Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Future Of Jerusalem:First Know The Facts

Elan Ezrachi
Special To The Jewish Week
Over the past 40 years, a new reality has emerged in Jerusalem. Most people cannot recall what existed prior to 1967. The “new” Jerusalem is a mixture of irreversible developments as well as problems that are extremely difficult to resolve. Further, the 730,000 residents of Jerusalem, Jews and Palestinians alike, have created their own existential mechanisms and invented a reality that enables them to manage their lives in a vibrant multicultural city. And now we learn that Israel and the Palestinians are closer than ever to discussing the future status of the “eternal” city.The question of Jerusalem cannot be reduced to the “slogan of the week” competition. If Jews around the world, as well as Israelis and Palestinians, wish to have a constructive rol in this conversation they must find ways to learn the facts on the ground. The future of Jerusalem will not be shaped by sentimental or theological assertion.

At the end of the day, Jerusalem is a living urban organism that has a history and a reality. The “real” Jerusalem has to be taken into account in determining the future. For the many Jews in the diaspora who are preparing to make a pilgrimage to Israel, and for the Jews who will follow the debate only from afar, the time has come to bring reality into the discourse.
The public arena in Israel is heating up while it is addressing the future of Jerusalem. The tensions are getting higher as the core issues of the conflict are brought to the negotiating table, among them the future of Jerusalem. One major question in the debate is whether the fate of Jerusalem can even be considered. Some argue that Jerusalem’s future cannot be determined through the ordinary democratic process of general elections.

Rather, some believe the fate of Jerusalem has to be brought to a national referendum. Others demand that a special majority in the Knesset will be required to make such a decision. Similarly, an old debate is being reopened regarding the role of diaspora Jews as participants in deciding the future of the city. And all this is happening without any viable proposal on the table. Israel and the Palestinians have not shown any signs yet that a practical solution for the future of Jerusalem is being considered.

Still, the emotional and political barometer is on the rise. Special campaigns are under way, political threats are voiced and slogans are fired from all directions. In addition, pollsters and researchers are trying to predict what the public reactions will be when different scenarios are considered.

A poll commissioned by the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based think-tank, revealed that only 16 percent of Israelis believe Diaspora Jews should be involved in the decision. The people trust the prime minister even less, with only 5 percent believing that the prime minister should determine Jerusalem’s fate. Among those who feel that such decisions should belong to Israelis, 34 percent say they mean “all” Israeli citizens and 32 percent say they mean only Jewish citizens.
Let’s assume that diaspora Jews could have a voice in determining the future of Jerusalem. To what extent are leaders and representatives of the Jewish diaspora prepared to make informed recommendations?

The likelihood is that for the vast majority of world Jewry, the question of Jerusalem is remote and obscure. How many Jews can tell the difference between Jerusalem prior to 1967 and afterwards? Who knows how and why Israel created the current municipal boundaries of what is called today “unified Jerusalem?” What are the Jewish neighborhoods that were built in East Jerusalem after 1967? What is the status of Palestinians living in the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem? Just like most Israelis, perhaps even more so, it is safe to say that diaspora Jews are unfamiliar with the basics of these issues.

Assuming that we have a short amount of time until the two sides will come up with a proposed solution, it behooves all sides to look carefully at the real dimensions. Jerusalem deserves a solution that will ensure a livable and vibrant metropolis that will enable the perpetuation of the legacy of this eternal city. Lovers of Jerusalem should rally behind a viable and constructive option for the generations to come.

Elan Ezrachi is the director of the International School for Jerusalem Studies, at Yad Ben-Zvi.

No comments: