Analysis: Still no vision for Jerusalem

Why has the Foreign Ministry never embarked on a campaign to boost recognition of our capital?

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The government's decision to expand Israel's capital and incorporate eastern Jerusalem, two weeks after its capture in the Six Day War 40 years ago, was kept so low-profile as to be virtually secret. It was enacted in the Knesset on June 21, 1967, as three technical amendments to existing laws, putting the entire city under Israeli jurisdiction. Mindful of the international opposition to such a step but adamant to see it through, the government took the most unobtrusive course. The amendments were put on the parliamentary agenda at the very last moment and the whole legislative process was rushed through in one day. Prime minister Levi Eshkol wasn't even present in the plenum.
Jerusalem celebrates 40 years of unification
It was an historic decision. But aside from the administrative changes, the government failed to set out a clear set of goals and policies regarding the city's future. Thirteen years later, the "Jerusalem Law" was voted in with much fanfare, proclaiming that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel." This caused a diplomatic furor, including the departure of the remaining handful of embassies from the city, but little else. The law is no more than a declaration, containing no details on how to secure the capital's viability. Now, 27 more years have passed. And, as on every Jerusalem Day, while there will be no shortage of rhetoric on the 40th anniversary of the city's liberation, we are still waiting for a comprehensive blueprint offering a vision for Jerusalem. What kind of a Jerusalem do we want? Are we willing to pay the price for our dreams? The politicians pay constant lip service to our sovereignty over the entire city, but successive governments have accepted the diplomatic status quo whereby not even our closest allies recognize this. Why has the Foreign Ministry never embarked on a campaign to boost recognition of our capital? Perhaps no one thinks it's worthwhile expending diplomatic capital for such a lost cause? We are repeatedly told that young people are fleeing Jerusalem and that it is the poorest city in the country. So why are the plans to attract businesses and young couples piecemeal at best? Mayor Uri Lupolianski this year reminded us bluntly of the demographic threat by making the spurious assertion that there is a danger Hamas will control the city in 12 years. But has any administration ever said what the preferable proportion of Arabs in Jerusalem should be? And why is everybody tiptoeing around the real demographic question looming over Jerusalem's future? At the current rate, the Jews might be a minority in the city by the end of the 21st century, but it's impossible to predict that far. What's clear right now is that there is a non-Zionist majority in the capital of Israel, consisting of the Palestinian and haredi communities. Lupolianski, himself haredi, said a few months ago during a visit to a haredi school that "we are going to be the majority." He would not say that to the media, much less explain how the municipal apparatus would continue functioning when the only groups that are growing and being encouraged to stay are the low-income-to-poverty-level Arabs and haredi Jews. Perhaps he's banking on handouts from the state coffers. The national government has also continually evaded responsibility. The plans to "strengthen" Jerusalem look good on paper, but none of them, even if implemented, address the city's core problems or help determine its identity. If Jerusalem has been lost to Zionism and nothing can be done about it, then perhaps the fact should be acknowledged. Giving up on the Jewish people's holiest city might seem like an act of post-Zionism. Yet there are many who would argue that Tel Aviv, already the indisputable commercial and cultural center, is a more fitting choice as a capital for so vital and dynamic endeavor as the Zionist state. This is nonsense, of course. Jerusalem embodies the Jewish nation's vital link to the past, without which there is no Israel and no Zionism. But that need not condemn the city to be stuck in the past. An impoverished border town cannot sustain a nation's capital, especially if the majority of its inhabitants don't identify with the state. We have so many expectations from Jerusalem, but no city in the world could carry such a burden on its own. We want it to be a capital, a symbol for three religions, a holy city, a cultural beacon and a high-tech hub. This is too much, too heavy a weight. So is there any hope for Jerusalem? Two books published recently try to tackle this question. The Jerusalem Syndrome by Moshe Amirav analyzes how Israel has failed to realize its main objectives in unifying the city. According to Amirav there were six objectives: 1. Obtaining international recognition for its sovereignty over the city; 2. Settling and controlling eastern Jerusalem; 3. Ensuring the Jewish majority; 4. Transforming Jerusalem into a financial center; 5. Providing equality between Jews and Arabs under Israeli rule; and 6. Disconnecting the religious issues from the political conflict. In all these, says the author, we have dismally failed. Amirav, who began his political career as a Likud member but gravitated to the Left and became an adviser to Ehud Barak for Jerusalem affairs during the Camp David negotiations, has a drastic solution: Israel should cut out the Palestinian neighborhoods and villages incorporated in 1967, thereby ensuring a Jewish majority and the Israeli identity of the city. The problem with this cure-all is that even those who are prepared to countenance a Palestinian capital adjacent to Israel's have no hope of seeing this happen in the foreseeable future. Such an outcome can only be the result of a comprehensive peace accord, the likes of which Israeli and Palestinian leaders are presently incapable of delivering. Meanwhile, Jerusalem's woes are pressing. Prof. Amiram Gonen, who for 17 years has headed Jerusalem's Floersheimer Institute For Policy Studies, has just published Towards a Strengthened Jerusalem. Gonen acknowledges that it's impossible to foresee Jerusalem's political future, whether it will finally be recognized as the enlarged entity it is today, or if it will be divided. He offers a set of policies that are supposed to address either eventuality. The first step would be to combine Jerusalem and surrounding townships such as Mevaseret Zion into one metropolitan authority. This would obviously strengthen the city, but it would necessitate governmental intervention. Gonen's next suggestion is, instead of trying to beat Tel Aviv, join it. This might sound strange, but since the suburbs of the two cities are barely a 30-minute drive from each other, it makes some sense. Building along Highway 1 would have minimal environmental impact, the infrastructure is already there and it would integrate Jerusalem into the national financial structure, creating one urban center in the middle of the country. But Jerusalem would still have to attract businesses and investment away from the financial center in downtown Tel Aviv. Gonen proposes a number of innovative schemes to transform Jerusalem into a player in the global economy by utilizing its existing assets - such as the Hebrew University, the advanced hospitals and the multilingual population - to turn the capital into one of the world's major suppliers of medical, academic and hi-tech support services. It might sound overly optimistic and farfetched, but he does an impressive job of detailing how it is feasible. Still, Gonen is just an academic who cares about Jerusalem, with little power or influence. Forty years later, we've yet to see a government with the vision to implement such a plan - or even to decide that's what it wants.