‘Today Jerusalem is an unsustainable city’
Questions for Daniel Seidemann
Daniel Seidemann is founder and director of the Israeli nongovernmental organization Terrestrial Jerusalem, which is hoping to lay the groundwork for an agreement on Jerusalem that is “acceptable to all sides.” As an attorney who often represented Palestinian residents of Jerusalem in their disputes with the municipality, Seidemann studies issues that Terrestial Jerusalem fears will derail negotiations toward a peace agreement.
Seidemann will speak about “Jerusalem and the Two-State Solution: Breakdown or Breakthrough” at the 26th annual Amy Adina Schulman Memorial Lecture, Thursday, Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m. at The Jewish Center in Princeton.
The Schulman Memorial is an endowment fund started in 1987 in memory of a 20-year-old college student and neuropsychology major who was active for 10 years in Habonim-Dror, the progressive Labor Zionist Youth Movement. Adina died suddenly from a burst aneurysm while a student in her junior year at Rutgers University.
NJJN: What inspired you to go to Israel two weeks after you graduated from Cornell in 1973?
Seidemann: I had spent my junior year in Israel and was smitten by the virus. I graduated from Cornell in 1973; all my friends were going to Wharton, and I couldn’t imagine doing that.
NJJN: What does being a Zionist mean to you?
Seidemann: The world is a dangerous place, doubly and triply dangerous for Jews. Jews have to have power, smarts, and have to be participants in history and not objects of history.
NJJN: Can you explain why E1, the land connecting Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Maaleh Adunim, is so important?
Seidemann: A two-state solution is going to take place inside of Jerusalem or not take place at all. We will head for a politically divided city: parts of Jerusalem will be Palestinian, parts of Jerusalem will be Israeli. That is the sine qua non of any agreement.… For that to be able to happen, I have to be able to draw a line on a map which will carve out a viable Palestinian city and leave an equally or more viable Israeli city in its wake. I have to be able to draw a line that will allow every Israeli to go home at night, including in what are now settler neighborhoods that will be incorporated, without crossing an international boundary, and allow every Palestinian to go home or visit a mosque without seeing an Israeli policeman.
NJJN: Can you describe the construction that has occurred in Jerusalem over the past couple of years and talk a little about how that affects the possibility of a two-state solution?
Seidemann: Between 2011 and 2012, we witnessed a settlement surge in and around Jerusalem the likes of which have not been seen since the early 1970s, perhaps since ’67…. Secretary [of State John] Kerry was able to elicit a de facto settlement freeze from the beginning of 2013 until negotiations began…. Since negotiations have resumed, Netanyahu is now doing in installments every three months what he had been doing continuously in 2011-12. The Palestinians are now saying that under the cover of negotiations, Netanyahu is destroying the two-state solution, and the Palestinians are making a very compelling argument.
The threat is that the map in and around Jerusalem will be so balkanized demographically and geographically that drawing that line will no longer be possible…. [Settlement in] E1 will contribute to a seal of east Jerusalem from its environment in the West Bank and will also dismember the West Bank into northern and southern cantons with no genuine contiguity between the two. E1 would be the last nail in the coffin of a two-state solution. The death of the two-state solution is an existential threat to the viability of the Zionist enterprise; in absence of a viable Palestinian state there will be no agreement and in the absence of an agreement, Israel will have perpetual occupation.
NJJN: What is your vision for Jerusalem in the context of a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians?
Seidemann: Today Jerusalem is an unsustainable city; it is collapsing under the weight of its own fictions. Israel is pretending it is an Israeli city. It is not; it is binational. Israel pretends it is undivided; it is divided. Israel pretends Jerusalem is Israel’s capital; it has not been for Bush or any international leader throughout the world since. Jerusalem will begin to heal when Palestinians have the rights I already have — the right to make a mess of your own life rather than have someone else do it for you. The day a border goes up in Jerusalem is the day Jerusalem begins to heal.
NJJN: In November, you were struck by a rock thrown through your car window as you drove through East Jerusalem. What were the responses among the Right in Israel and the U.S. to the injury you sustained?
Seidemann: I got phone calls from the two most powerful heads of the settler movements, including one with whom I had been crossing swords for 22 years. I cost him millions, and he said, “I’m terribly sorry; is there anything I can do to help you?” On the other hand, when it was reported in the American-Jewish press, the response from the extreme Right was: “It is a shame the rock wasn’t larger…. It was a Darwinian event culling him from the gene pool of the Jewish people in order to improve our collective future.”
I am a reserve major in the Israeli army so it is really hard for me to take a condescending attitude from an armchair Zionist who lives in the U.S. The least you owe me is a civil and respectful conversation; if not, you are one of those creeps willing to fight to our last drop of blood.