The bottom line, so far, of what appears to be the most hyped peace proposal in most of our lifetimes is that Jerusalem – all of it – is Jewish and will remain so.
President Trump’s peace deal recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital and assigns the capital of a Palestinian Arab state, if it ever arises, to be established in neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.
Are these neighborhoods technically part of Jerusalem? The answer depends on how one looks at Jerusalem’s complex and often fluctuating borders. The many changes in the city’s borders over the past century have left several neighborhoods in a state of uncertainty. Among these are the neighborhoods designated by the Trump team for the new Arab capital.
Most notably, Abu Dis – roughly southeast of the Old City – has been touted as the site on which the Arabs would build their seat of government. Part of Abu Dis is inside the city’s municipal borders, but most of it is not, and the security barrier leaves it physically outside Jerusalem. Notably, most of the PA offices responsible for Jerusalem affairs are already located in Abu Dis.
The deal mentions two other Arab-populated neighborhoods as options for placement of Palestinian government offices: Shuafat and Kafr Akeb. The former is located roughly between Pisgat Ze’ev and French Hill, while Kafr Akeb is in the northern tip of municipal Jerusalem. Both are partly or totally set apart from Jerusalem by the security barrier.
Israel basically has no problem with this part of the plan, and does not demand that these three neighborhoods remain under full Israeli control. Arab governmental headquarters could easily be built there without undermining “united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.”
From the Arab standpoint, however – which is based on the false notion that Jerusalem has always been a holy Muslim site and the pinnacle of their political aspirations – this is unacceptable. As PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said, “I will not go down in history as the man who sold Jerusalem.”
How can a person “sell” something that is not his?!
Let us briefly review why Jerusalem has not always been a holy Muslim site and why it has never permanently been the pinnacle of Arab political aspirations.
Historically, Muslim ties to Jerusalem have always been based on little more than political expediency, disguised as religious fervor. The first time Islam artificially enhanced Jerusalem was during Mohammed’s own lifetime. In a barefaced attempt to win over the Jews living near his hometown of Medina, he announced that prayers would be directed towards Jerusalem.
However, as soon as he saw that the Jews were not interested, he made a brutal about-face and slaughtered many of them. He then directed prayers in a different direction, towards Mecca. Mohammed’s abandonment of Jerusalem was so total that he didn’t even mention the city once in the Koran.
Some decades after Mohammed’s death, Caliph Abdel Malik wanted to respond to the capture of Mecca and Medina by a rival Muslim leader – and came up with the idea of renewing Jerusalem as a “top holy city”! But its importance was soon eclipsed when Ramle was built in the eighth century.
The third Muslim infatuation with Jerusalem occurred during the Crusades. Salah a-Din needed to inflame his Moslem warriors against the Christian Crusaders – and Jerusalem again briefly became the focus of jihad and religious longing.
Today, once again, the Muslim world has taken to claiming Jerusalem as the pinnacle of its religious aspirations – and its political interests this time are simply to rid the Middle East of Israel. When the PLO was founded in 1964, its charter did not even mention Jerusalem!
Yet now, Arab spokesmen highlight the city’s “sanctity” and how they will never “sell” or “abandon” it.
Back to the Trump plan: Possibly the biggest danger is that the Arab world might actually accept it, leading to an existential danger to Israel in the form of a Palestinian state. However, it seems that their own contrived history will prevent them from saying yes.
Whether the Trump deal is actually good appears to be the subject of much uncertainty. It must be made concretely clear, though, that another Palestinian state (in addition to Jordan) is totally intolerable. However, this must also be said: The deal unprecedentedly recognizes the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria as totally legitimate.
In addition, it recognizes that the Jordan Valley is an essential part of Israel’s security needs. It also helps us realize the incredible folly of previous Israeli leaders, such as former Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert, who actually offered the Palestinian Authority more than 90 percent of Judea and Samaria on which to build a hostile Palestinian state. It is mind-boggling to think how close we were to such a calamity, and how far it now appears to be.
On the other hand: Can 15 small Jewish communities viably remain in isolated enclaves almost totally surrounded by a Palestinian state? And what about the other communities – they, too, will be surrounded, even if only less obviously.
And can Israel truly afford to allow even a demilitarized, pock-holed state on its borders and in its midst? After all, as analyst Dr. Aaron Lerner of IMRA has often pointed out, to agree to a demilitarized state and to actually keep it demilitarized are two different things: Once Palestine is a recognized state, it can then demand the rights of other states – and “let’s see you stop us!”
Jerusalem is ours forever – and let us hope that Judea and Samaria is as well.