The Myth Of Jerusalem: A Position Paper

Jerusalem Should Be Shared

by Gershon Baskin
Washington Post Sunday, June 26, 1994

The political leadership of Israel speaks of a consensus on the future status of Jerusalem -- one which represents more than 95 percent of the Israeli public. This consensus, defined as the Israeli policy, supposedly is as follows: All of Jerusalem is Israel's eternal, undivided capital. All of Jerusalem must remain under Israeli sovereignty forever.

I maintain that this is not really the consensus of Israeli opinion on Jerusalem but is in fact a rather narrow view of what should be the future of this city,. The true consensus, as opposed to this mythical consensus, can be stated as follows:

All Israelis believes and desire that:

1. Jerusalem must never return to the status it had prior to June 1967. Jerusalem should never be physically divided. It must remain an open city with free access throughout its boundaries for all.

2. Personal security and security of property must be guaranteed for all in all parts of the city. No one should have to fear getting a knife in his back in any part of the city and no one should have to fear getting his car torched or other property damaged in any part of the city.

3. The new Jewish neighborhoods built in East Jerusalem after 1967 must remain under Israeli sovereignty. There can be no compromise on this.

4. The Jewish Holy Places must remain under Israeli control. (This does not include the Haram).

Why do I think this is the true consensus? To begin with, if Israelis (and even Jerusalemites) were asked to draw a map of today's municipal boundaries, very few would be capable of completing the task. This suggest that these boundaries Moreover, if Israelis were asked to name the 18 neighborhoods of Arab East Jerusalem, almost none of them would be able to do so. If you asked Israelis how many of them have visited in those Arab neighborhoods, the answer would be almost none. If you asked how would be interested in visiting those Arab neighborhoods, the answer would be the same.

I feel certain that almost all Israelis, if asked whether the Jerusalem municipality should invest money in developing those Arab neighborhoods, almost all Israelis would say that it shouldn't. Certainly, this has been the practice: Since 1967, the Jerusalem municipality has invested next to nothing in those Again, ask Israelis if their country has any real need (other than perhaps security) for controlling those neighborhoods. The answer of most people, I am certain, would be no.

All of this would seem to suggest that most Israelis don't really care about the Arab parts of East Jerusalem. Rather, most Israelis are concerned about the ability of Israel to maintain its capital in Jerusalem, to have security, to have an open Old City with Jewish control of Jewish Holy Places. But the status of the Arab sections of Jerusalem is really of little interest to almost all Israelis.

I believe that one of the primary acts which must be taken on the Israeli side in order to prepare Jerusalem for negotiations is to break down the myth of consensus. This can be done in several ways. First, people must begin to speak out on this issue. One example of a positive statement was made by Reuvan Hazak, a former high level Shin Bet official as well as being a former Jerusalem city manager. While appearing on Israel TV (Popolitika) several months ago Hazak stated that Jerusalem is a divided city today and politically its future will remain a divided city and that we should not be afraid of this. There are senior Labour Party members of Knesset holding these views as well. They should be encouraged to speak out.

Secondly, public opinion polls should be carried out, asking the public the kinds of questions listed above. These polls, if conducted cautiously, should prove the hypotheses listed above. The results of the polls should be widely published because they will, in the end, help pave the road for negotiations over Jerusalem.

Jerusalem will never be a unified city unless it can be shared. The possibility for sharing Jerusalem will only be met once the two sides and their leaders cut down on the rhetoric which polarizes and instead, begin to help the public, on both sides, understand the true character of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city of two peoples which both claim national, historic and religious rights to it. Real sharing can only be achieved by recognizing the political reality which has existed here since 1967. Since the overwhelming majority of Israelis really only care about the Jewish parts of Jerusalem, let's concentrate on them and recognize that the Palestinians today are willing to accept rule over only their parts of the city. Jerusalem can stay physically united. Infrastructures, economic development and some elements of planning can be conducted jointly. Let Israel rule over Israeli Jerusalem and let Palestine rule over Palestinian Jerusalem and Jerusalem will become one city living in peace.

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