Oh Jerusalem! A blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

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Oh, Jerusalem

A Blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel, June 9, 2015

Jerusalem, “the eternal capital of Israel,” is not considered to be in Israel according to a recent decision of the United States Supreme Court. Jerusalem’s status, as per President Obama and the Supreme Court, is undetermined, and will ultimately depend on an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Americans born in Jerusalem may put on their passports that they were born in Jerusalem or in Israel, but not that they were born in Jerusalem, Israel.

The Supreme Court’s decision has deeply upset Israel and has elated the Palestinians. Putting a question mark on the legal status of Jerusalem is another step in undermining the legitimacy of Israel’s sovereignty over its own capital city.

To me, as to all those who genuinely love and appreciate the Jewish State, Jerusalem IS the capital, regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court has decided. The day will surely come (we pray!) when all the world will recognize Israel’s legitimate sovereignty over Jerusalem.

This is a time for sober reflection, not for emotional outbursts. This is a time to think carefully about the seemingly interminable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and to develop a realistic strategy for peace. Yes, we all know that the Palestinian side is full of haters, that Hamas is bent on the destruction of Israel, that Palestinian text books and media vilify and dehumanize Israel and the Jewish people. We know that Palestinian terrorism is a constant and real threat to Israel’s security. We know that the anti-Israel BDS movement is hateful, deeply anti-Semitic, and dangerous in so many ways. We know that when missiles are fired into Israel, the world remains silent, but when Israel shoots back it is accused of “war crimes.” We know that there is much hypocrisy in the world, and that Israel is subjected to immoral criticism and condemnation in the United Nations and other international contexts.

One possible Israeli response could be: we are isolated and we can’t trust anyone other than ourselves. No matter what peace gestures or concessions we make, “they” will always hate us as long as we exist as a Jewish State. So let’s toughen up, do what we think best without regard for “world opinion,” and defy those who oppose us.

Another possible Israeli response could be: let’s give them everything they are demanding; let’s dismantle all Israeli towns that are on the “wrong side” of the green line; let’s give them East Jerusalem as their capital. If we give them everything they want, they will leave us alone, the world will leave us alone, the BDS movement will dissolve for lack of justification.

There are vocal proponents in Israel who support both of these views. Both have some merit and both have serious flaws. Are there other possible approaches that might have more positive and less negative consequences?

Let us start by positing that truth ultimately prevails. I know that this doesn’t always seem to be the case in human affairs, but let us assume that good people ultimately will accept the truth if it is presented to them in a convincing, non-threatening way.

Israel was established as a State in 1948. Between 1948 and 1967, Jordan controlled the West Bank and East Jerusalem; Egypt controlled Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula During those 19 years, no one established a Palestinian State on those territories nor did anyone think of declaring East Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian State. All that land was in Arab hands and could easily have been granted to the Palestinians. Israel would have had no say in the matter at all. And yet, no one—not even the Palestinians—demanded a Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital.

The PLO was founded by Yasir Arafat in 1964, well before Israel had taken control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. What was he intending to “liberate”? Obviously, his goal was not a Palestinian State on the West Bank; his goal was to “liberate” all of Israel, to expunge the Jewish State and replace it with a Palestinian State.

Today, when people demand a Palestinian State alongside Israel, they need to remember that this demand only started to emerge after the six day war in 1967. Only after the Jewish State took control of all of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza did voices arise calling for a Palestinian State in those territories.

After 1967, Israel started to establish settlements in the territories they had won during the six day war. Some justified these settlements as creating a security buffer for Israel; some justified them as fulfilling Biblical prophecies. Much of the land in the newly won territories was empty; Israel literally built new towns and cities where no such towns and cities existed before.

U.N Resolution 242 acknowledged Israel’s right to secure borders. President George W. Bush acknowledged that Israel would keep major “settlement blocs” as part of a final peace deal with the Palestinians. Israel has made various offers to the Palestinians, all of which were rejected.

As time passes, the pressure has built on Israel—not on the Palestinians—to come up with a peace formula. The European Union is threatening to sanction Israel for its “occupation” of Palestinian territory. President Obama has been less than convincing in his support of Israel. The pressure is on Israel, rightly or wrongly, because Israel is an actual functioning country with an actual functioning government and military. The Palestinians are not a cohesive or functioning country. Even though the Palestinians never had control of any land until Israel itself ceded control to them (something that neither Jordan nor Egypt did), the Palestinians incessantly speak of Israeli occupation, and the world seems to go right along with this designation.

So what is Israel to do?

First, Israel can spell out clearly what its legitimate claims are to the land in the West Bank. In Israel’s view, this is not “occupied” territory, but “disputed” territory. It is incumbent upon Israel to explain to the world why its side of the dispute is the correct one legally and morally. It must delineate exactly what territory it considers to belong to Israel, and what territory it does not claim as its own.

Second, Israel can offer a comprehensive reasonable peace plan of its own, a plan that takes into consideration its security needs as well as the needs of the Palestinian people. The plan should be so appealing that the United States, Europe and many other nations applaud Israel’s wisdom, generosity, and clear-sightedness. The offer must be publicized widely and embraced as widely as possible. Let the world then convince the Palestinians that it is in their best interests to accept the Israeli proposal or to offer its reasonable modifications. Instead of presenting itself to the world as a belligerent, aggressive occupying nation, Israel must present itself as a peace loving, compassionate, and reasonable nation.

In order for Israel to be able to present a reasonable peace plan, it must attain significant unity from within its own government and population. This is not an easy task. There are strong proponents of various strategies, and each side does not seem willing to compromise anything.

Prime Minister Netanyahu was re-elected because the Israeli public thinks he is strong. He has patched together a government coalition which does not seem to be ideal for the making of peace.

Yet, precisely because Mr. Netanyahu is strong will he be able to break new ground as a genuine peace maker. Let him come up with a fair and defensible plan and let him place it on the world’s agenda. Let his partners in government put their heads together to create a viable peace plan, even if there is little or no expectation that the Palestinians will accept it at first blush. But let Israel’s voice come across loudly and unequivocally as a voice of reason and peace. Let Israel make its case proudly, confident that it is offering to the Palestinians, to Israelis and to the world a key to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The longer the “peace process” is dormant, the longer all parties in the region will suffer. Blaming others is easy. Taking visionary responsibility is difficult. For the sake of Jerusalem we may not be silent.