Maybe Ehud Olmert’s statements about Jerusalem were irritating, but there is danger that we are on the way to a bi-national city, and afterwards, to a bi-national state
Jerusalem is a city that has been unified more than any other city in the world, but remains divided maybe more than any other city in the world. If Jerusalem is a model for coexistence between nations, then we need to forget the slogans. It doesn’t work. And with all due respect to proclamations, the reality is a little bit stronger.
Arabs and Jews demonstrate in Sheikh Jarrah against the entrance of Jews. The demonstrators are right, even though the Jews proved ownership of the houses. They are right because the mixing of populations is not a recipe for living wonderful lives together, and because the local Arabs are concerned that the Jews are not coming to live peacefully but to expand. So with all due respect to legal justice, we need to sacrifice it for the sake of political justice and mainly for the sake of common sense. The fact that left-wing demonstrators oppose coexistence between Jews and Arabs in a certain neighborhood does not turn them into racists. Sometimes they are actually right.
The return of Jews to the hearts of Arab neighborhoods on the basis of legal claims will lead to similar claims of Arabs in the east of the city over property in the west of the city. One-directional colonization is a right-wing illusion. In response to an American demand to stop Jewish construction of the Shepherd Hotel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that “Arabs are not restricted regarding where they live in Jerusalem.” He is right. That is exactly what is happening. Hundreds of Arab families have already moved into the western section of the city. In certain neighborhoods, such as the fringes of French Hill, the presence of Arabs from the eastern city has caused Jews to flee the area. There is no coexistence there, just as there is none in Hebron or in Sheikh Jarrah.
Olmert’s words at the beginning of the week aroused a lot of anger. We may assume that people tend to belittle things that Olmert says because over the last year, he has embarked on a one-man anti-Israel public-relations campaign. Nevertheless Olmert is correct — at least partially. We must recall that Olmert already offered the Palestinians a painful concession in Jerusalem, more than all his predecessors. But his offer did not satisfy the Palestinians either.
In the situation that has been created, it is doubtful whether there is room for the dividing of Jerusalem. But we must return to separation. There is no need for Jews to penetrate the hearts of Arab neighborhoods just to annoy everyone and there is no need for Arabs to create Arab settlements within Jewish neighborhoods either. Those are sure-fire tactics for creating tension and violence. Maybe it works in Neve Shalom [a mixed Jewish–Arab community in Israel] but it does not work in most of the cities of the world, even those that do not suffer from excessive historical baggage of bloody conflicts or occupation. So there is no reason for us to think that it would work precisely in Jerusalem.
The problem is that we are held captive by our slogans. Instead of saving Jerusalem, we are losing it. Instead of creating conditions for a future settlement, we build even in places that we have no place being. The Arabs have the right to live in their neighborhoods, without the threat of someone whipping out documents testifying to Jewish ownership. The Jews have the right to live in Jewish neighborhoods, without a parallel threat from the Arab side. Jerusalem was and will remain the capital of Israel. The holy places will not return to a state of being trampled and barricaded, as they were under the previous regime. But that does not mean that we must forcefully create hubs of strife and confrontation. According to a Washington Institute [for Near East Policy] poll, 40 percent of the Arab residents of Jerusalem want to remain under Israeli sovereignty. But that does not mean mixed neighborhoods. At the moment, there is no solution to the problem of Jerusalem. And if there would be a solution, then the Jewish settlement [blocs] will interfere with it — at least those settlements that will thumb their noses. So long as this situation continues, not only will the chances for a solution grow smaller, but Jerusalem will cease being a Jewish city and turn into a bi-national one. Whoever prefers Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, must conceive a more creative solution than slogans about a “united city.” On Sunday, we publicly and gloriously celebrated the unification of the city. Not a Jewish city, but a bi-national city. If we continue this way, the same right-wingers that are fashioning a bi-national city for us — is the same right-wing that is likely to lead us to a bi-national state.