Truth about Jerusalem

It was only a few years ago that any Israeli call for an independent Palestinian state was akin to treason

old city jerusalem 88 (photo credit: )
old city jerusalem 88
(photo credit: )
Politicians are by definition hypocrites, at least in the months preceding an election. Advisers and spin-doctors urge party leaders to make statements that can gain votes, without any real relationship to the convictions or intentions of the candidate. Many years ago, I was offered the No. 2 slot on Ezer Weizman's Knesset list. I turned it down, preferring my post at the Foreign Ministry. Binyamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer was given the slot in my stead. In the years since that decision, I thanked my lucky stars that I had the sense to keep away from active party politics. Now, for the first time, I have become one of those very advisers who tell candidates what they ought to be saying in order to win elections. True to form, some of my spin-doctor colleagues have been advising Amir Peretz to outdo Ehud Olmert or even Binyamin Netanyahu in nationalist, gung-ho declarations such as: "No negotiations until the terror infrastructure is disbanded" or "We will never divide Jerusalem" or "There is no Palestinian partner for peace" or "No more withdrawals until the Palestinians renounce terror" - to cite just some of the slogans bandied about. Amir Peretz, however, is not a run-of-the-mill Israeli politician (Nor, incidentally, was Yitzhak Shamir. Although diametrically opposed in their politics, they have similar characteristics, and I don't just mean their mustaches.) In one of the more rowdy sessions with his advisers Peretz silenced the group and declared: "I want to make it clear to all of you. I will not make declarations that I do not believe in, even if that will cost me votes. My integrity is more important than any vote-catching declaration." Jerusalem is a case in point. It has become a catechism of nearly all politicians to maintain that Jerusalem must remain undivided. "Peres will divide Jerusalem" was an accusation that contributed to the defeat of Peres in a previous election. The same slogan is now being used again, with Ehud Olmert replacing Peres as the object of the jibe. Olmert, however, insists he will do no such thing. "Heaven forbid," he says piously. "Jerusalem will remain undivided for eternity." Those who know him, however, have their doubts if that will be the case if Olmert becomes prime minister. YET IS an undivided Jerusalem in the true interest of Israel? How many Israelis have visited the Shuafat refugee camp in the past year? You can count them on one hand - security forces excepted. Yet the tens of thousands of people in the camp carry blue Israeli ID cards and are a proud element in Jerusalem's tapestry, just like Rehavia. How many Israelis, for that matter, know the names of the villages to the south of the city that form a part of Jerusalem? Yet those villagers, who cannot remember the last time any municipal employee visited, are, theoretically, an integral part of the Municipality of Jerusalem. There are well over 200,000 Palestinians living within the present boundaries of Jerusalem. They will, eventually, become a majority in the city. Those boundaries have nothing in common with the Jerusalem that we once knew. There is no logic in maintaining that those villages whose names mean nothing to all but a very few Jerusalem Post readers, or even Kalandiya or Shuafat, are a part of the Jerusalem that is the capital of Israel. There is no logic in having these 200,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem as citizens of Israel. They should be citizens of an independent Palestinian state. That is the attitude of Amir Peretz, the Labor leader. He is convinced that a strong Jewish Jerusalem, without the Arab quarters, is in the interest of Israel. As for the Old City and the Temple Mount, those are issues that will be decided in negotiations to end the conflict. He has, however, made it plain that he is determined that all Jewish holy places will remain in Jewish hands. In a recent newspaper poll, a majority of Israelis were found to be in favor of the division of Jerusalem, thus expressing the steady move of the electorate from a rightist ideology to the center and the moderate Left. We tend to forget that it was only a few years ago that any statement calling for an independent Palestinian state was akin to treason. Today even moderate Likudniks understand that a two-state solution is in the best interest of Israel, for the alternative could be a binational state that would spell the end of Zionism. The same is true with regard to Jerusalem. It is only a question of time before it becomes self-evident that there should be a strong Jewish Jerusalem, as well as an Arab Jerusalem - for the good of both Israelis and Palestinians. Today, however, it is not yet self-evident. Amir Peretz, has shown courage saying out aloud what an increasing number of Israelis privately believe. The writer is a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry.