The following op ed was written by Nathan J. Diament, OU Director of Public Policy for the NY Daily News:
Jerusalem, the historic capital of Israel, should not be an impediment to Mideast peace. But thanks to the current intransigence of Palestinian leaders, that is precisely what it has become.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in November 2009 to coax Palestinian leaders back to the negotiating table, Israel stated clearly that construction in Jerusalem would continue. Despite this important caveat, Special Envoy George Mitchell lauded the move as “substantial” and Secretary of State Clinton called it “unprecedented.”
Even now, as the Obama administration described the recently announced building projects in the Har Homa and Ramot neighborhoods as “counterproductive” through Clinton, it acknowledges that more construction in Jerusalem is inevitable. It has done so by exempting Jerusalem from a proposed 90-day extension of Israel’s prior settlement freeze.
Yet the Palestinians demand a total freeze in Jerusalem as a precondition for talks. This is a new demand. Construction in Jerusalem has never been an impediment to peace or peace negotiations. Historic agreements were reached with both Egypt and Jordan despite ongoing construction in the city. While cement trucks rolled through Jerusalem, indirect talks were held with Syria in 2008. More than 15 years of construction in Jerusalem went on while Israel held meaningful peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
The simple reason is that previous Arab negotiators understood reality. Jerusalem is not a settlement and will forever remain the undivided capital of Israel – every prime minister dating back to 1967, including Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, has held to this policy. This also happens to be the policy and goal of the United States, as described by multiple measures and resolutions passed by Congress.
Jerusalem enjoys this status for historic and religious reasons, but also because dividing a city never works. No city in all of recorded history has been cleaved into two halves without damaging the whole. This is the assessment of experts in the fields of public planning and urban design. Their scholarship indicates that a divided city faces daunting challenges from a social, civic and economic perspective.
Without fail, divided cities suffer either intense economic stagnation or general atrophy. It is frankly unimaginable that this prime minister, or any responsible prime minister for that matter, would allow the city to falter in such a way on his watch.
And a divided capital would not only be worse for Jews, it would be worse for the Palestinians. Today, the Palestinians living within Jerusalem’s municipal area enjoy the benefits of free movement and access to Israeli work and services. Such rights would likely disappear under Palestinian rule. Indeed, in a July 2010 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, only 52% of Palestinians living in Jerusalem support Palestinian sovereignty over eastern portions of the city.
While we support a two-state solution that guarantees Israel’s security and Jewish character, the choices required to bring us to that point must be grounded in reality. To keep Jerusalem growing socially and economically in the 21st century and beyond, the city must be unified under a single flag that recognizes and guarantees the rights of all its citizens.
It is time for the U.S. government to make that point clear – rather than continuing to equate building in Jerusalem with building elsewhere in disputed land.
For the Palestinians, relenting on Jerusalem will be a painful compromise, but no more painful than the litany of compromises the Israelis are already willing to make. At some point during any successful peace negotiations, the Palestinian leadership will have to choose between an opportunity to build a Palestinian state, or pursuing a weak and unrealistic claim to Israel’s capital.