Nathan Diament from the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America writes on uniting Jerusalem in the Atlantic. Some of the arguments that he uses (which are by no means his original material) really tend to bother me; the more religiously motivated Jews have a way of making extremely disingenuous attempts to sound like they are reasoning objectively, when they are quite transparently creating these arguments after-the-fact as a way to justify their ideological beliefs.
The reality, however, is that Jerusalem today is a demographically intertwined city. To be sure, there are neighborhoods, particularly east of the security barrier, where Jews seldom venture. But modern-day Jerusalem is far more an interwoven checkerboard of Jewish and Palestinian enclaves. The Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, for example, lies between the Jewish neighborhoods of Talpiot and Gilo, while the Arab neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah lies between the Old City and the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill. Separating these neighborhoods between two countries would create an unwieldy and unsustainable border.
What he is saying has some truth to it, but only if you are trying to draw a line that cuts every Jewish neighbourhood from every Arab neighbourhood. If there is some wiggle room so that maybe some Arab neighbourhoods are absorbed into Israel and others are handed-over, then there is no longer such an issue with dividing the city. After all, Diament is pretty adamant that keeping the Arabs in Jerusalem is a good thing (look at this map to see what I mean, although it has been carefully designed to make the Israelis look bad so don’t read too much into it). Also, it’s not a coincidence that some of the Jewish neighbourhoods cut Arab neighbourhoods off from one another – in many cases, that was why they were placed there.
The other argument that really irks me is the one below (emphasis mine):
One significant reason against dividing Jerusalem is that many of the Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem wish to remain under Israeli sovereignty. Recent polling indicates that, despite the fact that municipal resources and services have not been evenly allocated between Jewish and Arab Jerusalem segments of the city, a plurality of Palestinians residing in eastern sections of Jerusalem would move from Palestinian Jerusalem to Israeli Jerusalem, if given the opportunity, should the city be re-divided.
The hypocrisy in this this argument is unbearable. Diament is not for a second criticising the poor treatment of Arabs in Jerusalem or demanding that they are allocated resources evenly, and yet he is trumpeting the fact that even though we treat them badly, we’re not quite as bad as the alternatives. Now that’s a hasbarah line that can sell!
Israel: sure we treat our Arabs badly, but we’re still slightly better than an Arab dictatorship.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you truly believe in uniting Jerusalem, then start working to unite it. That means reaching out to the Arabs and including them in Israeli society; it means advocating for equal treatment and equal allocation of municipal resources; it means finding money to make up for the years of neglect and bring their infrastructure up to the same standards as the Jewish residents; it even means allowing Arabs to buy land in Jewish areas.
If you aren’t comfortable doing that but you are still adamant that we cannot cede one inch of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, then the reality is you are not arguing for a united Jerusalem, just a Jewish-controlled but segregated one. That is something that I am a little uncomfortable with. Of course, this is in fact what Diament wants. He reveals his true argument near the end of the piece.
Proposals for joint sovereignty, deferred sovereignty, or even divine sovereignty ignore the deep-rooted significance of the holy city. The search for a “split the difference” compromise also ignores the fact that the Old City of Jerusalem has been the national capital of the Jewish people for the past 3000 years and is Judaism’s holiest site, while it is Mecca that plays that role for Muslims. The international community would never expect the Islamic world to cede sovereignty over Mecca; the Jewish people ought to be accorded no less respect with regard to the Old City of Jerusalem.
See, what he does right there is say that our claim over Jerusalem is stronger than their claim because it’s our number one whereas they have their number one already. That’s not quite how religion works. I don’t see many Jews saying “well, I guess the Mearat Ha Machpelah is less important than the Kotel, so we can give them that one and keep the more important one”. You can’t barter over who the site is more holy to, it’s holy for both and that’s pretty much as far as you’ll get.
Plus the Mecca comparison doesn’t hold up. Fortunately for the Muslims, Mecca is not claimed by two other religions. That said, I can definitely see a future where Shiite Muslims start demanding that Sunni Muslims cede control over Mecca and it’s administered by a joint Muslim authority rather than just Saudi Wahabbis.
The point is, Diament does not really want to keep the Arabs in Jerusalem and he doesn’t really want a united city. He doesn’t particularly care whether or not Muslims have access to their holy sites, which are not quite as holy to them as they are to him anyway, or so he says. No, he believes that Jerusalem was given to us by God and that means it should be a Jewish -controlled city. Arabs can live there if they want, but they can’t expect us to make it easy for them, they should just be grateful that they aren’t living in Syria or something like that.
Ironically, there is one point that he was completely right about, only he doesn’t seem to be doing much to change this:
One reason peace in the Middle East has not yet been possible is because most efforts to achieve it have been aspirational but untethered from reality