Monday, May 25, 2009

Is Compromise on Jerusalem good for everyone or only for the Palestinians?

In a comment, reported in today's Haaretz, Abbas Zaki, the Palestinian Authority's ambassador to Lebanon, is quoted as saying that a compromise on Jerusalem and settlements in Judea and Samaria would amount to a demise of Zionism's "dream." Verbatim: "With the two-state solution, in my opinion, Israel will collapse, because if they get out of Jerusalem, what will become of all the talk about the Promised Land and the Chosen People?"

This is a very puzzling thing for a Palestinian statesman to say. Though he might think so, clearly, saying it in public amounts to providing ideological support to the hardliners in Israel.

Setting aside for now who said it and why, Zaki's musings raise a profound question, namely, whether compromise on the question of sovereignty over the Holy City can be a good thing not just for the Palestinians but also for the Israelis.

Some may remember the dictum by Moshe Dayan who, in June 1967, famously dismissed the Old City, just captured from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, by asking "What good is this whole Vatican?" (Sounds better in Hebrew, but the meaning is clear.) Israel existed for two decades before East Jerusalem was captured. While West Bank, Sinai, and the Golan Heights all had strategic importance (security, bargaining chips), Jerusalem had important symbolic importance. Gaza only constituted a headache and no one in Israel (or in Egypt) wanted to hold on to one of the most densely populated Arab areas of Palestine anyway. It never was part of the vision of a Greater Israel, even among those who, like Menachem Begin and his ideological heirs, were interested in holding on to the West Bank areas forever.

What I am saying is that Mr. Zaki is wrong. If a reasonable compromise can be achieved between all parties and once security is no longer an issue, then of course Israel, a Jewish state with or without a significant Arab minority, neither needs to control the West Bank nor exert sovereignty over East Jerusalem. It existed without it before and it can exist without it again in the future. Any negotiated settlement would need to include free Jewish access to the Western Wall and control of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, but neither Zionism, nor the idea of a Jewish state, nor Israel's flourishing in cultural, economic, social and political terms depend on Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif or even on whether or not all of the village of Silwan is turned into a Jewish history museum. None of this really matters. While maximal and total control of what two thousand years ago may have been the gem of Jewish life seems desirable and legitimate to some, Zionism does not necessarily consist in a striving to restore the ancient system of priestly rule and biblical sacrifices. In fact, this is a distortion of Zionism's original goals. There are different Zionisms. The vision of a restoration of the ancient Jewish way of life is odious to many Jews and Israelis. It is an absurd and dangerous religious idea, which should be resisted not just by Palestinians but by all reasonable people.

But make no mistake, Mr. Zaki. Even seventy years after Reichskristallnacht, we are not likely to give an inch when it comes to the right and legitimacy of a Jewish state. We will defend it with our blood.

1 comment:

  1. I am not sure about this "blood" thing. Do we really need this kind of language and do you think it is "reasonable"?