Jerusalem at Herzliya

Who has the right to decide the capital's fate?

Jerusalem 88 (photo credit: )
Jerusalem 88
(photo credit: )
It would seem that participants in the Herzliya Conference (which this year opened at the Knesset in salute to the nation's capital as part of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations) were more interested in the Winograd Committee and national security decision making than in the future of Jerusalem. The auditorium, which had been filled to near capacity for the Winograd session, emptied out significantly for the Jerusalem session, which was the fifth and final session before the official opening ceremony and gala dinner in Chagall Hall. One Jerusalem chairman Natan Sharansky and Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat, who are in the forefront of the current battle for Jerusalem, remained silent at question time. Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who chaired the session, lamented that although Jerusalem was the basis of Jewish yearning and existence, the subject that cropped up in every electoral campaign was that "there is a huge gap between Jerusalem above all" and what actually happened in the city. The Temple Mount was in the hands of the Wakf, he noted, and as such represented a high point in the city's contemporary history that had since become a low one. Jerusalem is traditionally the "chief joy" of the Jewish people and the very inspiration for its continued existence, so "how is it that Jerusalem has become a problem?" queried Edelstein. The problem, he suggested, went beyond any proposal to divide the city; it was also one of whether or not the government had the right to decide the future of the city without consulting world Jewry. Oded Eran, the Israel representative of the World Jewish Congress, argued that the Jews of the world influenced Israelis' daily lives through contributions to an enormous variety of causes, including donations to political parties, which gave them the right to express their views. While many Muslims disputed any Jewish claim to Jerusalem, Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archeology provided ample evidence dating back some 3,000 years to King David's conquest of the city that had been ruled by the Jebusites, and the subsequent 40-year reign of King Solomon. To this MK Eliahu Gabbay (National Union-National Religious Party) added that whereas Jerusalem was mentioned well over 600 times in the Bible, it was not mentioned even once in the Koran. Yad Ben-Zvi director Dr. Zvi Zameret recalled that when prime minister David Ben-Gurion decided to declare in the Knesset that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, president Chaim Weizmann entreated him not to do so, and foreign minister Moshe Sharett threatened to resign. But Ben-Gurion remained adamant, declaring that there had been only one capital of Israel for 3,000 years, and that Jerusalem would remain the capital until the end of time. Even so, Zameret continued, most countries did not recognize Jerusalem as the capital. Zameret, however, expressed greater concern about the public's ignorance of the history and geography of the city, and how unprepared both teachers and students were to rebut disinformation. Edelstein recalled that when he was immigrant absorption minister, he tried to get ulpan teachers to bring their students to Jerusalem, and by and large was rebuffed. Legal authority Prof. Zeev Segal of Tel Aviv University shed a little light on what was otherwise a gloomy picture by quoting from the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, passed in July 1980, which states that Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel. A majority of 61 votes in the Knesset was needed to amend the law, Segal explained, and since there were several Kadima MKs who were against any possible division of the city, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, if he were to survive the aftermath of the Winograd report, would have a hard time reaching a final-status agreement on Jerusalem.