By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Pretense seems to be an important factor in Israeli-Palestinian relations. It’s particularly acute in and around the issue of Jerusalem.
Thus many Israeli politicians and their supporters never tire of speaking of the city as “Israel’s united and eternal capital” thereby implying that no peace deal will persuade Israelis to part from any of it. That’s why, in addition to private dwellings in East Jerusalem into which Jews have moved (often financed by an American zealot), over the years the government has built offices there, including the Ministry of Justice.
Most foreign governments object to this and show it by not allowing their representatives to go there on official business. In deference to the Palestinians, they see or pretend to see East Jerusalem as the potential capital of a future Palestinian state.
Though the Palestinian administration works largely from Ramallah, it looks upon Jerusalem in the way West Germans looked upon Berlin before the country’s reunification. In the same way as Bonn was the seat of the government of West Germany while East Germany had Berlin as its capital, so do Palestinians see Ramallah as a temporary stop on the way to Jerusalem.
But realists, probably on both sides, concede that, despite the growing number of Jewish enclaves in the center of East Jerusalem, the city remains divided. Most people who live on either side seem to know the difference. Even when they cross the invisible “seam” they’re probably conscious of its existence and thus recognize the pretense as a manifestation of ideological posturing and little else.
John Baird, Canada’s foreign minister, seems to have been oblivious to all that. Perhaps that’s why he decided to have coffee with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – in her office in East Jerusalem! The Palestinians have been fuming ever since. Baird may have just been badly briefed by his staff. On the other hand, in view of Canada’s warm relations with the Government of Israel, he may have wanted to say to the Palestinian leaders that they should face reality.
More than being angry with Baird, the Palestinians have reason to be bitter about Livni. She’s considered perhaps the only dove in the new Israeli government; some say a fig leaf to cover the ministers’ shameful disinterest in making peace with the Palestinians if it’s to involve Israeli concessions about Jerusalem.
In addition to her job as minister of justice, she has been charged with the task of negotiating with the Palestinians – not the foreign minister (currently out of office and awaiting trial on corruption charges), not his deputy and not the prime minister himself (who, according to a new “tell all” book, doesn’t like to take decisions), but the minister of justice. What does that do to her credentials as a negotiator if her office is in East Jerusalem? Might not her Palestinian partners view her as another spokesperson for those who intend to usurp their land and prejudge the outcome of the negotiations?
Palestinian anger against Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird may, therefore, be deliberately displaced. The person they’re probably really angry with is Israel’s Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni with whom they’re expected to negotiate.
No wonder that we now hear that the initial hopes by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to kick start peace negotiations may come to naught.
Jerusalem 16.4.15 (Independence Day)