The Jerusalem Paradox in the Heart of Israel

Jerusalem is not only Israel’s vibrant capital, it’s also the precise hub of the internal contradiction and self-deception of the political formulas pushing Israel firmly toward strategic non-existence.


The Jerusalem syndrome erupted again this week. Apparently a religious Muslim fanatic tried to assassinate a religious Jewish fanatic. Both were religious, fired by similar fanaticism and divided by a controversial mountain. Many are familiar with the Jerusalem syndrome, that mental disorder that strikes Jerusalemites or visitors to the city. Its victims are suddenly possessed by a deep spiritual conviction that they have divine or messianic powers. The result is usually serious damage to themselves and anyone who comes into contact with them.

In recent years I sometimes have the feeling that the Jerusalem syndrome has become a mainstream Israeli party, whose people occupy the most sensitive positions in the country – in the government, the army and the Jerusalem municipality.

Jerusalem is an insane city, in which three eras exist simultaneously – the old era, the middle ages and the new era – in an impossible confusion. Primitives and innovators, inventors and conservatives, quacks and sane people move in it in constant collision, giving the city its special brand of lunacy.

Jerusalem is not only Israel’s vibrant capital. It’s also the precise hub of the internal contradiction and self-deception of the political formulas pushing Israel firmly toward strategic non-existence. Israel’s strategic and political formulas are an embarrassing logical paradox.

Israeli statesmanship has been accompanied for decades by two very catchy formulas “two states for two peoples” and “No to the division of Jerusalem.” On the face of it, all is well and good. It reflects a positive aspiration for peace as well as a great patriotic love for the holy city, our eternal city. So what’s bad? It’s bad that they both represent a complete failure. The ‘two states’ time is running out and the city is torn and ruptured as it has never been before. Why?

Before discussing the city’s future it is necessary to note that a discussion about what Jerusalem really is or where it is even located has never been held. It’s a strange city. We still pray for its construction and still fast to mourn its destruction, although it is densely over-built, stretches from Jericho to Netanya and is much, much bigger than David and Solomon, who erected it, could ever have imagined.

Back to realpolitik. Those committed to the two-state formula and think it through to its implementation, understand that the capital of the second state – Palestine – will also be in Jerusalem. Because the Jews have no monopoly on the city’s symbolism, much to their regret. Hence, the formula of dividing the land between its two peoples goes hand in hand with the formula of dividing Jerusalem into two capitals.

The same logic works in reverse on the other side. The ranting, enthusiastic formula of not dividing Jerusalem totally denies the principle of establishing another capital in its jurisdiction. The immediate significance of this is a clear no to any plan of dividing the land into two states. This is because the same religious and ideological sources that forbid and prevent dividing the urban monster, are the very ones that totally deny – for the same reasons – the partition of the rest of the land.

However, since 1967 official Israel has been trying to flee from a formula and laboring to integrate the paradox of the two formulas at the same time. Israel speaks of two states for two peoples and at the same time swears in the name of undivided Jerusalem. This doesn’t work. On the contrary, the reciprocation between the two formulas is the key to understanding the city’s wretched situation.

These days provide a refined insight into the morbid link between the city’s madness and the political despair. Following Netanyahu – the leader of the Jerusalem syndrome party – proves as much. When the strategic aspect of the peace negotiations scares him and threatens to advance toward some arrangement, the urban pyromaniacs immediately rally to his side. They throw a lot of construction twigs and provocations to the “undivided” bonfire. When the urban flames threaten to burn everything and it’s clear the city won’t be divided, the strategic move dies and Netanyahu calms down.

Jerusalem has always been Netanyahu’s device to destroy any chance of an agreement with the Palestinians. He invests all his efforts in the Jerusalem construction provocations. As the city grows tenser and the despair and violence spread between the Jordan and the sea, the tiny hope for peace that was born here with the war in Gaza dies in its crib. Can there be a better strategy for the reelection of the leader of the Jerusalem syndrome party?