Do We Divide The Holiest Holy City?
My daughter Aida goes to sixth grade in the Jewish part of Jerusalem, at the International School. If they were to cut up Jerusalem again, I don’t know what I would do. I’m a single father and my Jewish friends help take care of my daughter. They give me emotional support. I go for Pesach dinners.
My life is enriched by my Jewish friends, and I hate to say “Jewish friends” because I do not think of them that way. When I take my daughter to buy a pet from my friend in Netanya, she will not think, “This is a ‘Jewish friend’ of my father.” She will think, “This is my father’s nice friend who is helping me find a pet bird.”
And Arabs are largely dependent on the Jewish sector for their consumer lifestyle. Today we are going to see Atonement in a big shopping center in West Jerusalem. There will be Arabs there, Jews there, all shopping, sitting in cafes or eating Chinese, going to McDonalds.
A number of Jerusalem Arabs have given up their Jordanian passports and taken Israeli ones. But these are street cleaners, blue-collar workers dependent for their livelihoods on the Israeli sector. For them, it’s pragmatic to accept Israeli citizenship, but for us, it’s not that simple. My family has prestige. We have a historical responsibility. We cannot compromise our identity.
Paradoxically, we remain neither Jordanians nor Israelis. The passport we have does not permit us to live in Jordan; it is a courtesy but not a right. The Israelis in turn have given us residency but not citizenship. Yet this dual status, despite its precariousness, allows us a lifestyle we are not willing to forsake. Ultimately, we need one document that honorably combines our privileges and our historic rights in a way that preserves our dignity and our Arab integrity.
A separation wall is not a solution. It will be inconceivable to think of living as Arabs alone and Jews alone. All the scenarios are so black and white—there must be flexibility. The Jerusalem that I envisage will retain its unique international status. People like me, who are not politicians, who write, who think, who live their lives without fanaticism, feel that the city should remain open and be given a special form of government. Any political solution that ensues would have to be sufficiently imaginative, sufficiently flexible to maintain free movement.
Peace with walls is not peace, really.
has written numerous books, including Letter to an American Friend and is a regular contributor to Commentary and The Forward. Born in New York in 1939, he first visited Israel in 1957 and immigrated in 1970. After living in Jerusalem for two years, he moved to Zicharon Yaacov, north of Tel Aviv.
Whether one believes as an Israeli in redividing Jerusalem is, I think, a function of whether one believes in the desirability of a Palestinian state. Is it in Israel’s interest to have such a state by its side? If the answer is yes, the division of Jerusalem is unavoidable. If not, it should be avoided at all costs. Retaining Israeli control over all of Jerusalem is the best way to prevent a Palestinian state from coming into existence. Jerusalem is necessary to the Palestinians both as a symbol and as a political, economic and geographic reality if they’re going to have a state. I’m not sure such a state would be viable even with East Jerusalem, but it certainly wouldn’t be viable without it.
I find myself believing less and less in the desirability of a Palestinian state from an Israeli point of view. The best option is for Israel to withdraw from most of the West Bank—I don’t think there’s any choice about that—and for the Palestinians to join up with Jordan again. Not that the Jordanian ruling class wants them, but if the choice Jordan faced was either to assume responsibility for the West Bank or face chaos and the likelihood of a complete Hamas takeover, it might find it was in its own interests to move in.
A mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza, even with Jerusalem as the capital, won’t satisfy Palestinian aspirations. When you look at what the Palestinians lost in 1948, such a state would give them back very little. The Palestinian strategy, once a state was established, would be to continue to contest Israel’s legitimacy and to hope that Israel could be progressively weakened and eventually dismantled or nibbled away at.
I didn’t always think this way. Until Oslo, and maybe even for a few years after, I believed the solution lay in a federated arrangement between Israel and a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and a shared Jerusalem, with citizens of each allowed to live on the other side so that the Jewish settlements could continue to exist. The borders would have been open to free movement in either direction. Today that seems to me a utopian fantasy.