Let’s be clear: Dividing Jerusalem would be the most dangerous gamble taken by the Jews in 2,000 years. As we mark another Jerusalem Day, with the attention of the world fixed on the holy city, we should all take a careful look at the profound implications of such a decision.
First, we need to remove a misconception: Jews do not claim Jerusalem because of 600 biblical references, nor for the 10 centuries it was the capital and center of the Jewish world. Jews claim Jerusalem because they obsessed about it for millennia even as the cities they lived in drew them in and spat them out. Because they celebrated the triumphs of Jerusalem and mourned its disasters, fasting and feasting on an annual cycle that had nothing to do with their immediate surroundings and everything to do with their lost city. Because they preserved the common language to do so, even as their transient host nations forgot theirs. Alone in history, Jews remained a cohesive nation merely by willpower — with the dream of Jerusalem giving them the strength to continue.
Yet today, we are told: The Temple Mount must be relinquished because of the mosques. The Jews in the City of David must move out because it’s a mostly Arab neighborhood. Sovereignty over the Jewish cemetery on the Mount Olives must also be relinquished, in spite of its dead Jews, because — well, because.
What if straightaway after achieving the goal of millennia, the sovereign Jews now relinquish it? There is something theatrical about striving for a goal and then magnanimously ceding it. Yet national identity is a mysterious thing. No one has ever given an adequate, nonreligious explanation for the longevity of the Jews; who is to say that repudiating the dream won’t forever scar the national psyche? Admittedly, this need not trouble the Palestinians, or even the Americans; but it ought to perturb the Jews.
We are being exhorted to gamble: Trust us, it will work, there’s no danger, only gain. You must replace flawed reality with utopian hopes.
The advocates never tire of explaining how Jerusalem is not actually a united city, and how marked are the differences between its Jewish and Arab sections; this supposedly to convince that division is already reality, and all that remains is to split the symbolic sovereignty. Yet most cities are like that. Phone technicians live elsewhere from powerbrokers, dishwashers far from professors. It works because of the common sovereign. They all live under the same law, enforced by the same police.
Now imagine a city with an international border running between buildings on the same block; to one side a free and rich society, to the other: not. The rich enjoy a world-class health system and social security; the poor lost access upon division. Each side has its own police force, with no love lost between them. Could it ever work? Wouldn’t it generate never-ending tension?
That’s the optimistic scenario, where both states share a cautious wish to live in peace. Now imagine if one or both comes to regret the arrangement, immediately or in 50 years.
Here’s an experiment: Go to the website of the Geneva Accord and its detailed recommendation to divide Jerusalem. Follow the line, imagining it: What do the divided streets look like? Between which buildings will there be a border? What about where the line runs through single structures in the Old City? Ponder the possibility that the gamble fails, and the townspeople on either side of this hellish border decide not to live in peace. Then travel to Hebron, where such an experiment has already been tried and failed disastrously.
Refusal to divide Jerusalem need not preclude creating a Palestinian state. Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank should be dismantled to enable the Palestinians to have a coherent state. Within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, outlying Arab neighborhoods that don’t abut Jewish ones should be transferred to Palestine. Not the Holy Basin, however. Dividing the historic sections of Jerusalem is delusional. It will never bring peace, and it could lead to war.
Yaacov Lozowick is the author of “Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel’s Wars” (Doubleday, 2003). He blogs at yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com