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Jewish World Review March 10, 2000 / 3 Adar II, 5760

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Re-educating American Jewry

Advocates of dividing Jerusalem have been preparing the way for a radical shift of policy -- WHEN CONFRONTED over a flip-flop on policy, the late Israeli military and political leader Moshe Dayan is supposed to have said, “Only horses don’t change their minds.”

That’s true. But for most people, switching positions linked to the core of their belief system is not as easy as it was for the intellectually flexible and ruthlessly pragmatic Israeli war hero.

If you want to change a country’s policy, the most important element is not the actual treaties or legislation that put them into effect. Long before the deed is actually done, you must first change people’s minds with years of spadework by academics and opinion writers, as well as religious and political thinkers.

So, for example, if Israel’s leaders decided to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority about the status of Jerusalem — an issue on which there is, supposedly, a wall-to-wall consensus that there can be no compromise on the city’s status as Israel’s united capital — it would take a long time and a great deal of effort to chip away at this consensus.

Those who are old enough to remember the euphoria in the Jewish world when the 19-year-long division of Jerusalem (with its consequent vandalism of Jewish sites and the exclusion of Jews from the Old City) was ended in 1967, probably always thought that the very idea of a return to partition was unlikely, if not unthinkable.

Think again.

While the government of Israel and mainstream American Jewish organizations are still pooh-poohing the idea that any compromise on Jerusalem is in the offing, a not-inconsiderable number of academics and religious and political figures have been hard at work preparing the way for just such an event.

This reality was brought home to me last week as I listened to Professor Joseph Ginat of the University of Haifa, who spoke at Gratz College in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Ginat is the driving force behind the new Center for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, which is a joint program of the University of Oklahoma; Bethlehem University (as in Palestine, not Pennsylvania); the Horizon for Studies and Research in Amman, Jordan; and the University of Haifa.

Ginat’s group held a joint Arab/American/Israeli conference on Jerusalem in January, which created a document on the future of the city. The professor, who served as an adviser on Arab affairs to Dayan, Shimon Peres and the late Yitzhak Rabin, was here in the Philadelphia area to tout the results of his group’s work to various influential groups; he was assisted by the Israeli Consulate.

Ginat believes the “only solution” to the future of Jerusalem is to partition it. With the exception of the walled Old City and Jewish neighborhoods constructed since the city’s unification in 1967, all of eastern Jerusalem will become the property of the new state of Palestine. In his plan, negotiations on the future of the Old City, the site of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, will be put on hold for at least five years.

In the meantime, the city will be divided. It is, he says, the only way to deny Jerusalem’s Arabs Israeli citizenship and thereby preserve Israel’s Jewish majority. And, though Ginat believes that real peace and normalization between Arabs and Jews is at least two generations away, he and his American and Arab interlocutors think the division of Jerusalem is a necessary first step.

While it might once have been shocking to hear such a proposal in such a mainstream American Jewish forum from a speaker whose presence was welcomed by representatives of the Israeli government, that is no longer the case.

The point is, Ginat is far from alone in his convictions. Nor is his the only study being put forward to provide an intellectual rationale for dividing Jerusalem.

The Forward reported last month that an Arab/Israeli study, funded by the U.S. government, as well as by a foundation associated with new United Jewish Communities head Charles Bronfman and the Ford Foundation and conducted under the auspices of Harvard University, came to a similar conclusion.

Indeed, the same newspaper reported that at an Americans for Peace Now-sponsored strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Ellen Laipson, deputy chair of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, said that people who are against a division of Jerusalem form an “underclass” and “need to be informed and educated.”

All of this dovetails with the much-ballyhooed recent petition for “sharing” Jerusalem, signed by 300 rabbis, that was sponsored by the marginal left-wing group the Jewish Peace Lobby.

Even more importantly, as previously reported in this column, sources in Jerusalem have confirmed that life in those sections of Jerusalem that Ginat and others would officially hand over to Yasser Arafat, is going on as if it were already Palestinian Authority territory. The pro-Labor Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has reported that parts of Jerusalem are already treated as if they were under the “civilian control” of the P.A. and Arafat’s security apparatus. Ginat thinks that most Israelis will ultimately prefer an Israel with a divided Jerusalem and minus the Golan (which he predicts will be handed over to Syria), along with the hope of eventual peace, to the status quo. “At least, we have to give it a try,” he says.

Is he right? Opinion polls of both Israeli voters and American friends of Israel consistently say just the opposite. But, if this plan, or something like it, is eventually submitted to the Israeli public as a fait accompli, the dynamic may change.

As someone who would probably be considered by Peace Now as a charter member of the pro-united Jerusalem “underclass,” I consider these developments chilling.

The point is, despite the quiet on this issue that prevails in the Jewish world, the ground has been carefully prepared for a wrenching change. Those who may oppose this move, both in Israel, where it will be decided, and in the United States, where American Jews will be called upon to support the decision, had better start speaking up. While they were sleeping — and assuming that the consensus on eternal Jerusalem was also eternal — the ground has shifted.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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© 2000, Jonathan Tobin