Over the past two weeks this column looked at the growing influence of radical Islamist groups in eastern Jerusalem, and then presented a more optimistic take on the situation by chronicling countervailing trends among Jerusalemite Arabs towards integration with Israeli society.
This week, let’s consider proposals for political division of the city. These plans were developed with an eye toward ridding Israel of problematic parts of the eastern sector, and allowing slices of the city to become the capital of a Palestinian state.
A thorough consideration of these proposals leads to the conclusion that they are unworkable, unwise, and most of all – unjustified.
The worst plan is that of former MK Haim Ramon for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from 28 predominantly Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem. Ramon would have Israel callously cut 200,000 Arabs out of Israeli Jerusalem and build a very big and impermeable wall between the two parts of the city.
This will save Israel some three billion Israeli shekels ($850 million) in services to the cut-off Arabs, Ramon argues, and reduce the percentage of Arabs in Jewish Jerusalem from 40 to 20 percent.
Ramon’s proposal for unilateral, brutal division of the city is jarringly reminiscent of the disastrous Gaza disengagement, with the addition perhaps of alligators in a Jerusalem moat and Berlin-style kill zones on either side of the border.
The ugly idea undoubtedly would lead to a worst-possible security situation. The belligerent cleaving of Jerusalem into Arab and Jewish sovereignties would plunge the city into battle. Jerusalem would become the bull’s eye of radical Islamic fantasies; a city that would make Belfast at its worst look like paradise.
The main reason for this is that any section of Jerusalem under Arab rule without an Israeli security presence will immediately become Ground Zero for the fierce wars being waged within the Arab world over Islamic lifestyle, ideology and legitimacy.
Each of these forces will seek to prove its supremacy and bolster its legitimacy by gaining control and then attacking western Jerusalem. What better way to prove loyalty to the Islamic cause than to attack the rump Israeli presence in the city (including the Old City) from a base of operations flush up against Ramon’s brilliant barrier?
Ramon’s harebrained plan also ignores the strategic argument that full Israeli control over the greater Jerusalem envelope is the linchpin for the country’s grand security posture.
As Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen and Prof. Efraim Inbar explain in the new Hebrew journal Hashiloach
, Jerusalem anchors the critical west-east axis that runs from the coastal plain to the Jordan river.
Israel’s long-term hold of the strategic arc from Jaffa to Jericho, they assert, necessitates Israeli dominance in and around Jerusalem. This should be buttressed by settlement in E-1, the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim eastwards, and the reinforcement of Israel’s military and civilian presence maintaining a defensible border in the Jordan Valley.
Another plan, which enjoys the support of various Palestinian political elements, would redistrict the city into independent boroughs with separate Palestinian and Israeli municipalities.
No physical barrier would divide the two parts of the city, and a joint agency would coordinate between the two city halls. Somehow, overall security would remain in Israeli hands.
Dr. David Koren and Ben Avrahami, advisers on eastern Jerusalem affairs to Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat, believe that the strongest opposition to this proposal will be voiced by Jerusalemite Arabs themselves – who see the Palestinian Authority as a corrupt and failed regime that has no commitment to provide services to citizens.
They suspect that Jerusalemite Arabs would flee from the eastern to the western half of the city in such a situation, in order to maintain their Israeli health, education and social security benefits, and to enjoy Israeli cultural and political freedoms.
Koren and Avrahami argue that the “two municipalities” plan also won’t work because it ignores the shared routine of daily life that has developed in united Jerusalem in domains such as transportation, employment, healthcare and shopping.This makes municipal division unwieldy and unfair, if not impossible.
“A look at the map of the city makes plain that Arab and Jewish neighborhoods are interlocked and sometimes only a few meters apart, and they live off the same municipal infrastructure. The Jerusalem light rail system, which occasionally has been subjected to a hail of stones by Palestinian rioters precisely because it is a symbol of the utility of a united city, is a good example of this reality.”
It worries me that many international observers are buying into the nonsensical presumption that splitting Jerusalem will lead to prosperity for the city and to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
As we have shown, the opposite is true. A partitioned Jerusalem will die, and lead to violence that will suck the lifeblood from the city in every way – culturally, religiously, economically and more.
Israel unabashedly should be reminding everybody of the core truth that for past 50 years it has managed the complicated city with sophistication and sensitivity.
These have been good times – the best of times – for Jerusalem’s Jews, Muslims and Christians; for clergymen, craftsmen, architects, artists, archeologists, businessmen and tourists alike.
Israel has sagaciously developed the city from a backwater town to a truly radiant international capital city sparkling with energy and creativity – open to all.
Let’s be even blunter: Israel has developed Jerusalem as an attractive city because it cares; because Jerusalem is the historic centerpiece of Jewish peoplehood and of the modern State of Israel.
The Arabs and Palestinians, however, don’t really care about Jerusalem; they never have. In fact, they would consider it a triumph if Jerusalem were so wracked by conflict and poverty that it was ruined for 1,000 years – just as long as it would be lost to the Jews.
Therefore, Israel must declare clearly and proudly: A united Jerusalem under exclusive Israeli sovereignty is the key, not an obstacle, to peace and security in the city.
The violent bisection of Jerusalem would be patently unwise, exceedingly unfair to Jewish history, and an undue insult to Israel’s fine stewardship of the city.www.davidmweinberg.com