Enough of the Jerusalem mantra

by Daniel Seidemann
18 September 2008
JERUSALEM – I was born American. Thirty-five years ago, I chose to become Israeli. My choice in no way reflects a lack of affection for the United States. But patriotism is monogamous: I am an Israeli patriot, and a platonic friend of the land of my birth. I have never voted in a U.S. election and I belong to no US political party. I see myself as an observer of, rather than a participant in, American presidential election politics.
But as a Jerusalemite, I do have a stake in the 2008 Presidential race, like it or not.
Because like in past elections, the candidates and their surrogates are trying to use me – my life, my city—to score points with voters, bolster their pro-Israel credentials, and attack their opponent.

Because both parties are mindlessly clinging to what I call "the Jerusalem mantra": swearing fealty to the view of Jerusalem as "the-eternal-undivided-capital-of-Israel-that-will-never-be-redivided." Just take a look at the 2008 Democratic and Republican national platforms: "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths." (Democrats); and "...Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel." (Republicans).

The reality, of course, is more complex. And I take some solace in knowing that this reality will likely dictate more responsible policies from whoever is elected, just as it has in past presidencies. But given all that has changed in the past decade, the persistence of the Jerusalem mantra is exasperating—akin to candidates pandering to a Jerusalem version of the Flat Earth Society.

Almost eight years ago, at Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Barak put Jerusalem on the negotiating table, decisively shattering the Jerusalem mantra. And all the "armchair-Zionists" in the American Jewish community, hunkered down in the bunkers of previous wars, and all the self-proclaimed "Christian Zionists," who secretly aspire to turn Jerusalem into an Armageddon theme park, can't put it back together. This game-changing move led to the recognition that the only path to resolving this conflict is a two-state solution involving the political division of Jerusalem, with Jewish neighbourhoods becoming the capital of Israel, and Arab neighbourhoods becoming the capital of Palestine.

If the conflict is to end in a peaceful resolution – in a year or in twenty years – it will only be along these lines. No other option exists. Tragically, the ongoing creation of irreversible facts on the ground may well destroy even this option, and with it, the prospects of a two-state solution. In this case, Israelis and Palestinians will be condemned to an eternally haemorrhaging, Balkanised future.

So, as a Jerusalemite, I have a keen interest in this election. All American voters who claim to care about Jerusalem and the Holy Land do, too. Given all that is at stake, I would suggest that these voters pose a few questions to the candidates:

If elected, will you pursue the only serious peace option: a two-state solution in which a politically divided Jerusalem will be the respective capital of Israel and Palestine? And if a conflict-ending agreement is not immediately available, will you work to prevent the creation of facts on the ground that will irrevocably destroy this option?

If elected, will you work to prevent the destabilisation of Jerusalem? Will you engage in policies that will enable Jerusalem, even in the absence of a comprehensive peace agreement, to become the counter-paradigm to the "clash of civilisations"—the place where Judaism, Christianity and Islam co-exist? Will you help Jerusalem resist the onslaught of holy warriors, domestic and international – Jewish, Christian or Muslim – who revel in the prospect of turning Jerusalem into a playground for jihad, holy war and Armageddon? If elected, will you stand up to the "Jerusalem mantra"-mongers?

Israelis appreciate the Democratic and Republican parties' support for Jerusalem as our capital. But this support is hollow. Only with the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital will Israelis enjoy the crowning achievement of Zionism: universal recognition of West Jerusalem, Yerushalayim, as our capital, emblematic of the unconditional acceptance of the Jewish State among the family of nations.


* Daniel Seidemann is the legal advisor to Ir-Amim, a non-partisan Israeli NGO. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from The Washington Post.

Source: Washington Post, 11 September 2008, www.washingtonpost.com.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
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Other articles in this edition

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As peace talks sputter, Israelis and Palestinians eye Plan B by Joshua Mitnick