The Future of Jerusalem

By Jeffrey Goldberg

My in-box is filled with e-mails and press releases asserting that East Jerusalem, including and especially the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, and including and especially the site on which the Shepherd Hotel stood until this past weekend, when it was bulldozed to make way for apartments for Jewish Israelis, is holy Jewish territory, part of the holiest city in Judaism, and therefore a place where Jews have a perfect right to build and live.

Let me stipulate at the outset that I believe Jerusalem is Judaism's holiest city; let me stipulate that I believe Jews have a right to live wherever they want to live in the Land of Israel; let me even stipulate, for argument's sake, that God in Heaven is actually a real estate agent, and busies Himself each day by devising plans to populate certain Jerusalem neighborhoods with Jews.

I will also stipulate that the Shepherd Hotel, in and of itself, is not a morally profound issue. It was bought legally by Jewish buyers years ago; it did not house Palestinians; and it is associated historically with the former Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who was an actual bona fide Nazi, so its disappearance does not cause me sorrow. The world's focus on Sheikh Jarrah is, of course, disproportionate in the larger scheme of things.

Let me also stipulate, however, that the settlement of Jews in Sheikh Jarrah -- even if it is what God allegedly wants (I've submitted the question, but haven't heard back) -- is not necessarily in the Jewish self-interest. If a Jewish person's only concern as a Jew is the acquisition of every square inch of biblical Israel on behalf of the Jewish people, then I suppose it is a Jewish interest. But if a Jewish person has other interests as well -- such as in peace, or in the idea that Palestinians, though a much newer people than the Jewish people, deserve a state just as Jews do, or in the continued survival of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state -- than the slow takeover of Sheikh Jarrah is not in the best Jewish interest.

Peace will not come without the birth of a Palestinian state on the West Bank which has its capital in East Jerusalem. I'm as sure of that as I am of anything in the Middle East. Of course, peace may not come even with the birth of this state -- I'm no longer quite so sure in the possiblity, or at least in the availability, of peace -- but it will surely never happen without it. This is why, of course, certain right-wing Jewish groups, aided and abetted by different factions in Israel's chaotic government, are seeking to populate East Jerusalem with Jews: to prevent the birth of a Palestinian state. These particular Jews operate under the delusion that Israel can keep control of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem forever, and most of the West Bank forever, without negative consequences. They are drastically wrong. Eventually, something is going to give. At a certain point in the not-so-distant future, Israel will either cease to be a Jewish state, or it will cease to be a democracy. Attempts to abort the birth of a Palestinian state only hasten this moment of decision.

Israel will survive without the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. It will not survive if it becomes a pariah state, and, in this unfortunate world in which we must exist, Israel is in danger of becoming an outcast among nations.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/01/the-future-of-jerusalem/69295/