Not Under God's Sovereignty

The matter of Jerusalem is without a doubt the hardest nut to crack in reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

The matter of Jerusalem is without a doubt the hardest nut to crack in reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The ideas resurfacing before the regional summit in November include the proposal to remove the "sacred basin" in Jerusalem from any sovereign authority, Israeli or Palestinian, and to leave supervision with representatives of the three monotheistic religions. Sovereignty, so it has been said, will be "in God's hands."

We may understand the distress of those seeking a solution for Jerusalem; however, this suggestion is far from providing an answer to the problem. The main reason for doubting the proposal's efficacy is the fact that the international system - at least since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 - has been built on the principle of territorial sovereignty. This principle not only deposits supreme authority over a territory in the hands of a single entity - the ruling state - but also gives it responsibility to enforce this authority, with all the consequences this entails.

It is not by chance that no territorial or international conflict has ever been solved by giving sovereignty to supra-national entities or by not clarifying the matter. Everywhere such an experiment has been tried, it has failed. No populated region lacks a sovereign authority, as the question of sovereignty answers who is legitimately entitled to employ force.

First of all, we must understand that "God's sovereignty" cannot be implemented: The lord of the universe may be the sovereign of all creation, but thus far he has not been able to establish any effective military or police force capable of enforcing his authority on earth.

Secondly, none of the three monotheistic religions has a single legitimate body that is authorized to speak in the name of all of its adherents. There is no authorized worldwide Christian representative: The Vatican represents only Catholics. It cannot be assumed that the various Orthodox churches or Protestant churches would agree to let the Vatican represent Christianity, or that they would all be able to unite. Anyone who wants to see how "the Christians" manage anything jointly should come see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Only police (currently Israelis, formerly Jordanians, British and Ottomans) have prevented generations of Catholics, Orthodox, Copts and Ethiopians from coming to blows. The same applies to Islam: At a time when Shi'ites and Sunnis are murdering one another in Iraq, and Sunnis are blowing up the Shi'ites' most sacred mosques in Karbala and Samarra, and vice versa, it is hard to imagine a single pan-Islamic body that could take responsibility upon itself. It goes without saying that with respect to Judaism, too, there is no international entity accepted by all the factions. It is clear that the Chief Rabbinate, which is an Israeli entity, could not represent all Jews. Moreover: Radical religious groups - both Muslim and Jewish - are the main obstacle to peace. Putting religion's most sensitive place on earth in their hands only invites disaster.

Any solution to the Jerusalem problem must offer an unambiguous answer to dozens of practical questions, such as who will prevent Jewish extremists from bursting onto the Temple Mount or who will disperse Muslims who try to stone Jews praying at the Western Wall. A creative solution is needed for the holy places in Jerusalem, but this will necessitate placing the control in the hands of someone capable of maintaining the agreements. There are all kinds of possibilities for joint Israeli-Palestinian control (perhaps with Jordanian or Saudi elements). However, putting the matter into the hands of religious entities is not a part of the solution, but rather would only exacerbate the problem.