Amid Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks, Signs of Compromise Over Jerusalem

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Baz Ratner / Reuters

An Israeli soldier sleeps as ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths pray on Tisha B'Av at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City, July 16, 2013.

A member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government created something of a stir this week when he could not foresee any peace agreement with the Palestinians that wouldn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, as well as of Israel.

Ofer Shelah of the Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party, Netanyahu’s biggest coalition partner, made the comments earlier this week in a Tel Aviv “pub talk” hosted by the left-wing group Peace Now. Many in the Israeli media jumped on the fact that Shelah — a former journalist like his friend and party founder Yair Lapid — seemed to be endorsing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that contradicts the party line, as well as that of Netanyahu’s Likud.

“Jerusalem will remain united under Israeli sovereignty,” the Yesh Atid party wrote in its founding declaration of principles, “because Jerusalem is not just a place or a city, but the center of the Jewish-Israeli ethos and the holy place for which Jews longed throughout all generations.”

In an interview with TIME, Shelah says he was offering frank analysis more than opinion.

“A solution in Jerusalem will be a solution of words, no less than a solution of deeds. That is, it will be conceptual much more than physical,” says Shelah, also a respected author who lost an eye in 1983 as an Israeli soldier in Lebanon.

(MORE: The Illusion of Progress: 9 Reasons Why Israel-Palestinian Talks May Fail)

“Somewhere within the borders of Jerusalem, we’ll have to say, this side is Israeli and this side is for the Palestinians. I’m not saying it’s not complicated or that I have the right formula in my pocket, just waiting to take it out. But I don’t think the Palestinians would ever agree to a peace deal that would not see East Jerusalem as their capital. And I’ve said, as Yesh Atid has, that we see the need to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and that is in our foremost interests.”

Jerusalem is considered one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which restarted Aug. 14 after a three-year stalemate, with envoys of the Obama Administration acting as both cheerleader and referee. Since the launch of the talks, the two sides have met three times, and then had an additional, unannounced meeting on Thursday. Both sides have kept mum on whether progress has been made, saying only that the talks were serious and substantive. The parties will meet in the West Bank town of Jericho next week.

The Palestinian negotiating team holds that every part of the city that was in Jordan before the Six-Day War of 1967 should be the capital of their future state. The Israeli government’s position is that the unified city is its eternal, indivisible capital, and it contests that only under Israeli sovereignty have the Old City’s holy sites — precious to Judaism, Christianity and Islam — been safe and open to all.

Reading between the lines, however, many Israelis have been gradually coming around to the idea that a peace agreement probably means a shared Jerusalem, though most don’t want a physically divided city. In the latest monthly Peace Index conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Israeli Democracy Institute, pollsters found that about half of the Israeli Jewish public would be prepared to cede Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority as part of a permanent settlement to the conflict. That was far more flexible than most Israelis were willing to be on other contentious issues, like the Palestinian demand for the “right of return” to land they — or their grandparents — left in 1948 in the war over Israel’s creation.

(MORE: On the Eve of Talks, Israeli and Palestinian Negotiators Get Ready for an Unlikely Deal)

“For a couple of years now, we’re seeing that Israeli Jews in many respects have come to terms with the fact that Jerusalem is already divided,” says Tamar Hermann, the co-director of the Peace Index, which has been tracking trends in public opinion on the conflict since 1994, a year after the Oslo accords were signed.

Following the second intifadeh, which started in September 2000, Israelis began to completely avoid East Jerusalem, Hermann says, and attitudes toward Jerusalem therefore began to change in past seven or eight years. “Israelis might aspire for the whole city to be part of a unified Jerusalem, but it is already looked at as something which is not ours,” Hermann adds. “People are less sensitive on that issue than they once were, except for the holy basin and the Temple Mount” — the area that houses the Western Wall as well as the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, holy sites for Jews and Muslims.

“This issue, which in the past was total taboo, no longer is,” Hermann offers. “But this doesn’t mean that negotiations will say Jerusalem isn’t a problem, because it is.”

Not surprisingly, though, not all Israelis think alike. Ultra-Orthodox Jews tend to agree with the idea of turning Arab neighborhoods over to a Palestinian capital, but the segment of the population known as national-religious Jews — and the ideologically linked settlement movement — do not. That is the group represented by Netanyahu’s other major coalition partner, Naftali Bennett and his Bayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s lead negotiator in the talks, on Thursday described the party’s presence in the ruling coalition as “deeply problematic.”

In the 2010 talks, Palestinian negotiators also showed flexibility on Jerusalem, according to a WikiLeaks report that came out afterward. The papers indicated that Palestinians were willing to cede claims on areas of Jerusalem that Israel has since built up with what Palestinians consider to be settlements but which Israelis view as neighborhoods.

These signs of pragmatic thinking on both sides boost the prospect of meaningful dialogue. But would-be peacemakers have almost reached agreement before, only to find that one side or the other couldn’t go the extra mile and take the necessary political risks. Jerusalem, that ancient city that has the ability to conjure passions like virtually no other, still could potentially get in its own way.

MORE: Palestinians Say Israeli Decision on Settlements Will Hurt Peace Talks

25 comments
jacob.sheldon14
jacob.sheldon14

Can we just declare this an international city and be done with it? I think as long as the extreme right is in power in Israel and Palestinians are indecisive of who will lead them (Hamas or Abbas?), we will be at a deadlock. This issue has shed too much blood and no side's hands are clean. 

brettochampion
brettochampion

Shelah is right. There is little prospect of a peace deal that doesn't permit Palestinian sovereignty over at least some portion of Jerusalem. The other major issues, like the right of return and the Israeli settlements, can all be gotten around, but the issue of who controls which parts of Jerusalem cannot. At least the very least there will need to be joint sovereignty over the holy sites.

StanMiller
StanMiller

there have been exchanges of population many times in history and the current borders in Europe for example are not the same as 70 or 80 years ago. the Jews have a historical and modern right to this land (Google Jewish Roman wars). the Arabs have millions of acres of land. the Arabs should be repatriated to their land and paid compensation for moving. this will bring lasting peace for all.

ralphiz
ralphiz

It is out of question to share Jerusalem. Surely not because there are are mosques in Jerusalem which isn't even mentioned in the Quran and of course because a Palestinian people never existed . 

EileenFleming
EileenFleming

The Establishment of Israel was contingent upon upholding the UN UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS and in Israel's OWN words:

"On the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations." - May 14, 1948. The Declaration of the Establishment of Israel


Following the 1967, 6 DAY WAR, Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan and only West Jerusalem was proclaimed Israel's capital by PM Ben Gurion.

In 2009, the UN again warned that Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and Palestine if peace is to be achieved.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sezHPnVu2qk


Channah
Channah

I have great respect for Islam, and for those who live it as it should be lived.  But, the small percentage of Muslim fanatics will never allow peace. 

Over 30 years ago I had a long discussion with a PLO member, and we agreed Jerusalem needed to be a capital for both countries.  But, fanatics on both sides will stop it.

synical
synical

The only outstanding issue in a peace process is whether the Palestinians and their backers in the rejectionist states, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran amongst others are prepared to sign a deal rather than waiting 10, 50, 100 years for the balance to swing and the Israelis are thrown out. With the proviso that the continuing conflict is an open wound that enables these autocratic states to justify their continuing existence.

Insofar that this political issue has radicalised Saudi internal opposition against the Saudi Princes movement towards peace has progressed. 

issues such as shared Jerusalem (demilitarised), settlements (future homes for displaced Palestinians) have always been red herrings. The issue is can the Israelis afford not to make a deal against, is there any trust of the Palestinian agreement and the Palestinian do they want an agreement or is war a better political alternative.

Cajamania
Cajamania

The biggest issue that will trip them up is not Jerusalem.  It is water.

AlexCardoso
AlexCardoso

the objective of  "palestinians" claiming Jerusalen as a holy place, and capital, is anything else but

find an obstacle to real negotiations, words jews and Jerusalen are joined for thousands of years

arab-israeli differendo is not about land, is a religios war, if israel does what they want, next day they will

claim something else, and so on, and by the way the palestinian issue has been kept alive by the 

arab states, a good excuse for hostilities that began many years beforo israel was born.

owinewton
owinewton

@TIME Will this compromise over Jerusalem hold. How do we prevent some extremist from sabotaging the peace efforts?

sosofreezer
sosofreezer

@TIME jerusalem is for muslims and christians all over the world..no place for jews

jovisanso
jovisanso

@TIME signs of an agreement. We wait, Christians, for a peaceful result.

AsifSiddiqi3
AsifSiddiqi3

@TIME How come no one seems to have the courage to say publicly that Israel should be for all who have a claim on it.One secular state.

delta5297
delta5297

Well. Perhaps there's hope for Israel yet.

EileenFleming
EileenFleming

@ChannahIt is the 'good Christians' who are zealously fanatic over Israel's 'rights' and deaf, dumb and blind to the rights of the indigenous people of that land.

Tikkun is Hebrew for mend, repair and transform the world.

Tikkun is also an organization that researched to discover that there are three distinct elements energizing the 'Christian' Zionists-- there is NOTHING Christ like about Zionism!

1. A strong commitment to conservative and ultra-nationalist American politics (so strong, I believe, that if the U.S. were to decide to break with Israel, this part of the Christian Zionist leadership would go along with that and drop its defense of Israeli policies).

2. Dispensationalist religious commitments that lead many of the Christian Zionists to yearn for a cataclysmic “end of history” eschatological war in the Middle East that will precipitate the second coming of Jesus and the Rapture in which all true Christians will go to heaven and all Jews who have not yet converted to Christianity will burn in hell for eternity.

3. A widespread understanding among many Christians that atonement and repentance is needed for 1700 years of murder, rape, and oppression of Jews that was frequently generated by the Church (though, of course, the Evangelicals do not recognize that church as their church). In this category are many Christian Zionists who genuinely feel terrible about what has happened to the Jews and genuinely want to help the Jewish people. Their philo-Semitism is real and sincere. [Rabbi Lerner, Tikkun Magazine page 9, Nov/Dec. 2007]


"From Moses to Jeremiah and Isaiah, the Prophets taught...that the Jewish claim on the land of Israel was totally contingent on the moral and spiritual life of the Jews who lived there, and that the land would, as the Torah tells us, 'vomit you out' if people did not live according to the highest moral vision of Torah. Over and over again, the Torah repeated its most frequently stated mitzvah [command]:

"When you enter your land, do not oppress the stranger; the other, the one who is an outsider of your society, the powerless one and then not only 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself' but also 'you shall love the other.'" [Rabbi Lerner, TIKKUN Magazine, page 35, Sept./Oct. 2007 ]







synical
synical

@Cajamania De-salinisation. This is already a hugely overpopulated and difficultly viable area, similar to Yemen. With US aid anything can be agreed, for an agreement to last more than 20 years let alone 100 would be exceptional.

Channah
Channah

@sosofreezer @TIME 

Have you ever read the Bible?  Much of the Qur'an is taken from the Bible.  And, even Mohammed states in the Qur'an that the Jews belong in Israel.  Remember reading that?  I do.

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@sosofreezer @TIME   And why is the Jewish capital holy to Christians?  Maybe due to the fact that the Christians chose a Jew that lived in the Jewish country, did his bar-mitzvah, etc.  Jerusalem was already the Jewish capital and holy city long before Christianism was born.

  As for Muslims.....   The Arab that invented Islam 1,500 years after Judaism, 650 after Jew Jesus was obsessed with Jews (today less than 0,2% of the world population).  All "prophets" in the Koran are:  Arabs like Mohammed himself?  Aztecs?  Inuits?  Hutus?  No, all Jews, all from the Jewish book, the bible.  And why is Jewish Jerusalem holy to Muslims?  Can one of the world's 1,4 billion explain me?

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@AsifSiddiqi3 @TIME   Why can 57 countries (most of them judenrein) and Jews can't have their one and only little Israel?  

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@delta5297   Is there hope for those Muslim Arab bloody dictatorships, medieval kingdoms and jihadi groups supported by Iran that declared war on the Jewish (the religion of Jesus), democratic (rights for all) and civilized (no civil war, hanging of gays, women stoning, "honour" killing of girls, cannibalism, etc.) in the region (0,000...1% of the ME, 20% of Palestine)?