By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The received wisdom of many pundits is that Jerusalem should be the last item in any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, because it’s such a thorny issue. Professor Moshe Amirav of the Hebrew University believes that it must be the first item – precisely because it’s the most difficult issue. He believes that other Muslim states, especially Jordan which is the nominal custodian of the Temple Mount, must also be involved in the quest for a solution.
Amirav teaches political science at the Hebrew University with Jerusalem as his specialty. In addition to his academic work he has been involved with the city’s legendary mayor Teddy Kollek helping to turn it into the magnificent place it has become. He was also working with Ehud Barak on the Jerusalem issue when the latter, as prime minister, negotiated with the Palestinians at Camp David.
The reason why no Israeli politician seems to be prepared to heed Amirav’s advice is because the status and the future of Jerusalem, and especially the Temple Mount, have deep religious connotations for both Islam and Judaism. Therefore, neither side is likely to yield what it considers to be its God-given rights and responsibilities for this holy site.
Jerusalem is thus in a permanent state of tension with periodic violent eruptions often around holy events in either Judaism or Islam. That’s behind the riots over this Rosh Hashanah. As usual each side blames the other for provocations and violations and, for all we know, both may be right.
In view of this intransigence, a solution isn’t likely to come about and Jerusalem, “the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” will remain unrecognized as such by all countries in the world. Their embassies are in Tel Aviv and environs. Their diplomats are constantly on the road to and from Jerusalem where Israel’s government sits. The few foreign politicians who’ve considered moving their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem were soon forced to have second thoughts. That includes Israel’s most powerful and staunchest ally – the United States.
As neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis will make peace without at least the Temple Mount as theirs, peace is illusory; it has become a mantra, an empty slogan. The sensible way around the difficulty would be to create a kind of Vatican City but no side seems to agree to it, which warrants the suspicion that Israel and the Palestinian Authority prefer the present uncertainty and confusion to a settlement that would demand sacrifices that exponents of neither religion would accept.
In the present religio-political climate, Israel won’t allow politicians to make such sacrifices because virtually every government needs both the Orthodox-Messianic political parties (the haredim) who believe that only supernatural redemption will resolve the matter and the Orthodox-nationalist parties (primarily Habayit Hayehudi) who believe that it’s their “resolute” actions here and now that will bring about redemption.
Pessimists tend to fear that this powder keg can get out of hand with untold consequences. Optimists reckon that the present situation will prevail indefinitely. The pessimistic option is so difficult to contemplate that we who live here tend to go along with the optimistic illusion mouthing empty slogans at peace demonstrations.