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300 American Rabbis Call On Israelis And Palestinians To Share Jerusalem

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January-February 2000

A group of American rabbis, concerned that the Israel-Palestinian peace talks might collapse over the tangled issue of Jerusalem have called for the two sides to share the city, reports The New York Times (Jan. 20, 2000).  

A statement signed by more than 300 rabbis from the group, the Jewish Peace Lobby, declared that, "The question is whether Jerusalem should be under the exclusive sovereignty of one nation. The question is whether the pursuit of both justice and peace requires that, in some form, Jerusalem be shared with the Palestinian people. We believe that it does."  

The petition was organized by Jerome Segal, a research scholar at the Center of International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, who founded the Peace Lobby a decade ago to, the Times notes, "push Israel toward negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Now that the peace negotiations are edging toward the final, knotty differences, Mr. Segal says outside groups must force debate on the most sensitive issues."  

Prof. Segal said: "We know there has been no serious discussion inside Israel about any general compromise on Jerusalem. Jerusalem is still kind of viewed as the third rail of Israeli politics, with the right claiming that the left will redivide Jerusalem and the left saying that is a lie."  

According to the Times, "Mr. Segal and the rabbis who signed say the subject is so emotional that nobody has ever analyzed the actual geography involved in detaching western Jerusalem from the eastern portion, where all 180,000 Palestinians live."  

A survey devised by Segal with researchers from both sides found that neither Israelis nor Palestinians viewed the borders of the city as sacrosanct when it was broken down neighborhood by neighborhood. "When you ask people what parts of the city are important," he said, "only the Mount of Olives and the Old City are really important to both peoples."  

The Old City constitutes only 1 percent of the area of modern Jerusalem, the rabbis pointed out in their statement. Sovereignty in this area, which contains places of religious significance to Jews, Christians and Moslems, could come through creative negotiations that would not have to apply to other lands. They also suggested that the borders of Jerusalem—which have been expanded a number of times since Israel captured the city in 1967 and reunited its eastern and western parts—might be reduced to create a more Jewish city. By giving up control over the mostly undeveloped Arab areas, the rabbis say, Israel would remove from Israeli Jerusalem most Palestinians, who would most likely become citizens in a future Palestinian state, anyway.  

Rabbis who signed the statement said they felt it was a moral question and that peace was the most important goal for Jews. "The notion that Jerusalem belongs to the Jews and only the Jews, if that precludes peace, is wrong," said Rabbi Burton Visotzky, a professor of rabbinic literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. "I think in the end we will have to live with our neighbors and there is no way around it, and that includes Jerusalem."  

The Times reports that, "The position of most Jewish groups in the U.S. on the issue of Jerusalem hews closely to the official position of present and past Israeli governments, which is that it is their indivisible capital."  

At the same time, reports Time Magazine (Jan. 31, 2000), "For the first time a group of establishment figures in Israel has endorsed the idea of sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians. `This is the real beginning of the slaughtering of sacred cows,' said Shlomo Gazit, a former head of military intelligence. After a series of meetings between Israeli and Arab academics, diplomats and retired military officers sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Oklahoma, the Israeli participants agreed to the Palestinian position that West Jerusalem should serve as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state....The Arabs on the panel agreed that the city would be split in a way that would `reconcile existing realities,' an implicit suggestion that Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem be incorporated into Israel's portion of the city. `There is ideology and there is reality, and we have to be realists,' said Joseph Gmat, an anthropologist at Haifa University who initiated the project."

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