Tuesday 11 May 2010

Celebrating Jerusalem

Wednesday this week sees the minor holiday of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). It is not a holiday that is widely celebrated, and there will be many Jewish communities around the world that may not even be aware of the holiday. In Israel, and particularly in the capital city, the day will be celebrated as one of the happiest days of the year. This is the day which, in 2010, marks 43 years since the holy city of Jerusalem was reunified and installed as the undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people.

The pictures that are synonymous with the famous victory achieved by the Israeli forces in the Six Day War show celebrations and tears at the Western Wall when it was restored to Israeli control. The feeling of being so near to the holiest site in Judaism, and being prevented from approaching it during the years of Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem, proved to be very difficult for Jews. The ability to touch the wall after the victory in 1967, the same wall that formed part of the outer borders of Herod’s Temple, was unsurprisingly the focal point of the celebration. This place and this city has been the object of Jewish prayers and yearning for almost 2,000 years during the period of exile. Finally returning it to Jewish hands brought about scenes of jubilation and unbridled joy.

During the nearly 20 years of Arab rule over East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, no access to the holiest Jewish site was allowed to Jews. During the same period, there was no attempt to declare this the capital of any Palestinian State or the capital of any other country. The claims that Jerusalem be the capital of a country other than the Jewish State were only initiated well after East Jerusalem was returned to Jewish hands, and the united city of Jerusalem proclaimed as the eternal capital of Israel. When the opportunity was presented to proclaim Jerusalem as the capital of an Arab country, there was no interest in doing so. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that there is a great deal of scepticism around the claims by the Palestinians that Jerusalem be the capital of a Palestinian state.

When considering that Muslims have been allowed access to their holy sites in Jerusalem under Israeli rule and the Waqf council headed by the King of Jordan has jurisdiction over Muslim holy sites, there seems to be little reason for Palestinians to claim Jerusalem as their capital city. Despite this fact, the Palestinians have made the issue of Jerusalem one of the cornerstones of their claims against Israel. The now on-again proximity talks with US mediation will focus on 5 core issues, which include the claim by the Palestinians to have East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The extent to which the claim to Jerusalem is really so important is brought into question by the actions of Yasser Arafat at the Camp David summit with Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, under the mediation of US President Bill Clinton. At that famous meeting, Arafat rejected the generous proposals made by Barak to him. These proposals, which would most likely have been rejected by the Israeli electorate had they had the chance to vote on them, were still not enough for Arafat. Is the claim to Jerusalem to be regarded as a genuine desire to have the holy city as a Palestinian capital, or is it simply part of the strategy to expel the Jews from Jerusalem and Israel? I am forced to believe the latter.

During the course of the current round of proximity talks, it is my hope that prime minister Netanyahu will not be fooled by the tactics employed by the Palestinians. Despite my scepticism regarding the true intentions of the Palestinians, I am a supporter of the two-state solution which allows for the establishment of a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people. This does not, however include gifting any part of Jerusalem to this Palestinian state. The prime minister does not have a remit from his electorate to give any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Jerusalem was annexed soon after the 1967 war (as opposed to the West Bank which remains under military rule) in order to send a clear message that an undivided Jerusalem will always be the capital of the Jewish state. This message needs to be resent loudly and clearly. The Palestinian headquarters are currently established in Ramallah, and there seems to be no conceivable reason why this should not continue to serve as a capital of a Palestinian state in the future.

This week on Yom Yerushalayim, not only will we be celebrating events of the past, we will also be considering what the future holds for the holy city. One thing is for sure, the right of Jews to visit the holiest site in Judaism can never be compromised. This is a minimum. The truth is that giving any part of Jerusalem will not be acceptable. My prayer is that we can reach an agreement with the Palestinians to allow them to establish a state without having to cede any part of Jerusalem to this state. I also pray that this state will agree to live alongside Israel in peace and mutual respect. Is this too much to expect?

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