Define “Jerusalem.” Go ahead. You’ll probably give the boilerplate answers: Israel’s eternal, united capital.
Conquered by King David, built up by King Solomon. A city that historically has been a national focus to no one but the Jews and a mere backwater under every foreign occupier through the ages – including the Jordanians.
Mentioned well over 600 times in the Bible (and zip in the Koran). A city of the celestial and the earthly, said to have been bestowed with nine of the 10 measures of beauty that descended upon the world.
And you’d be right (except for the Holyland complex near Malha, which seems to have sprouted from the depths of hell).
To me, Jerusalem has been home so far for 36 years. It enticed me with its history, its beauty, its colors, its architecture, its exotic Old City market and holy sites, and the quaint lanes and corners in many of the new city’s older neighborhoods – and no less by its hot, yet humidity- free, summers. And it’s kept me with its steady (if relatively underpaid) employment as a journalist, writer, lecturer and mayoral spokesman, with a few other public-sector gigs in between.
Almost all of this has entailed wideeyed discovery, sheer adventure, an exciting sense of mission and the ever- present realization that here I am, living my life in a mystical, almost mythical city that so many generations of my ancestors could only dream about.
If you’re Jewish and a Zionist, the city has a way of doing this to you. Sometimes, though, you wake up and note that it’s not always Jerusalem of Gold.
I THINK OF this as we gear up to mark not only 50 years of the city’s reunification, but the scheduled arrival of the 45th president of the United States. You know – the one who said that if elected, he’d follow through on all the hollow promises of his wussed-out predecessors and actually move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
And I say “scheduled” because, what with all the turmoil surrounding the man’s yo-yo presidency (especially in recent days, say, for example, some Israeli intel he casually threw around), who knows if he’ll actually show.
But if he does, this man, who is at heart a property developer, might view the Old City from the presidential suite at the King David and, hands in pockets, head thrust Trumpian high, say to no one in particular: “Someone should snap up that prime property for a highrise hotel with terrific views of the holy sites and their surroundings (local zoning laws be damned).”
If opposition leader Isaac Herzog were smart, he’d anticipate this and invite President Donald Trump on a limo ride around the city, from north to south and east to west. The president – knowing that to expect a return on an investment, a neighborhood has to be nice and safe – would probably take a cold, hard look and say there’s definitely a need for some serious change around here.
He’d be right, of course. He’d be in a “united city” where people hardly traverse the so-called seam that still marks the old 1949 cease-fire line. A “city of peace” where Palestinians whip out knives on innocent Jews or plow them aside while behind the wheel. A “city of brotherly love” where Jews move into Arab neighborhoods, if only to remind the neighbors who’s boss. A city that’s the very microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, a place that proves people do not really want to live according to another person’s terms.
“Jesus,” Trump – a man who seems to want to make a profit any way and anywhere he can – might say. “How can anyone make a buck in a place like this?” Such a revelation wouldn’t play well to the throngs on the Israeli Right who fell into a thrall with Trump’s election and boasted that now they’d be able to do whatever they wanted. In fact, they’re already worried. Those comments by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on NBC’s Meet the Press last Sunday indicate that the secretary not only understands the deeper issues inherent in moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, he understands the man he works for.
“Well, the president, I think rightly, has taken a very deliberative approach to understanding the issue itself, listening to input from all interested parties the context of a peace initiative, what impact would such a move have,” Tillerson told host Chuck Todd.
And then there was the local Channel 2 report on Monday night about tension between the Israelis and Americans who are planning Trump’s visit, about how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to personally escort Trump to the Western Wall and a US official nixed the idea by saying the Wall is in occupied territory.
It seems Trump’s campaign promises, especially those that caused excitement over here, are going out the window faster than FBI directors. So before anyone blows a cerebral artery about unfulfilled embassy promises and talk of occupied territory, let’s take a deep breath and a short look at not only the limitations, but also the possibilities.
JERUSALEM IS the capital of the Jewish people, and to judge by international promises of the past (and some not so much in the past), they are pieces of paper that can be worth exactly that when put to the test. So sovereignty is the best policy, UNESCO and other world bodies and governments be damned.
The question is, sovereignty over what? Shuafat? Abu Dis? Sur Bahir? Not a single one of those Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem was actually within the city limits prior to 1967. So much about them having been “eternal” parts of a capital that Jews have prayed toward for millennia.
Interestingly, these sections of town were included in Part II, Section B of the UN’s 1947 partition plan, which called for Jerusalem to be a “corpus separatum under a special international regime...administered by the United Nations.”
The area would include “the present municipality of Jerusalem plus the surrounding villages and towns, the most eastern of which shall be Abu Dis; the most southern, Bethlehem; the most western, Ein Karim (including also the built-up area of Motsa); and the most northern Shu’fat….”
Rather than antisemitism, it’s the aforementioned UN Resolution 181 that has most countries – including the United States – holding back from moving their embassies to Jerusalem. The 70-year-old plan, as outmoded as it might now be, is the last vestige of an international agreement on the status of the city, and no one wants to do anything differently until the two sides, Israel and the Palestinians, can agree on what will happen to it.
THE SPELLINGS might not be exactly the same, but Ein Kerem and Motza have been held by Israel since the War of Independence, and no one among the Palestinians (save, probably, for Hamas) is openly expecting to get them back.
Does Israel honestly need to hold on to Sur Bahir or Shuafat to make its “eternal capital” complete? Admittedly, the Old City, especially the Temple Mount, will be the toughest nut to crack. That’s because we all know the dispute is just as much – if not more – about religion than it is about two people’s claims to the same real estate.
That’s where the thinking would really have to be outside the box, and Donald Trump, despite every one of his shortcomings (which are, of course, many and, in a lot of cases, staggeringly dangerous), could be the one to bring the cold, bottom-line thinking of a property developer to bear on a bunch of people stuck in the quicksand of ideology and holy books.
A Trump visit could be the best gift for Jerusalem Day yet. I won’t hold my breath of course, but I say to those on the Right: You wanted him? Well, you got him. Now exhale and let’s see where things go.