Jerusalem and peace

Jerusalem, after all, for both Jews and Arabs, symbolizes Israel as a whole.

Jerusalem 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The flap over the expected nonattendance of European and American diplomats at Monday's official celebration of the 40th anniversary of Jerusalem's reunification is unfortunate. No one expected these diplomats to attend, so they should not have been invited and their "boycott" is hardly news. But it is a reminder of a failed policy that, however entrenched, should be changed. At some level, it is understandable that the international community regards the issue of Jerusalem as a matter that must ultimately be resolved in negotiations with the Arab world, and in particular with the Palestinians. Israel, since agreeing to the Oslo Accords that define Jerusalem as a final status issue, does not dispute this. It is one thing, however, to treat a matter as negotiable, and quite another to lean so heavily against one side in a negotiation. There is no reason or justice, for example, in the international refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Every nation has a right to determine its capital, even if the borders of that capital are destined to be the topic of negotiations. Indeed, Jerusalem's borders have little to do with the international community's position, which predated the reunification of the city 40 years ago. In essence, the US, Europe, and other nations are acting as if the 1947 UN partition plan, which envisioned Jerusalem as an "international" enclave, is somehow still in force. This is a legally strange position, given that the last binding legal apportionment of this territory was made by the League of Nations, which decided that the entire area that became the British Mandate, including Jerusalem, was to become the Jewish National Home. The UN partition plan, since it was passed by the General Assembly and not the Security Council, has no binding status, and is legally a "recommendation." In any case, that resolution was accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arab world, which attempted to destroy the Jewish state at birth. The Arab-launched war, according to legal scholar and senior US State Department official Eugene Rostow, "made the Partition Plan irrelevant." This legal situation is confirmed by the fact that between 1948 and 1967, only two nations, Britain and Pakistan, recognized Jordan's illegal occupation of the West Bank, including part of Jerusalem. The constant litany of nonbinding UN resolutions that unilaterally define Judea and Samaria as "occupied Palestinian territory" have very questionable legal justification. They do, however, demonstrate that the extreme measures taken not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem are only matched by the blatant bias toward recognizing Palestinian claims to disputed areas. Such extremes include a practice by the State Department of refusing to mark the passports and birth certificates of American citizens born in Jerusalem with "Jerusalem, Israel" as their birthplace. This practice continues despite the passage of a law in 2002 mandating its cessation. The policy of refusing to recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, far from encouraging a resolution to the problem, is harmful to the cause of peace. It has encouraged the Arab world, and particularly radical movements like Hamas, to fuel fantasies of destroying the Jewish state. Jerusalem, after all, for both Jews and Arabs, symbolizes Israel as a whole. Jerusalem was the capital of the ancient Jewish state, the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples, and the center of Jewish yearning over two millennia of exile. It should be no surprise if many in the Arab world see success in denying Israel recognition in any part of Jerusalem as representing success in the campaign to deny Israel's right to exist. The opposite policy - that of recognizing that Jerusalem, even if its borders are disputed, is Israel's capital - would have a proportionately positive effect on the prospects for peace: it would be taken in the Muslim world as further international rejection of the goal of destroying Israel. It is this goal that is the only real obstacle to peace; anything that contributes to its abandonment is an important step toward ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.