This Jerusalem Day, I find myself thinking a lot about recognition. Forty-seven years after reunification, not enough countries really and truly recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of our country. While the Knesset, the Prime Minister’s Office, the President’s Residence, the Supreme Court and other key organs of our government sit in Jerusalem, every other country’s embassy is located 40 minutes away in Tel Aviv.
As with many other Israelis, this disappoints me. I love this city so much. While I was born and raised in another of our holy cities, Safed, I went to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and totally fell in love with the place. I was so enchanted by Jerusalem that I came to make my home here, to serve on the city council, to marry and raise my children here, and now to serve in the Knesset here.
For 2,000 years our people yearned for this beautiful golden city, and I thank the Almighty that I have the privilege to live here, to wake up here every morning, to dwell in the city David built. I am reminded every day of our tremendous achievement in returning to this land and turning what was a sleepy old town barely more than 100 years ago into the vibrant metropolis we know as Jerusalem today.
Nearly 50 years ago, in a war of defense, the IDF captured the Old City, and, for the first time in millennia, the Jewish people controlled a united Jerusalem. As secretary-general of the Labor Party and a Labor Member of Knesset, I recall that it was a Labor-led government that fought and won the Six Day War and a Labor government that united Jerusalem.
Patriotic love for Jerusalem crosses all political lines, and unites all of the Zionist parties.
So why is it that the international community will not fully recognize our ancient claim on Jerusalem as our capital city? The Judean Hills, which comprise Jerusalem, are the cradle of the Jewish people and the beating heart of the Zionist dream – Zion being just another name for Jerusalem, after all.
There are those who argue that it doesn’t matter, or that the world is against us and there’s nothing to be done about it. But the fact is that our security is as dependent on diplomacy and international recognition as it is on our military might.
And while there are elements that will be against us no matter what, I think it’s delusional to believe that even the disapproval of our friends and allies stems only from an unswerving antipathy towards Israel, or even anti-Semitism. Yes, there is a great deal of anti-Semitism in the world, but not all criticism of our policies stems from anti-Semitism, no matter how comforting it may be to believe that.
The key to international recognition is another recognition: mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinians. Our friends and allies who are critical of the continuing conflict would happily move their embassies to Jerusalem if we would resolve the conflict with our neighbors.
Again, there are those who would rather maintain precisely zero international embassies in our nation’s capital rather than enhance our recognition of the Palestinians.
But, like many Israelis, I dream of over 200 embassies being located in a Jerusalem that is the undisputed, universally recognized capital of an Israel at peace with the world. For that to happen, the key is peace, or at least some kind of final status agreement.
Recognition is a very powerful concept.
A few years ago, I was given a book to read whose thesis was that all archaeological and historical evidence for our connection to the land are basically lies. I was so angered by that book. How can anybody question our ancient and ongoing connection to our own land, the land to which we yearned to return for nearly 2,000 years?
I realized then how potent recognition, or lack thereof, can be. I knew intuitively that there was no reason for a Palestinian to deny our connection to the land in order to prove theirs. Similarly, it takes nothing away from me to acknowledge that there are millions of Palestinians who feel deeply connected to this land and who want to build a state on part of it. Even if, historically and biblically, that part belongs to my people.
We must not downplay the importance of gestures. They are not merely treacly sentimentality. Heartfelt recognition of the other’s national and religious feelings can be critical in the quest for true peace.
Recognition builds trust. What is the most prevalent and convincing criticism of the peace process from the Right? That the Palestinians want a state not beside Israel, but instead of Israel. I always tell my Palestinian colleagues: if you wish to have a state beside Israel, I’ll work in order to make it a reality, but if you dream of having a state instead of Israel, you should know – it will never happen.
Never. I hope and believe that they understand and accept that.
Mutual recognition is a crucial factor in this game. With mutual recognition will come not only international recognition of our final borders and our capital, Jerusalem. We might also expect to find a softening of previously hard stances by our peace partners. We might expect Palestinians to agree to welcome Jews in outlying settlements who choose to remain under Palestinian sovereignty.
We might find agreement on access to holy sites in Judea and Samaria and increased, equal access for Jews to worship on the Temple Mount.
And we might find a gradual ramping up of economic cooperation – there will undoubtedly be peace dividends that we haven’t yet imagined. I came back from Northern Ireland recently. They told me that they achieved peace after hundreds of years of bloody conflict only after each side understood not only what it would lose or give away for peace, but also what it would earn. The benefits of peace are huge.
Especially here. Obviously peace will mean compromise.
And Jerusalem itself will have to be subject to some sort of special arrangement in order to accommodate Palestinian ambitions in the capital. I cannot say precisely what that arrangement will look like, but I know that we will find a counter intuitive, creative solution – because we must.
But the key is recognition. Today, as I celebrate our return to the city I am proud to call my home, I dream of a day that I hope will not be too far off, a day on which Israel and the Palestinians will recognize each other in the deepest sense, and on which the whole world will finally recognize our fully legitimate ancient right to call Jerusalem our eternal capital. It always has been and always will be.
We don’t have to have the world recognize it as such. But we should always aspire to it.
The writer is deputy speaker of the Knesset, secretary-general of the Labor Party and chairs the Knesset Caucus to Resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict.