Savir's Corner: Jerusalem

Peace, the prevention of loss of life (pikuach nefesh) in Jerusalem comes before all other values.

Jerusalem Western Wall, Dome of the Rock 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem Western Wall, Dome of the Rock 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There is no city or place in the world that arouses such powerful emotions and passions as the city of Jerusalem. The old stones and holy sites of Jerusalem can tell a fascinating story of human attraction, sanctifying them, praying to them, fighting to possess them.
The city of peace has been anything but peaceful – a city of conflict, of wars, of conflicting historical and religious narratives. It began with King David who expressed his rule of Jerusalem through his kingdom and his love for her through psalms. Governance and passion passed from civilization to civilization, inspired by the holiness of the city: the Romans, the Byzantines, the Muslims, the Mameluks, the Ottomans, the British and now, again us.
The Jewish people rightly see Jerusalem as the center of their history, religion and life. The prayer and desire for Jerusalem has probably kept the Jewish people alive and creative throughout history.
The yearning to return to Jerusalem, Zion, is what made the Israeli rebirth possible. And now, facing a parallel demand on Jerusalem from the Palestinians – on east Jerusalem – we are faced with a monumental historical dilemma.
A permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians for a twostate solution is an existential interest for Israel, if we want to preserve our Jewish and democratic identity, and is impossible without a solution to the Jerusalem issue. There are two issues on which we cannot compromise – the security of Israel and the negation of the right of return of Palestinian refugees to sovereign Israel, as peace must strengthen both our well-being and our identity.
The current Palestinian leadership in Ramallah understands this, although negotiations on these cardinal issues will not be easy.
Those are clear Israeli redlines. We can compromise though on borders – based on the 1967 lines with mutual land swaps, on settlements being reallocated to the settlement blocs, on water that must be shared. This leaves us with the one permanent-status issue that both Labor and Likud governments agreed to negotiate – the future of Jerusalem.
Our leaders have not told the people the truth about Jerusalem – misleading us that peace is possible together with a united Jerusalem under full Israeli control. Anybody who knows the slightest thing about Palestinian history, leadership and society knows that no agreement is possible without Palestinian control over the Arab and Muslim parts of Jerusalem, and Israeli control over the Israeli and Jewish parts. One city – two capitals.
This is the truth that the Israeli leadership and people will have to face in the upcoming negotiations now that the Netanyahu government has agreed that all permanent- status issues are on the table.
It is a serious dilemma, yet it is not a choice between Jerusalem and peace. It is about giving up Arab Jerusalem, with its 250,000 Palestinian inhabitants, for peace.
Every Israeli must face this question – as it touches both on our history and on our future. There is, in my mind, an ideological and a pragmatic answer to this question, leading to a desired vision for the future of Jerusalem.
Peace, the prevention of loss of life (pikuach nefesh) in Jerusalem comes before all other values.
Peace is indeed life. Since our peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, no Israeli soldier fell in battle.
Therefore the choice is difficult, yet obvious. If we can have peace, with security, and maintain sovereignty of all parts of Jewish Jerusalem, then giving up East Jerusalem is not only worthwhile, but necessary. We will thereby value both Jewish history and Jewish future.
Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount with its two mosques, will be a lasting incentive for the Palestinians to sustain peace and for the Arab world to back it.
A peace treaty between two states, with Jerusalem being the capital of both, will be one of the most dramatic developments in modern human history. Never in 3,000 years did two nations, two religions, make peace over Jerusalem. The whole international community would support such a historic treaty and work to sustain it.
There are also pragmatic benefits to such a solution, which are of greatest importance. Primarily, Jerusalem was never recognized by the international community as Israel’s capital. Not even by the United States, whose embassy is in Tel Aviv. With a peace settlement that includes Jerusalem, the world will, for the first time, recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This is an important acknowledgement of our identity, as the Tower of David is what we are about, not the David Azrieli Towers. Maybe more important than hosting the American ambassador in Jerusalem is the hosting of almost 20 Arab ambassadors to Israel in Jerusalem, including a Palestinian one. This is of strategic value and should be a condition to such an agreement.
It is also important to better manage the diversified Jewish life of Jerusalem, without being in charge of the lives and destinies of a quarter million Palestinians. The city, in times of peace, can be developed economically, including through cooperation between its Israeli and Palestinian citizens. A Jerusalem of peace will become a global attraction for several million tourists a year – Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, which will boost its economy significantly.
The political and religious divisions already exist de facto. Palestinians run most East Jerusalem institutions, some of which are already linked to the Palestinian Authority. The Temple Mount and the mosques are under the control of the Palestinian Wakf Islamic trust. In turning this existing division into a political reality, we have much to gain for our national interests, above all, peace.
And yet the solution to Jerusalem is not a surgical operation cutting the city in half; it has to be creative in order to serve all of its people – Israelis and Palestinians. In 2001, I prepared a proposal on this issue, which I discussed separately with then-prime minister Ehud Barak, with Yasser Arafat and with the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. While I encountered only hesitant interest, the proposal is still valid today.
According to this proposal, Jerusalem would be split politically into three parts:
• Yerushalayim – the capital of Israel, which would include all Jewish neighborhoods and holy sites (including the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City);
• El Quds – the capital of Palestine, which would include all Arab neighborhoods and holy sites (including the two mosques on the Temple Mount). It would house the Palestinian governmental and legislative institutions; and
• United Nations Sector – a small section outside the city boundaries, not more than 50 new buildings, to which a part of the United Nations would be moved from New York and other cities. The General Assembly would gather there to declare Jerusalem the world capital of peace. Thereafter, various UN organs that deal with global peace functions, such as the headquarters of the peacekeeping forces, UNESCO, UNICEF etc., would be moved to Jerusalem. In this way, neither side of Jerusalem loses, but rather they gain by becoming a global center for peacemaking and peacebuilding.
This would further encourage, and actually oblige, both sides to maintain peace.
The centrality of Jerusalem since its inception was linked to peace.
In the Book of Chronicles 22:7, King David is told by the Almighty why he is not allowed to build the First Temple: “You shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on earth in My sight.” It was Solomon who was asked to build the Temple, as “I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days.”
The future of Jerusalem will likewise be based on peace between neighbors, not on destruction.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.