Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Struggle for Jerusalem, by CMEP's Warren Clark

The Struggle for Jerusalem, Churches for Middle East Peace newsletter
By Warren Clark, Executive Director

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March 2010
A New Ballgame
Efforts by the Obama administration to get Israel and the Palestinians started down the path to a negotiated agreement took a sudden and unforeseen shift in March. Earlier this year Senator Mitchell orchestrated a deliberate process to bring the two sides together in "proximity" talks in which Mitchell would shuttle between the two sides. President Obama was kept at a safe political distance. All this was suddenly disrupted March 9 during a visit to Israel by the Vice President by the announcement that 1,600 new Israeli housing units were to be built in East Jerusalem.

This action seemed to undercut the whole idea of holding negotiations to decide about issues that include borders and the status of Jerusalem. The Secretary of State questioned whether the Netanyahu government was sincere about seeking an agreement.

When the President met in Washington with Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu he apparently asked directly for the suspension of further new housing construction in East Jerusalem as a way of getting talks started.

The direct involvement of the President in negotiations is a game changing event. Israel asserts it has a right to build housing in East Jerusalem, but that right was asserted unilaterally with the reluctant political acquiescence of the United States. Any tacit U.S. support for new construction evaporated in Washington on March 23 when Prime Minster Netanyahu and President Obama failed to agree on a way around U.S. opposition. It will be very hard now for the Prime Minister to bridge the differences between those in his coalition who insist on continuing expansion into Palestinian territories and the U.S. demand that new construction be suspended.

Without Jerusalem there might not be a Palestinian conflict. It is not only the center of local political power but of course is part of the DNA of the three great Abrahamic faiths. The Old City and its holy places are deeply associated with Christian, Jewish and Muslim identity. Any real or perceived challenge to them can lead to violence. Right wing Christian groups sometimes threaten to replace Muslim holy places. Many believe Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount with armed escorts in September 2000 contributed to the beginning of the disastrous second intifada.

Prime Minister Netanyahu asserts that Jerusalem is the “undivided and eternal capital of Israel.” Palestinians, with backing from Arabs and Muslims worldwide, insist that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a Palestinian state.

These two positions are not necessarily incompatible. There are in fact several Jerusalems. There is the 10thCentury BCE “City of David” in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, and the 12th century crusader Jerusalem with walls that enclose the one kilometer square “Old City” with its holy sites. The modern municipal borders in 1967 were expanded by Israel to include not only the 2.7 square miles of Arab East Jerusalem but 24 square miles of land to the northeast that included 26 Palestinian villages and neighborhoods.

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Churches for Middle East Peace
Phone: 202-543-1222

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