Owning Jerusalem: Identity and Borders in the Holy City

Haim Watzman

I recall a gathering of journalists once many years ago at which a well-meaning but clueless intern told me that she worked in “Jerusalem, Israel” and then quickly corrected herself: “I meant just Jerusalem. I believe it should be an international city.”

In response to my Jerusalem Day post earlier this week, DanH asks a related question:

It has always seemed to me that, given the claims of both sides, the only long-term solution for Jerusalem is joint or autonomous administration, not just of the holy places, but of the whole city.

To idealists, and to some overwhelmed by the intractability of the Jerusalem problem, internationalization and joint Israeli-Palestinian rule over the Holy City sound like wonderful solutions. But, quite aside from the practical problems (recall Danzig, recall Trieste), they are wrong in principle.

Read moreOwning Jerusalem: Identity and Borders in the Holy City

Golan On The Table, Gaza In The Sights

In the past, when the press has reported that Israel’s leaders were talking to Syria about returning the Golan Heights for peace, I was skeptical. First Yitzhak Rabin, then Binyamin Netanyahu, then Ehud Barak signalled to Syria that they were willing to contemplate a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace agreement. Yet, when I compared the price to be paid with the possible benefits, it wasn’t clear to me that the deal was a good one. What were we losing by holding on to the Golan, and what would we gain by giving it up?

In contrast, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was clearly debilitating our country, and we obviously stood to gain much by leaving them and allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Today, Ehud Olmert’s government is talking, indirectly, with Syria about returning the Golan Heights in the framework of a peace agreement, and with Hamas about a cease fire in the Gaza Strip. Now the benefits of an agreement with Syria seem obvious to me, while I’m skeptical about a possible agreement with Hamas.

Read moreGolan On The Table, Gaza In The Sights

The Bush Doctrine: No Peace. (And What’s the McCain Doctrine?)

As Laura Rozen points out , George W. Bush wasn’t just attacking Barack Obama in his Knesset speech dismissing negotiations with “terrorists and radicals” as appeasement. He was also attacking his host, Ehud Olmert, whose government was already engaged in indirect peace contacts with Syria via Turkey – the negotiations made public yesterday.

The contacts through Turkey reportedly began in February 2007. If so, the Olmert government may have been persuaded to act (or embarrassed into acting) by the reports published the previous month about Foreign Minister director-general Alon Liel’s back-channel negotations with Syria. The “non-paper ” – or unsigned framework agreement reached by Liel and unofficial Syrian negotiator Ibrahim (Abe) Suleiman is important reading, because it gives a sense of how an Israel-Syria deal is likely to look. One creative feature: in order to keep the Golan demilitarized and to prevent competition over Jordan River water, the Golan would be turned into a giant park after Israeli withdrawal – with free access for Israelis.

Liel has stressed – in a press briefing in January 2007, and since – that a critical part of any deal is a switch in Syrian orientation from pro-Iran to pro-West. That would necessarily mean dropping support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Syria’s secular regime wants the reorientation in order to maintain its independence, Alon reports. For Israel, such a deal would mean much more than removing the direct military threat from Syria. With Hamas and Hezbollah weakened, Iran’s power in our area would be sigificantly reduced.

But the deal requires a third party: Washington.

Read moreThe Bush Doctrine: No Peace. (And What’s the McCain Doctrine?)

Geneva Jive: Menachem Klein’s “A Possible Peace Between Israel & Palestine”

What if you make a peace agreement and nobody comes? That’s the fundamental story behind “A Possible Peace Between Israel & Palestine: An Insider’s Account of the Geneva Initiative.” It’s a fascinating look into the conflict and the “peace industry.” Contrary to the intention of its author, political scientist Menachem Klein, it raises more doubts than hopes about the future of the peace process.

(Caveat lector: I translated this book, and two previous books by Klein into English. He’s a neighbor and friend and fellow-member of Kehilat Yedidya.)

Read moreGeneva Jive: Menachem Klein’s “A Possible Peace Between Israel & Palestine”

Purely Wrong: Judah Leib Magnes and the Jewish State

According to a legend, the sage Rabbi Shimon bar-Yohai and his son spent twelve years hiding in a cave and delving into the esoteric truths of the Torah. When they emerged, Rabbi Shimon was so immersed in divine truth that he raged when he saw Jews plowing their fields. His anger was so fierce that his mere glance burned up every working man he saw. God ordered him back to the cave.

The publication of the diary of Judah Leib Magnes, the leading Jewish pacifist and peace activist in Palestine in the years leading up to Israel’s War of Independence, offers an opportunity to consider another man whose attempt to adhere to absolute truth and purity led him to misunderstand entirely the world around him.

Read morePurely Wrong: Judah Leib Magnes and the Jewish State

How the Bush Administration Pursues Peace

Ha’aretz reports today on the latest leaks about the potential for Syrian-Israeli talks, and then hoses down the sparks of hopes with these paragraphs:

Following contacts between Israel and Syria, officials say significant U.S. involvement will probably be necessary for negotiations to move ahead, and that Syria is still demanding such involvement.

Both Israeli and foreign experts on Syria told Haaretz on Wednesday that a change in the American position was not on the horizon…

Read moreHow the Bush Administration Pursues Peace

Liberal Israel Lobby: Here, today!

J Street, the new lobby devoted to supporting Israel by supporting peace, goes public today. Here’s part of my column at The American Prospect:

Today’s public launch follows many months of organizing led by the new group’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, a media consultant and former Clinton administration staffer… Unlike existing Jewish peace groups, J Street is registered for tax purposes as a 501(c)(4) organization, meaning that it can operate fully as a lobby. A sister organization, J Street PAC, will endorse and raise money for candidates.

To win J Street PAC’s backing, Ben-Ami told me, a candidate’s position should be that “the single most important step to support Israeli security and U.S. interests is to reach a negotiated peace agreement,

Read moreLiberal Israel Lobby: Here, today!

Olmert, Barghouti, and Zeno’s Paradox

The following statement was not shouted by a long-time Peace Now activist into a megaphone outside the prime minister’s house:

You have to understand that a very large population of Palestinians lives here…

Take a 50-year-old man who lives here. A man who has spent most of his life – 40 years, since he was a 10-year-old child – under the watch of the Israeli soldier. The same soldier who carries a rifle, for all the most justified reasons in the world. But this is that man’s narrative. Take those who were stripped at the checkpoints only because there might be terrorists among them. Take those who stand for hours at the checkpoints for fear that a booby-trapped car could pass through…

No, those words were Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s, speaking to brigade commanders in the West Bank,

Read moreOlmert, Barghouti, and Zeno’s Paradox

30 Years after “Now”

I can remember precisely what the weather was on Israeli Independence Day in 1983: Horrid. On the mountain near Nablus where Peace Now was demonstrating against the establishment of a new settlement, the rain was coming down in big cold drops that soaked through my ‘rain-proof’ shell and down jacket and sweater and shirt and skin. By Independence Day, the rainy season is supposed to be over. The sun is supposed to shine on picnics.

Thousands of settlers and their supporters were expected to come to the mountain to picnic that day and hear Housing Minister David Levy speak at the formal dedication of the settlement of Brakhah, which would be one more statement that Israel would rule “Judea and Samaria” forever. Only a few hundred showed up. The Peace Now demonstrators came by the busload and surrounded the ceremony, with very soggy soldiers separating the rings of people. The peace activists had not planned on a day of fun, and they by the thousands came despite the weather. So David Levy gave his speech inside a prefab structure – that’s what it looked like over the heads of the soldiers – and peaceniks rode home cold and soaked, but happy that they’d dominated the field that day.

Except that 25 years later, according to Peace Now’s excellent settlement monitoring effort, Brakhah has about 1,200 residents. The demonstrators were there for an afternoon,

Read more30 Years after “Now”

Are You Listening, Joe Lieberman?

Kudos to Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, who has publicly spoken out against Jewish political cooperation with Christian Zionists, their most prominent organization – Christians United for Israel – and its leader, John Hagee:

The heart of Pastor Hagee’s message is to be found in these words: “Stop giving the land away. The land belongs to you. Keep it.”

…mainstream Christian Zionists are, by their own admission, not “”advocates” of Israel but “Biblical advocates” of Israel, and this means that they oppose any territorial concessions by the Government of Israel for any reason whatsoever. It follows that their vision of Israel rejects a two-state solution, rejects the possibility of a democratic Israel,

Read moreAre You Listening, Joe Lieberman?

Up Against the Wall: Back at Gershom

Gershom, you’re right about a number of things in your“Politics of Measurement” post. Science is never free of social, economic, and cultural constraints, even if the scientific method offers, by and large, a good way to minimize those influences and approach the truth. And proving cause-and-effect relationships in politics and relations between nations is a hazardous undertaking. The influences are complex and interlocking, you don’t have a control group, and experiments can’t be repeated.

In the specific case at hand, the separation barrier, you are also correct that it is very difficult to isolate the anti-terror effect of the fence from other factors. As you note, political changes took place in parallel to the construction of the fence. And Israel also conducted an anti-terror offensive, using a variety of military measures.

Read moreUp Against the Wall: Back at Gershom