Do not make Jerusalem’s division a self-fulfilling prophecy

Do not make Jerusalem’s division a self-fulfilling prophecy

Imagine the scene centuries ago as the prophet Isaiah mounts a platform to exhort the people. But instead of trying to rally the listeners to mend their ways to deserve God’s aid, as well as prepare for battle against those who would sack Jerusalem and send them into exile, the prophet suggests they ought to surrender Jerusalem willingly.

In recent weeks, political leaders and other prominent members of the Jewish community have done exactly that. They say that redividing Jerusalem is inevitable and that we modern Jews should begin adjusting to that reality. No suggestion could be a greater betrayal of Jewish history or a more wrongheaded notion of how to conduct diplomacy.

The central role Jerusalem has played in the historic and religious narrative of our people is well known. Jerusalem is at the heart of Jewish religious identity — we pray each day toward Jerusalem and for her welfare, and we conclude our holiest days with the prayer that next year we will celebrate in Jerusalem.

King David made Jerusalem his capital 3,000 years ago, and since then Jerusalem has been the national capital of the Jewish people; only brute force has kept us out. In 1948, when the Old City and eastern parts of Jerusalem fell under Jordanian rule, Jews were barred entry to the Old City, denied worship at the Western Wall, and denied access to the ancient cemeteries on the Mount of Olives. Israel reunified the city in 1967 and opened the holy sites of all faiths to all people.

Despite these truths, there are those who believe that for the sake of restarting an Israeli-Arab peace process, we must consider redividing the city. After all, some say, it is necessary for a peace deal. Some say the city is already divided, with Arab neighborhoods where no Jew ever ventures. Others say the Arabs already have de facto control over the Temple Mount — for the sake of a deal, why not make it official and concede their sovereignty?

For his part, Prime Minister Olmert has said that the Temple Mount is not open for negotiation; yet he also is entertaining the idea of a Palestinian capital in the eastern part of the city. Does the prime minister seriously believe that Palestinians will be satisfied with anything less than the Temple Mount?

The fact is that there are neighborhoods, especially those east of the security barrier, where Jews seldom venture. But modern Jerusalem is far more an interwoven checkerboard of Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods than starkly segregated enclaves. Beit Safafa lies between Talpiot and Gilo, Sheik Jarrah lies between the Old City and French Hill, and there are many Palestinians living in and around the ancient Jewish City of David in the valley between the Jewish Quarter and the Mount of Olives. It is no more feasible to extricate the Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem from one another than to ethnically divide the neighborhoods of Manhattan.

In the wake of the Six Day War, Israel turned the administration of the Temple Mount over to the Muslim Waqf. This was a generous gesture, and it may even be worth continuing under a final settlement agreement. But Israel should never cede the sovereignty for which Jews have prayed, toiled, and bled for generations.

Other arguments have been advanced against the pro-Jerusalem advocacy effort mounted by the Orthodox Union and its allies. We in the diaspora are told that we must either yield to those who live in Israel or that we do not have a say in the first place.

Yet it’s far from obvious that Israelis favor concessions on Jerusalem. A few weeks ago, the Israel-based Maagar Mohot Research Institute released a survey showing an overwhelming majority (78 percent) of Israelis oppose Israel’s making a commitment now to turn sovereignty on the Temple Mount over to the Palestinians. A large majority (69 percent) also oppose Israel’s making a commitment now to turn part of Jerusalem over to the Palestinians.

Moreover, with regard to Jerusalem — the cradle and heart of the entire Jewish people — diaspora Jews do not dictate Israeli policy, but it is our "obligation" — Prime Minister Olmert’s own word — and our right to speak up. After all, we are family.

Our goal is and must remain a shared one — to be faithful to the prayers and sacrifices of our ancestors who longed for, prayed for, and fought for Jerusalem — the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

Nathan J. Diament is director of Public Policy of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.