Without negotiations, a dangerous status quo

Without negotiations, a dangerous status quo

The latest assault on Israel’s future comes from an unexpected source: Prominent American Jews are demanding that Washington not ask Israel to negotiate over Jerusalem. Nathan Diament’s article is one example.

Diament is doing more than expressing an opinion about Israel. He is peddling a policy that, if implemented, could even lead to Israel’s destruction. And he is abusing the Jewish connection to Jerusalem in the process.

Jerusalem, he says, is too important for Israeli negotiations, and President Barack Obama shouldn’t ask Israel to do it. For Israel to “surrender” on Jerusalem would be an “anathema to Jews everywhere,” Diament writes.

Surely, he knows successive Israeli governments have already committed to negotiating Jerusalem’s future. Yitzhak Rabin did it in 1993 when he launched the Oslo peace process. Ariel Sharon did it in 2003. Ehud Olmert did it in 2007.

Israeli leaders know how important Jerusalem is to Jews. So why have they agreed to negotiate?

It’s simple: Without a deal on Jerusalem, there will never be peace for Israel.

Jerusalem is not only Judaism’s spiritual center. It is holy to Christians and Muslims, too. It is Israel’s capital. It is a focal point of Palestinian national aspirations. It is home to some 400,000 Israeli Jews and more than 200,000 Palestinians.

Far away from the emotionally charged national-religious rhetoric that so often surrounds discussions on Jerusalem, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will need to address the complex realities of this city, so their people can live their lives in peace, security, and dignity. Jerusalem is not just the Western Wall, the Israel Museum, and the Knesset, which nobody suggests will ever be under Palestinian control. Jerusalem is a large metropolis that includes vast Palestinian neighborhoods and villages — even a Palestinian refugee camp — that were annexed to Israel after 1967.

Without negotiations over Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinians, a two-state solution would be impossible. And if the two-state solution is impossible, the only possibility is a bi-national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which would be neither Jewish nor democratic, a chaotic entity that would perpetuate the conflict between Jews and Arabs.

For Jews, Jerusalem’s holiness is not keyed to Israel’s borders. It derives from the divine decision to house the Holy of Holies there.

Does Diament really think that any political deal could make Jerusalem less holy? Of course not.

This rhetoric seems to be an attempt to mask a dangerous agenda: derailing the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

After being stonewalled by Israel and the Palestinian Authority for the past year, Obama is now considering putting forth ideas to bridge the gap between them. This is crucial. Without a strong effort to step up the peace process, the status quo prevails.

This status quo — in which Jews are becoming a minority in the territory Israel controls — could mean Israel’s continuing descent into pariah-state status.

As Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has argued, the occupation is the biggest threat to Israel’s existence — greater than an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Those of us who care about Israel will not be distracted by obstructionists who say they espouse Jewish values. We will continue to back President Obama as he takes steps to help Israel make peace.

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