dividing Jerusalem understood that, which is why they opposed the plan. They warned that it would disrupt a zone of Arab contiguity extending from Ramallah southwards and “would make a final status agreement on Jerusalem impossible.”
All parties agree, then, that building up Jewish Atarot could prevent the division of Jerusalem and impede plans for a Palestinian state. Can the importance of such a project for united Jerusalem be made any clearer?
Jerusalem lovers who are now considering the Trump Plan had best look closely at this aspect of the plan – while making sure to pursue all steps that contribute to securing Jerusalem’s future with a large Jewish majority in a greater Jerusalem.