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Blood Feuds continued

 

Jerusalem: Misconceptions
and Original Sins

    Perhaps no city on the planet has endured so many centuries of ethnic and religious bloodshed as Jerusalem, the cradle of the world’s three great monotheistic religions. The panel examining the current strife had a somewhat Israel-centric focus, not because the two speakers were overly supportive of the 52-year-old nation-state but because, in their opinion, only Israel could make certain changes needed for peace.
    Dr. Ian Lustick, professor of political science, began by reminding the audience that a great deal of ethnopolitical conflict is “not the conflict of interest between the two sides but rather is the result of conflicts inside one or both of the sides.” Only by understanding the dynamics of internal Israeli politics “can we understand how much of the problem between Jews and Palestinians is actually a reflection of a struggle inside of Israel,” he added. Part of that struggle has revolved around a number of “misconceptions” regarding Yerushalayim (the Hebrew word for Jerusalem), he argued, and within those misconceptions are the seeds of a peace accord.
    The first misconception is that “a unified Yerushalayim under Jewish sovereignty has always been a powerful and central element in Zionism.” In fact, he said, back in the 1920s and ’30s, most Zionist leaders didn’t want their capital there, and he showed several maps and outlines from the 1930s, ’40s, ’60s and ’70s depicting the many different configurations of the city that were approved by Zionist leaders and/or the Israeli government.
    “So what we’re seeing is a very malleable border, not a set border, something that can be changed and manipulated in response to what the political needs of the moment are or the political opportunities are perceived to be.” More recent maps have had similar goals: “to make it seem as if this large, completely new boundary was a traditional, united Yerushalayim [for which] Jews have been yearning for millennia.”
    These misconceptions were “not an accident,” Lustick argued, but were pushed by the “extreme Right” in Israel. “Their idea is this: ‘We can never convince a majority of Israeli Jews that they ought to fight and die for Nablus or Jericho or Ramallah. [Instead,] we can convince them that this huge piece of the West Bank, including the biggest Palestinian city, is Yerushalayim and they can’t give up their right hand for it,” knowing that the Palestinians “will never accept a state without al-Quds [Arab Jerusalem].”
    Later, in the question-and-answer session, Lustick talked about the polling discrepancies on the subject of Jerusalem among polls of Israeli Jews: “If you ask them blindly, ‘Do you agree that we should negotiate about Yerushalayim?’ over 90 percent will say, ‘No—no negotiations.’ If you say, ‘To avoid an Arab majority in Yerushalayim, do you support redefining the city limits so Arab settlements will be outside the city?’ Sixty percent said ‘Yes.’ And that was in 1995. So, in fact, the feeling of disgust and fear of the other is what actually makes it possible for Israel to politically move toward a separation” between West (Israeli) and East (Arab) Jerusalem—and thus toward a peace treaty as well. (Note: that was 10 weeks before Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister.)
    For Muhammad Hallaj, a member of the Palestinian National Council and former director of the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, the conflict in Jerusalem is not motivated by ethnicity per se. Rather, he argued, “It’s a conflict between a people who are occupied by another people. And the occupied always resist the occupier.
    “There has been a consensus for a long time that if the peace process in the Middle East founders, the rock against which it will crash will be the issue of Jerusalem,” he said. “Jerusalem has become a question of ‘To be or not to be’ for the Jewish state. This is the way it has been successfully portrayed in most of the world.”
    What is less understood in the West, he said, “is how important Jerusalem is to the Palestinians.” While acknowledging that “Jerusalem has religious and emotional importance to Jews and to the Jewish state—there’s no question about that and there’s no sense denying that fact”—Hallaj maintained that it is “more important to the Palestinians than it is to the Israelis.” In addition to the religious and emotional ties, he argued that the ancient city is important to Palestinians for a number of reasons:
    It is the largest Palestinian city with the “biggest concentration of the Palestinian population in the region,” and home to the “bulk of the Palestinian elite.” It is also the “major center of Palestinian national life,” home to most Palestinian newspapers, the only Palestinian theater, the biggest Palestinian hospital, and so forth. Geographically, Jerusalem —especially the current “expanded Jerusalem”—is indispensable to the viability of Palestinian national life. “You take Jerusalem out of Palestine, or what is intended to be Palestine, and you pretty much sever it into two discontinuous regions.”
    Jerusalem is the “historic capital of Palestine.” Although many in the West think that the idea of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is a political aspiration for the future, “it’s also a recollection of the Palestinian past,” said Hallaj. “I was born in Palestine and Jerusalem was our capital city. There was no Israel.”
    Palestinians have been appointed, and have accepted, the role of custodians of Arab and Muslim interests in Jerusalem.
    Though Hallaj stated flatly that further territorial concessions by Palestinians are “not feasible in Jerusalem,” since Israel was “established on 80 percent of Palestinian historic homeland,” he suggested two possibilities. One involves “divided sovereignty over a unified city—in other words, you keep Jerusalem as one city with free movement of people,” with some part under Israeli sovereignty and another part under Palestinian sovereignty. While it may be “a little difficult to work out the constitutional arrangements and the modalities and the details,” he said, “difficult is a lot better than impossible.”
    The other possibility, he said, “is to re-divide the city the way it was before Israel occupied the Arab half in 1967.” After all, he said, Jerusalem has been a divided city even since Israel occupied it in 1967. West (Israeli) Jerusalem and East (Arab) Jerusalem may be geographically contiguous, “but in every other way they are worlds apart. You go from East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem, which is a five-minute walking trip, and you jump from Damascus to Budapest.”
    While acknowledging that before 1967, Israelis—as “enemy nationals”—were not allowed to go into Old Jerusalem, Hallaj said that “with the advent of peace in the region, there [would be] absolutely no reason for that.”
    Later, during the peace-building discussion that concluded the conference, Dr. Joseph Montville—a former U.S. diplomat who now serves as director of the Preventative Diplomacy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington—offered some historical and psychological perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Israel, he noted, “is a product basically of the Jewish experience in Christian Europe,” a point seldom made in discussions of the region’s problems. “In a sense, the Jews and the Arabs, mostly Muslims, have been made to pay a price for centuries of Christian persecution and brutality towards the Jewish people in Europe,” he said.
    Montville cited a number of hawkish Israelis, including former defense minister Ariel Sharon, whose controversial visit to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif added fuel to the recent escalation of fighting (and, ironically, to Sharon’s election as prime minister in February). “Sharon’s view of how Jews defend themselves is to fight as long as necessary … It thinks of sheer, raw survival in a brutal, brutalized world.”
    In recent years, Montville said, he has been “trying to communicate to Palestinians this Christian burden of guilt and its consequence on the Zionist movement and the formulation of the Jewish state,” noting that history has “dealt the Palestinians the role of acquiescing in the establishment of and continued existence of the Jewish state.”
    He pointed out that Ami Ayalon, a former head of Israel’s internal security service, Shinbet, recently made an “unprecedented declaration about the need to forego the use of strength” and the “necessity for civic integration,” and that Ayalon also made a “very dramatic request” that Israel acknowledge its debt to the Arabs of Palestine from 1948, when Israel was established.
    “The first step would be a formal recognition on the part of the government of the price paid by the Palestinians in 1948, including those who became citizens of the state,” he said. “The shadow of 1948 hovers constantly over the Arabs in Israel, and it’s playing a part in the willingness they’ve demonstrated to rebel against the state. An original sin which is not dealt with … is like an internal wound which is not tended to.”


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