January 11, 2001 Special Dispatch No. 174

Peace Activist Opposes the Division of Jerusalem

January 11, 2001
Special Dispatch No. 174

The issue of Jerusalem has gained increased attention in the Israeli public and media since PM Ehud Barak proposed concessions over Israeli sovereignty in the city in the July 2000, Camp David summit. Recently, this attention has reached unprecedented levels due to the Dec. 20, 2001, publication of President Clinton's peace proposal, which included the possible division of Jerusalem into ethnically based areas, and the transfer of parts of the city to the Palestinian Authority.[1]

On December 28, 2000, left-leaning commentator and well-known peace activist Dr. Meron Benvenisti, who was also deputy to former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kolek, voiced his opposition in a Ha'aretz op-ed entitled "Jerusalem of Alienated Statesmen" Following are excerpts from Benvenisti's op-ed:

"Since the announcement of President Clinton's peace plan and its clauses relating to Jerusalem, I have been approached by confused Jerusalemites, who feel that the entire discussion over Jerusalem is divorced from reality, and is nothing but a collection of words trying to bridge an abyss of contradictions. I use the bridge metaphor deliberately, because when I tried to ask 'my sources'[in the Israeli government] how is it possible to implement the principle of 'the division of Jerusalem on an ethnic basis,'I discovered that bridge builders will have a lot of work: There will be a bridge from Silwan to the Temple Mount, a bridge from the Jewish Quarter to the Mount of Olives and bridges which will create 'territorial continuity'between Jewish neighborhoods [e.g., from the Jewish Quarter to Mount Scopus, to French Hill and Neveh Ya'akov, and from East Talpiot to Har Homa]. The division of Jerusalem into six dimensions, a kind of variation on the proverbial Earthly Jerusalem and Heavenly Jerusalem does not cease to preoccupy our statesmen."

"It's no wonder that my confusion has not dissipated: On one hand, since I have worked all my life for peace, I am supposed to be amazed by the historic breakthrough which is finally bringing about 'an end to the conflict.' On the other hand, what will happen to the graves of my ancestors [which will end up on the Palestinian side], to my basic sense of security, to my relations with my Arab friends and to my belief that a city is a living organism on which surgery should not be performed with the blunt scalpel of alienated healers? What should I do about my universal affiliation to this city, a link which includes the others'links to the city, links that reconcile with their traditions and culture? Why do I have to stay in the ghetto of my 'ethnic group'and hand over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to Arafat? Why are they insisting on carrying out the strategy of 'separation'in Jerusalem, which will only increase the alienation and the hatred in the name of 'an end to the conflict?'"

"If 'an end to the conflict'is not an empty slogan of politicians, why are they setting an historical precedent, according to which peace requires the building of walls in the heart of the city, when until today the division of cities was a result of a state of war? Why don't they understand that Jerusalem is more that the sum of its ethnic components, and that the model of 'separation'should be replaced by the opposite model, that of 'cooperation?'If conditions are not yet ripe for 'cooperation,' perhaps the headlong rush to reach a final agreement now, at this very moment, is a serious mistake, and we have to work on a gradual process based on the beginnings of cooperation which already exist."

"Don't worry, 'my sources' assure me, we are working on the 'details,' and they will reassure you. That means that I have to rely on my leaders, those who are exploiting the mystical aura of authority. But in that case, why are they rushing to declare Clinton's peace proposals as an historic event, rather than telling the truth: everything depends on the 'details;' working them out will take years, and only at the end of the process will there be 'an end to the conflict.' God is in the details, and his 'prophets' should display more modesty."

[1] On January 8, 2001, in what was one of Israel's largest public protests, 250,000 people attended a mass rally to protest the possible transfer of part of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority. Ha'aretz, January 9, 2001.

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