Even while fast-talking politicians transform Jerusalem into the city that never stops (building), the line "a unified Jerusalem, Israel's heart for all eternity," remains a surefire winner at any Jewish convention. It's a safe bet that every time Benjamin Netanyahu utters the magic word "Jerusalem" Monday night at the annual AIPAC conference, the applause will make the place tremble.
The Ramat Shlomo construction affair raised the bar for Jerusalem-related cliches to new records. On Sunday the prime minister, on the eve of his flight to speak to the pro-Israel lobby, said that "building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv." Last week, President Shimon Peres opined that "only Israel" can preserve freedom of worship at Jerusalem's holy sites.
It's clear that these leaders have no clue what's happening in Israel's largest city. Forty-three years after Levi Eshkol's government annexed East Jerusalem at the expense of its Palestinian residents, "an undivided Jerusalem" is little more than an empty slogan. For 17 years, since the days of the Peres-Yitzhak Rabin administration, holy places in the Old City have been closed to Muslim and Christian believers from the occupied territories. The only East Jerusalem residents allowed to enter the Temple Mount compound are women and the elderly.
The Netanyahu administration is hardly unique in all things related to Jerusalem. Every Israeli government built on the hills in the eastern part of the city and dug beneath the Holy Basin's historical sites. All discriminated against East Jerusalemites. And all displayed the same tactlessness, again and again, to the sensitivities of the various religions. It's true that building in Jerusalem is no different from building in Tel Aviv - on condition that the issue is construction for Jews. Has the state put up even one neighborhood for Arabs in West Jerusalem? Does anyone know of an Arab contractor given permission to build a single apartment in a Jewish neighborhood in the eastern part of the city?
On March 21, 1999, the first Netanyahu government announced that it would "strengthen Jerusalem as an undivided city through equality in services and infrastructure between the western and eastern parts of the city." Eleven years on, East Jerusalem lacks more than 1,000 classrooms. It's much cheaper to apply Israeli law to Arab lands than to apply the Compulsory Education Law to Arab children. It's easier to get the Knesset to pass the Basic Law on Jerusalem than to dedicate funds for paving sidewalks in the Arab villages Israel has converted into "Jerusalem neighborhoods". It's far simpler to utter sage words about an undivided city than to tear down walls of discrimination and isolation.
But none of this is of concern to these Jewish-American activists, most of them liberals who rejoiced in the election of a black president. Like most Israelis, most have never come close to the Shoafat refugee camp, in "undivided Jerusalem." Fifteen years ago, to mark Jerusalem's 3,000th anniversary (and the annual AIPAC conference), U.S. lobbyists pushed a bill recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital. Bill Clinton, and later George W. Bush and Barack Obama, used their clout to suspend the bill, citing national-security considerations.
The current U.S. government also understands the wide-ranging political and security implications of changing Jerusalem's status quo. According to Washington and the entire international community, Jewish building beyond the Green Line remains a violation of international law. Israel continues to be the only country in the world in which no other country recognizes its capital.
In January 1937, a few months before the Peel Commission presented its recommendations to the British government, David Ben-Gurion said that "Jerusalem and Bethlehem must be taken out of the equation - they must be international zones under the authority of the British, with local Jewish-Arab administration." Though he later changed his opinion, Ben-Gurion was prescient: For 19 years Jordan's Hashemite monarchy treated Jewish holy sites callously. For the last 43 years, however, Jewish politicians have taken Jerusalem's name in vain, paying the eastern part of the city mere lip service.
East Jerusalem is greater than the two peoples living in it. This unique city demands unique government - generous, restrained and fair.
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