Through his “slick” politics, Benjamin Netanyahu is doing more to ensure that Jerusalem will become the shared capital of Israel and Palestine than his “leftist” predecessors. I should make it clear that I made the transition to accepting the fate of Jerusalem years ago, while a student at Haifa University. Back then, in 1992, we, a group of Jews and Palestinians, declared this in unison. However, 18 years later there are still those who believe that it will remain in the sole hands of Israel--something no Palestinian in his right mind would accept.
During the last week or so, the issue of Jerusalem has been brought to the world’s attention due to the political maneuvering of the Israeli Prime Minister, who was “completely unaware” of the fact that just hours after his meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden, Shas party member Eli Yishai would publicly undermine his attempts to restart negotiations by announcing that Israel was planning the immediate construction of 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem. What a blunder! What happened to the shock-and-awe politics of building settlements “quietly” and creating “facts on the ground,” before the US and others could get involved?
Well, Netanyahu has succeeded in creating a crisis between the US and Israel, and it looks like, for once, the US will draw the line: any expansion of settlements in the West Bank --including within the Jerusalem municipalities’ borders--is detrimental to the peace process and cannot be tolerated.
However, whether it is the Israeli government or the Jerusalem municipality, there are two other cases I would like to highlight that only exacerbate the problems of Palestinian-Israeli daily coexistence in Jerusalem. One is the ousting of 1948 Palestinians refugees from the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. These residents have lived in their homes since 1948. Recently, after Jews produced pre-1948 ownership records showing that the property actually belongs to them, eviction proceedings began against the Palestinian residents. Putting the legal issues aside, clearly the motivating factor behind the attempt to evict Palestinians is to strengthen the “Jewish” character of the city in the heart of Arab neighborhoods. Numerous other administrative and social initiatives are in place aimed at cleansing Jerusalem of its Palestinian population. Israeli pro-democratic movements should give priority to these issues and join forces with Palestinians.
The second case has to do with the controversy over the building of the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance on the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery. This is a case where one finds oneself gasping at the shock of a museum that teaches tolerance and the history of the Holocaust setting out to erase the past of the “other.” While the Simon Wiesenthal Center denies that this is the case, the overwhelming evidence does not support their claims. Perhaps the Israeli government should start showing goodwill by intervening--first, to block the continued building of the museum, and second, to declare the cemetery a heritage site where Israeli and Palestinian children can learn about the history of those who graves date back perhaps even to the time of Saladin.
No one can deny Israel and the Jewish people’s connection to Jerusalem; however, the Palestinians also have a historical connection to the Holy City and are entitled to live in respect and dignity, and to self-rule in Jerusalem. Ironically, it is the Netanyahu government that is doing the most to help the world understand that Israel will one day have to relinquish parts of the city if there is ever to be peace. Without peace, Israel will face a continued uphill battle, not only to convince its children that this is the land in which they should remain, but also to convince the world that Israel is the state it portrays itself to be: one that longs for peace and promises a land where Jews can live in dignity and pride.