There is no city or place in the world that arouses such powerful emotions and
passions as the city of Jerusalem. The old stones and holy sites of Jerusalem
can tell a fascinating story of human attraction, sanctifying them, praying to
them, fighting to possess them.
The city of peace has been anything but
peaceful – a city of conflict, of wars, of conflicting historical and religious
narratives. It began with King David who expressed his rule of Jerusalem through
his kingdom and his love for her through psalms. Governance and passion passed
from civilization to civilization, inspired by the holiness of the city: the
Romans, the Byzantines, the Muslims, the Mameluks, the Ottomans, the British and
now, again us.
The Jewish people rightly see Jerusalem as the center of
their history, religion and life. The prayer and desire for Jerusalem has
probably kept the Jewish people alive and creative throughout
The yearning to return to Jerusalem, Zion, is what made the
Israeli rebirth possible. And now, facing a parallel demand on Jerusalem from
the Palestinians – on east Jerusalem – we are faced with a monumental historical
A permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians for a twostate
solution is an existential interest for Israel, if we want to preserve our
Jewish and democratic identity, and is impossible without a solution to the
Jerusalem issue. There are two issues on which we cannot compromise – the
security of Israel and the negation of the right of return of Palestinian
refugees to sovereign Israel, as peace must strengthen both our well-being and
The current Palestinian leadership in Ramallah understands
this, although negotiations on these cardinal issues will not be
Those are clear Israeli redlines. We can compromise though on
borders – based on the 1967 lines with mutual land swaps, on settlements being
reallocated to the settlement blocs, on water that must be shared. This leaves
us with the one permanent-status issue that both Labor and Likud governments
agreed to negotiate – the future of Jerusalem.
Our leaders have not told
the people the truth about Jerusalem – misleading us that peace is possible
together with a united Jerusalem under full Israeli control. Anybody who knows
the slightest thing about Palestinian history, leadership and society knows that
no agreement is possible without Palestinian control over the Arab and Muslim
parts of Jerusalem, and Israeli control over the Israeli and Jewish parts. One
city – two capitals.
This is the truth that the Israeli leadership and
people will have to face in the upcoming negotiations now that the Netanyahu
government has agreed that all permanent- status issues are on the
It is a serious dilemma, yet it is not a choice between Jerusalem
and peace. It is about giving up Arab Jerusalem, with its 250,000 Palestinian
inhabitants, for peace.
Every Israeli must face this question – as it
touches both on our history and on our future. There is, in my mind, an
ideological and a pragmatic answer to this question, leading to a desired vision
for the future of Jerusalem.
Peace, the prevention of loss of life
(pikuach nefesh) in Jerusalem comes before all other values.
indeed life. Since our peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, no Israeli soldier
fell in battle.
Therefore the choice is difficult, yet obvious. If we can
have peace, with security, and maintain sovereignty of all parts of Jewish
Jerusalem, then giving up East Jerusalem is not only worthwhile, but necessary.
We will thereby value both Jewish history and Jewish future.
sovereignty over East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount with its two
mosques, will be a lasting incentive for the Palestinians to sustain peace and
for the Arab world to back it.
A peace treaty between two states, with
Jerusalem being the capital of both, will be one of the most dramatic
developments in modern human history. Never in 3,000 years did two nations, two
religions, make peace over Jerusalem. The whole international community would
support such a historic treaty and work to sustain it.
There are also
pragmatic benefits to such a solution, which are of greatest importance.
Primarily, Jerusalem was never recognized by the international community as
Israel’s capital. Not even by the United States, whose embassy is in Tel Aviv.
With a peace settlement that includes Jerusalem, the world will, for the first
time, recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This is an important
acknowledgement of our identity, as the Tower of David is what we are about, not
the David Azrieli Towers. Maybe more important than hosting the American
ambassador in Jerusalem is the hosting of almost 20 Arab ambassadors to Israel
in Jerusalem, including a Palestinian one. This is of strategic value and should
be a condition to such an agreement.
It is also important to better
manage the diversified Jewish life of Jerusalem, without being in charge of the
lives and destinies of a quarter million Palestinians. The city, in times of
peace, can be developed economically, including through cooperation between its
Israeli and Palestinian citizens. A Jerusalem of peace will become a global
attraction for several million tourists a year – Jews, Christians, Muslims and
others, which will boost its economy significantly.
The political and
religious divisions already exist de facto. Palestinians run most East Jerusalem
institutions, some of which are already linked to the Palestinian Authority. The
Temple Mount and the mosques are under the control of the Palestinian Wakf
Islamic trust. In turning this existing division into a political reality, we
have much to gain for our national interests, above all, peace.
the solution to Jerusalem is not a surgical operation cutting the city in half;
it has to be creative in order to serve all of its people – Israelis and
Palestinians. In 2001, I prepared a proposal on this issue, which I discussed
separately with then-prime minister Ehud Barak, with Yasser Arafat and with the
secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. While I encountered only
hesitant interest, the proposal is still valid today.
According to this
proposal, Jerusalem would be split politically into three parts:
– the capital of Israel, which would include all Jewish neighborhoods and holy
sites (including the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City);
Quds – the capital of Palestine, which would include all Arab neighborhoods and
holy sites (including the two mosques on the Temple Mount). It would house the
Palestinian governmental and legislative institutions; and
• United Nations
Sector – a small section outside the city boundaries, not more than 50 new
buildings, to which a part of the United Nations would be moved from New York
and other cities. The General Assembly would gather there to declare Jerusalem
the world capital of peace. Thereafter, various UN organs that deal with global
peace functions, such as the headquarters of the peacekeeping forces, UNESCO,
UNICEF etc., would be moved to Jerusalem. In this way, neither side of Jerusalem
loses, but rather they gain by becoming a global center for peacemaking and
This would further encourage, and actually oblige, both
sides to maintain peace.
The centrality of Jerusalem since its inception
was linked to peace.
In the Book of Chronicles 22:7, King David is told
by the Almighty why he is not allowed to build the First Temple: “You shall not
build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on earth in My
sight.” It was Solomon who was asked to build the Temple, as “I will give peace
and quietness to Israel in his days.”
The future of Jerusalem will
likewise be based on peace between neighbors, not on destruction.
writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief
negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.