Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Foreign Minister, Chief Rabbi Square Off at Jerusalem Conference

Ezra HaLevi

The fifth annual Jerusalem Conference kicked off with a discussion on the future of Jerusalem. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni presented the government’s position and was harshly criticized.

The conference was opened by Chairman Robert Rechnitz, who reminded those present that a dove needs both its right and left wing to fly, an allusion to the balanced invitation list to representatives of all sides of the political spectrum - first and foremost Foreign Minister Livni.

The Los Angeles native switched over to perfect Hebrew, speaking of the importance of Jerusalem and the goal of coming together to move the dreams of Israel forward and turn it into a reality.

Chief Rabbi Scolds Foreign Minister for Negotiating J’lem
Even before Livni took the podium, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yonah Metzger, who usually refrains from any sort of political pronunciations, addressed the Foreign Minister directly, asking her to use her role as chief negotiator “with our enemies” to prevent Jerusalem’s division. Recent reports from diplomatic meetings and Arab negotiators have Livni engaging in wrangling over the relinquishing of parts of the capital."Madam Foreign Minister, you come from a family of lovers of Israel that grew up on the importance of the integrity of the land,” Rabbi Metzger said. “Jerusalem is above and beyond this conflict. Our right to Jerusalem is a proven, historic right. When the Muslims pray in the mosques on the Temple Mount, they pray with their backs to the site of the Temple; they pray toward Mecca with their backs to Jerusalem. Talking about Jerusalem harms us. If we unite for the sake of our capital, that its division cannot be discussed, we shall win it.”

“Paratroopers’ Western Wall Tears Guide the Negotiations”
FM Livni took the podium and declared, in her only reference to Jerusalem, that “the tears of the paratroopers at the Western Wall and the prayers uttered on the Temple Mount are what guide me in the negotiations.”

Livni said she rejects distinctions between the political right and left, and sought to prove that there is a united center that seeks to create a Palestinian state for the sake of Israel’s future. “We all want peace and those who want negotiations also love the Land of Israel,” she said. “We have shared goals as well: a Jewish, democratic state that will be safe for its people.”

The Foreign Minister said that maintaining such a state requires the establishment of Palestine and thereby defended negotiating even while under attack, as well as negotiating despite the knowledge that the Arab side cannot implement its commitments. "Stopping the negotiations won’t stop the terror attacks,” she said. “Terror must be answered with force, but simultaneously we must forge a process with the moderate forces. While it is true that they are still unable to implement agreements, I believe that now is the time, before it will become too late. Time is not on our side.

Livni also said she still believes the Disengagement was a good idea. "I voted in favor of the process that evicted 7,000 Jews from their homes,” she told the audience. “And I still believe this should have been done.”

"Foreign Minister Claims to Represent Center, But Mimics Beilin"
Likud Faction Chairman Gideon Sa'ar, who chaired the session on Jerusalem, commented following Livni's speech that although the Foreign Minister sought to present herself as representing some post-political center, "there is not a word that came out of her mouth that [ultra-left Meretz chairman] Yossi Beilin would not himself say."

Diaspora Jewry Has the Right to be Heard on Jerusalem
Jefferey Ballabon, the Director of the Coordinating Council for Jerusalem, spoke about the role of Diaspora Jewry in deciding Jerusalem’s future. Ballabon, whose organization represents dozens of secular and religious Zionist and non-Zionism groups united to keep Jerusalem intact, defended the right of world Jewry to have a say with regard to the future of the holy city.

“The Coordinating Council for Jerusalem was established day after [Vice Premier] Chaim Ramon announced his plan to relinquish parts of Jerusalem,” he explained. “The issue of Jerusalem is something that is being used to divide us, when the power of the city to unify the Jewish people has always been our greatest strength.”

Ballabon described the barrage of attacks, from both left and right, on the Coordinating Council, for taking such a strong stand. “ ‘Your kids don’t go to the army’, ‘You don’t pay taxes,’ ‘What right do you have?’ – These sentiments mark the success of our enemies,” he said.

He went on to warn that Israel’s policies are doing daily damage to its standing in the region: “Israel is seen as being weak - as the destabilizing force in the reason instead of the stabilizing force it is supposed to be. [US President George W. Bush] has tried, on more than one occasion, to find someone in the Israeli government to offer him a different narrative that that of Condoleezza Rice and the State Department, but the State of Israel has declined. It has refused to present an alternative to the establishment of a state of Palestine.”

Ballabon said it was a mistake to think that American Jews don’t already wield a “significant amount of power to affect what is going on” and warned that future US presidents will be less friendly to the Jewish state. “Hillary Clinton, in May of 1998, was the first US politician to call for the establishment of a state of Palestine,” he recalled.

“I Didn’t Hear the Foreign Minister Deny it”
Jerusalem councilman and mayoral candidate Nir Barkat told the conference that he heard nothing encouraging in Livni’s words. He said she said nothing to negate the claims of chief PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei (Abu Allah) that negotiations are underway, or the reports of a secret agreement between Chaim Ramon and Arafat-aide Muhammad Rashid.

Barkat, a Kadima Party member who has spearheaded a campaign against dividing Jerusalem that doubles as an early start for his mayoral election campaign, also lamented the emigration of Jews from the capital.

Dore Gold: Serious Flaws in Livni’s Assumptions

“I think the Foreign Minister came here with the best of intentions - to reach forward to both sides of the political spectrum,” said former UN Ambassador Dore Gold, now with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “But the idea that we will negotiate presently about an agreement to be implemented in the future has serious implications. If you speak in a public forum and you say ‘Time is running out for Israel,’ what does that do to your Palestinian negotiating partner?”

Gold said he is able to speak first-hand from his involvement in such negotiations in the 90s: “I was involved in negotiations with Abu Mazen, Yasser Arafat, Saeb Erakat – the whole crew. The lesson I learned is this: you have to assume the other side will violate the agreement.

“You can’t get out of the Jordan Valley and just hope the Palestinian state will be demilitarized," Gold said. "Because the day after, you will have the Philidelphi Corridor [the Gaza-Egypt border, through which weapons smuggling has been rampant –ed.] multiplied by 40 - all along the Jordanian border. You have to take into account that if you create a ‘shelf agreement’ – to be formulated today and taken down in 2012, when the situation is right - what is going to stop the international community from making us take it down in 2009?”

Gold pointed out that the current negotiations already violated the Road Map, which was accepted under the same false hopes. “There was a thing called the Road Map that required implementation of the initial commitments before any sort of negotiations would begin,” he said. “But negotiations are now taking place. So the shelf agreement will lead to the same, but with us in a much worse position.”

The former UN Ambassador said that one of the most relevant events in recent history with regard to the future of Jerusalem was the 1998 attempt by the newly-empowered Taliban in Afghanistan to destroy ancient Buddhist statues, which had existed there though many Islamic regimes in the past. “We are now seeing an escalation of religious intolerance across the Middle East,” he said. “And only if we retain sovereignty can we protect the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and, yes, the Al-Aksa Mosque. If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. This is a message for the Jewish future and a message to all faiths who treasure this city.”

The City of David Rising From the Stones
Archaeologist Prof. Eilat Mazar displayed a presentation outlining new discoveries in the City of David, just below and to the east of Jerusalem’s Old City. Of particular interest are the remnants of King David’s palace and coins with the names of lesser-known Jewish personalities mentioned in the Bible.

“They are not Occupied, But Liberated”
Law Professor Eliav Shochetman said he objects to the focus on Jerusalem. “There are plans to withdraw from other parts of the Land of Israel that being ignored,” he warned.

Prof. Shochetman went on to lament the reference to Judea and Samaria as occupied, even in Israel’s Supreme Court. “These are not occupied territories,” he boomed. “They are liberated territories!”

The law professor accused Foreign Minister Livni of breaking Israel’s law regarding the unity of Jerusalem. “Jerusalem was annexed by the Israeli Knesset, and negotiating it is against the law,” he said. “What, does the Foreign Minister not have to abide by the law?”

No comments: