On Building in Jerusalem (And Out of Jerusalem)

Man, this is getting dreary. One reason, as I've explained, that I don't post more on the peace process is that there isn't actually much of a peace process on which to post. But, Jerusalem. Yes, it is true that "Jerusalem," as Jews understand the word, is not a settlement; it is the center of Jewish history, culture and religion. But what does "Jerusalem" mean as a practical matter? Does it mean neighborhoods far from the Temple Mount  that have been Arab for hundreds of years? Does it mean neighborhoods far from the Temple Mount that no Jew visits? Yes, of course, all the Land of Israel is holy to Jews, and yes, of course, Jews lived in these places long before Arabs (and yes, it is true that Jews were ethnically cleansed from many of these places by Arabs in 1948) but the possession of land is not the only Jewish value, particularly land that provokes no overwhelming feeling of Jewish connection. At prayer, when we announce to God our deep love of His holy city, are we really talking about Abu Dis and Isawiya?

I don't believe Israel should give up control of its holiest sites -- would Muslims give up control of Mecca? -- but the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem aren't holy, at least in my understanding of the notion. A peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs -- which, along with the neutralization of Iranian eliminationist ideology and practice, is the only thing that will guarantee Israel's long-term existence as a Jewish state -- requires a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Bibi Netanyahu knows this, of course, but he won't tell his coalition partners such a basic truth, which is why they a) remain in his cabinet, and b) continue to build apartment blocks that will serve to stymie the creation of a contiguous Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

On a related subject, the building of new apartments in the settlement city of Ariel only underscores another central fact of the conflict, that settlements are in many ways a diversion from a more basic issue, which is the issue of borders. Instead of talking about settlements, the parties should be talking about the future borders of Palestine. The borders will define which settlements remain, and which ones have to go. This is why it was a mistake of the Obama Administration to fetishize settlements, and make a freeze a pre-condition of negotiations. Of course, this was merely a tactical mistake. Netanyahu, I fear, is making a strategic mistake, by refusing to frame,  out loud, and in a way that, yes, might threaten the stability of his governing coalition, his vision for an eventual peace. This is a mistake for any number of reasons -- his refusal to act with vision means that Israel continues to be on defensive in the court of international public opinion; it continues to create friction with the Obama Administration; it inadvertently brings the Palestinians closer to a unilateral declaration of independence; and it denies the Israeli people their right to hear their leaders speak honestly about the precariousness of their situation in the world. Netanyahu is the only person in Israel who could deliver 75 or 80 percent of the population to a painful peace deal. He should be trying harder, at the very least, to provide his people, and the Palestinians, a vision of what potentially could be.