Washington Watch: Dividing Jerusalem? It's when, not whether

Abbas and Olmert both have a domestic constituency and a Diaspora to worry about.

douglas bloomfield224.88 (photo credit: )
douglas bloomfield224.88
(photo credit: )
Jerusalem will be divided. The question isn't whether, but when and how. The city's borders have been shifting for 3,000 years. Today's borders will not be tomorrow's. Already the security barrier cuts off some parts of the city, and the Palestinian Authority, with American funding, is to build a road linking east Jerusalem to Ramallah. The Jewish majority is shrinking as many secular Jews move away, complaining "the city is too poor, too Orthodox and too Arab," reports the JTA. In a few years, if the present borders remain unchanged, David's City could be come Daoud's City and have a Palestinian mayor. Ariel Sharon understood the inevitability of dividing the city; his initial plans for the security barrier included putting some Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem on the far side. American Jews who are increasingly demanding a voice in deciding the fate of Jerusalem understand the same reality; many oppose any change in the city's borders, including jettisoning Arab neighborhoods that were added only after 1967, because they oppose any and all land for peace deals with the Palestinians. WITHOUT Jerusalem, no deal is possible. There will be no end to the Arab-Israeli conflict nor will there be international recognition of the city as Israel's capital, even by the United States. Most of the Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem have no Jews living there, noted former top US peace negotiator Amb. Dennis Ross, questioning why Israel would want to absorb nearly a quarter of a million Arabs who live in parts of the city where Jews don't visit. A bigger question may actually be whether Jerusalem's Arabs want their homes and property transferred to the Palestinian state and lose their Israeli permanent residency status and its accompanying social, educational, economic and other benefits. Polls indicate they would welcome the establishment of a Palestinian state but have little desire to move there; not unlike many American Jews' attitude toward Israel. JERUSALEM has been on the negotiating table at least since 1979, and may or may not still be there, depending on whom you believe. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mollifies his critics by assuring them he is not discussing Jerusalem with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who says just the opposite for the same reason - their own political survival. Each leader has a domestic constituency and Diaspora to worry about, and each faces death threats if it appears he's giving away too much. Abbas also has a plethora of Muslim and Arab states whose approval he needs for any agreement. Olmert's lack of public support for changing Jerusalem's boundaries makes little difference because the discussions with the bifurcated Palestinian Authority aren't going anywhere near where that would be necessary. When Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967 following the Six Day War, lines were drawn to reflect security considerations and to include as few Arabs as possible. Nonetheless, the Shuafat Palestinian refugee camp and some 28 Palestinian villages not previously considered part of the city wound up within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries. ALL TOO often talk of an "undivided" Jerusalem is less about preserving Jewish patrimony than blocking a peace settlement with the Palestinians. There is a two-state consensus among Israelis today, but there is also a vocal rejectionist camp. One of its leaders, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, has implied that if he becomes prime minister again he will shut down the US-initiated peace talks begun at Annapolis last November. This Jeremiah of his generation warns that if Israel leaves any part of Jerusalem "Hamas comes in" and will "start rocketing" and shooting into the Jewish neighborhoods. Withdrawal, he told American Jewish leaders recently, "will just put us one step closer to being forced out of the whole country." Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said, "In this case, the Jerusalem issue is simply one more way to block a peace agreement without having to specifically articulate that view - which is not acceptable to the broader Jewish community." Meanwhile, the future of Jerusalem is becoming a source of growing tension between the Olmert government and Diaspora leaders, many of who are demanding at least a voice, if not a vote, in any decision. Israeli leaders privately resent what they consider the paternalism of American Jewish machers who, they note, don't live in Israel, don't vote, don't pay taxes and don't serve in the army. Jerusalem is an emotionally charged issue and while Olmert is correct in saying it is a political decision for Israelis ultimately to make, ignoring the voices of the Diaspora would seriously fray the ties that bind them together. It will be up to Israeli leaders to educate Jewish and Christian supporters that redrawing municipal boundaries is not splitting the city asunder but making it a stronger capital of a stronger Jewish state.