Divide, don’t conquer

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“Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel.” A dogmatic phrase often proclaimed by American Jewish leaders, particularly in times of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Yet any politically feasible two-state solution requires Israelis to share the world’s holiest city with their Palestinian counterparts. Unfortunately, the single-minded and counterproductive rhetoric some in our community use in reference to Jerusalem stands in the way of the two-state solution—and of peace.

Like many in the American Jewish community, I see Jerusalem as the center of my second home, Israel. During my first Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Kotel, my group spontaneously broke out singing and dancing with Jews from around the world. Recounting that moment always reminds me of the incredibly powerful connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and the need for Jerusalem to be our spiritual home.


But I also recognize that another people dream of calling that same city their capital. I made my first trip to the Palestinian Territories just over a year ago, where my conversations with Palestinians reminded me of my own deep tie to Jerusalem, rooted in history, culture, and religion—and often deepened by personal experiences.

To Jews and Muslims, Jerusalem is more than just a city. That is why it is so important to define exactly what an undivided Jerusalem means. Is it the City of David? The current municipal borders, stretching all the way to Ramallah?

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Perhaps going beyond shallow rhetoric and answering these questions will shed light on how our leaders can picture an undivided Jerusalem alongside a Palestinian state.

Palestinians will never accept a two-state agreement without areas of Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. The two-state solution has quickly become the favored path to peace by the vast majority of American Jews. Two-state advocates must recognize the political necessity of sharing Jerusalem, thus proving a real commitment to the two-state solution and peaceful resolution of the conflict.


In the words of Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, “There won’t be peace if part of Jerusalem does not become the capital of the Palestinian state.” Indeed, it’s because Olmert recognized this fundamental fact that he negotiated with the premise that Israel would have to share Jerusalem in some fashion.

This is not a new concept. Under the 2000 Clinton Parameters, Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods would serve as the capital of a Palestinian state while Israel retained the city’s Jewish neighborhoods and holy sites. To be sure, we don’t know what Jerusalem would actually look like in a final-status agreement. But we do know that Israel would have to cede some control over the city for a two-state solution to actually work.

When forced to choose between holding on to Arab neighborhoods and achieving peace in my lifetime, I will always choose the latter. And as a member of the Jewish community who has invested so much in Judaism and in Israel, I can only hope that my leaders in the American Jewish community do the same.

In fact, Jerusalem is already a divided city, with invisible walls between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians running deep through the city. In a June 2013 poll, 72% of Jewish Israelis said that they already view Jerusalem as divided.

In 2010, US Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk wrote, “But today, Jewish settlers are moving aggressively into Arab neighborhoods while Arabs, denied permits to build in their own suburbs, are quietly buying residences in Jewish neighborhoods.” Sharing Jerusalem, an absolute necessity in any two-state agreement, will only become more convoluted the longer the conflict persists. And with ongoing negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, we have a golden opportunity to make peace before it gets even hard to do so.

In his address to the American Jewish Committee this past June, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “[N]o one has a stronger voice in this than the American Jewish community…You can help shape the future of this process.”

2012 polls showed that 72% of American Jews support a shared Jerusalem. But that silent majority must speak out to let the majorities of Israelis and Palestinians who support a two-state solution know that we stand behind them in making the difficult concessions necessary to achieve such an agreement. And that is how we can all be part of what John Kerry has dubbed “The Great Constituency for Peace.”

Asher Mayerson went to the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and is now a student at Dartmouth College, where he has served as President of Hillel. He is now on the J Street U National Board.

[This is the first of a five-part op-ed series by local J Street U students covering Jerusalem, Security, Borders, Refugees, and Politics.]

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