The Elders

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Guest blog

The two Jerusalems

Daniel Seidemann and Dan Rothem have devoted their professional lives to advancing the cause of peace in the Middle East. Here, they argue that a two-state solution is an existential imperative for Israel and that a compromise on Jerusalem would be the crowning achievement of Zionism.

Born a generation apart, we - Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney, and Dan Rothem, an Israeli political-geographical analyst - became partners in a shared mission. We have both devoted our professional lives to advancing the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

We are convinced that the only way to serve Israel's genuine interests and safeguard the Zionist dream is the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with Yerushalayim (Israeli Jerusalem) and Al Quds (Palestinian Jerusalem), as the respective capitals of each.

Jerusalem and its holy sites have been embedded in the civilisations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam since the birth of each, and have been cherished by their faith communities throughout history.

The holy sites - the physical embodiments of religious history and belief - are concentrated in a small geographical area: Jerusalem's Old City and its immediate surroundings. It is here where Jewish memories of Biblical Jerusalem reside, along with devotion to the memory of two Temples destroyed; it is here where Christians follow in the footsteps of Jesus, toward Golgotha and crucifixion; and it is here where the mosques and shrines of Haram al Sharif embody memories of the first qibla and the Prophet Mohammed's night-time ascent to heaven.

The Jerusalem that resonates with faith and history is concentrated in the 1 square kilometre of the Old City, and another 2 square kilometres around it. Sacred Jerusalem has little to do with the administrative boundaries that define East Jerusalem today - 70 square kilometers in size - which were demarcated in 1967 by a military committee headed by Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan on the basis of the most mundane demographic, geographic and security considerations.

The importance of Jerusalem and its place in the hearts of those who love her are not served by artificially sanctifying Jerusalem’s technical secular borders, which have nothing to do with the Jerusalem of history, narrative and faith. This only embroils Jerusalem in gratuitous conflict, and serves ulterior political motives that undermine the religious and historical integrity of the city.

While Jerusalem has found a way to function throughout the years, events on the ground have been rapidly unfolding in a manner inconsistent with a viable two-state solution. These include potentially-volatile developments in and around the Old City, especially in regard to archaeological expeditions done in an exclusionary fashion and guided by unaccountable elements, as well as the expansion of existing Jewish settlements/neighbourhoods and the construction of new ones in a manner that threatens the ability to devise a contiguous borderline in the city. As the sides flirt with the prospects of negotiations over permanent status, a parallel track - aiming to restore a civilised handling of the city and maintain an open window of opportunity for an agreement - should be intensely pursued.

Israel is and aspires to remain the homeland of the Jewish people. Consequently, an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution is an existential imperative for all those who love her, lest Israel cease to be a Jewish democratic state.

Together with other core issues, the two-state solution requires a political compromise in Jerusalem, assuring that all people - Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians - maintain their identity and dignity in the city.

Only such a compromise will provide Israel with the universal recognition of the deep Jewish attachment to Jerusalem, and the international acceptance of Israeli Jerusalem as Israel's legitimate capital. This will be a crowning achievement of Zionism.

Daniel Seidemann is an Israeli attorney specialising in Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem, and the founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, a Jerusalem-based NGO that works towards a resolution to the question of Jerusalem consistent with the two-state solution.

Dan Rothem is an Israel-based research consultant for the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, an American NGO that works with leaders and policymakers to help reach a just and comprehensive peace that will bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.


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