Jerusalem and Camp David, Part I
"The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams /
like the air over industrial cities. It''s hard to breathe."
--Poet Yehuda Amichai
The recent Camp David peace talks broke up over the issue of
the future of Jerusalem. I must say up front, I have no respect for
Yassir Arafat nor the hard-line Palestinian leadership he
kowtows to. Israeli Prime Minister Barak went way beyond the
call of duty with the compromises he was prepared to make.
But, of course, there is still major doubt that the Israeli people,
themselves, would have approved any final agreement had one
For the purposes of this two-part discussion, I will try and largely
limit the discourse to the history of the debate over Jerusalem,
giving both sides.
To set the stage, Newsweek''s Daniel Klaidman and Jeffrey
Bartholet describe the atmosphere in the city.
"(Jerusalem) is the theological battleground where Jews,
Muslims and Christians argue most fervently over whose God is
the True God, and whose history is the legitimate one. The
ground contains layer upon layer of envy and spite: Christian
monks of different denominations fight like schoolyard ruffians
over who gets to sweep which steps in the Church of the Holy
Sepulcher, where they believe Christ was crucified and
resurrected. Ultra-Orthodox Jews stone their secular brethren for
driving by their neighborhoods on the Sabbath. Conservative
Muslims try to rein in their daughters, who are sometimes
attracted to the social freedom on offer in secular, mostly Jewish
The pertinent history of Jerusalem spans some 3,000 years, going
back to the capture of the city by King David around 1000 BC.
About this time, Solomon built the first temple. The city was
destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, c.587 BC, rebuilt by Herod The
Great, c. 35 BC, who built a second temple, which was destroyed
by the Roman Titus, in AD 70. The Jews were then forbidden
within city limits until the 5th century.
The Persians moved into Jerusalem, AD 614, only to be
conquered by the Seljuks in 1071, and the city was finally
occupied by the Ottoman Empire from 1244-1917.
In 1917 Jerusalem became the capital of the British -mandated
territory of Palestine. In 1948 the state of Israel was proclaimed
and Jerusalem was divided between Jordan (the east) and Israel
[Back in 1947, a UN partition plan was to turn Palestine into
Arab and Jewish zones, in essence creating the very international
district recommended by some today. David Ben-Gurion
approved of the plan. But the Arab armies attacked instead.]
Finally, during the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured east
Jerusalem contains the holiest of sites. For Jews it is the Western
(or Wailing) Wall, the remains of the Second Temple built on
Mount Moriah after their return from exile in Babylon.
For Muslims, Jerusalem is the third holiest place, after Medina
and Mecca; more specifically, the plateau on the Temple Mount
above the Wailing Wall, known as the Haram al-Sharif, or noble
sanctuary. It is from here that the Prophet Muhammad ascended
to heaven and the throne of Allah. The spot is now marked by
the Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aksa Mosque.
Both Jews and Muslims share the belief that the "rock" is the
very site where Abraham offered his son for sacrifice.
Jerusalem also holds a special place in the hearts of Christians, of
course, because it is where Jesus suffered, died and rose again in
glory - and where he would return to judge the living and the
dead. The main site is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a short
distance from the Wailing Wall and Haram al-Sharif.
The New York Times Jane Perlez recently asked a Clinton
administration official to describe Jerusalem.
"Think of it as four concentric circles; outer suburbs, inner
suburbs, the Old City and the religious sites. As you move into
the center, the issues become more intense, historical, religious."
And so this city of faith became the centerpiece of Camp David
II. John Lancaster summarized what each side sought at the
start of the talks, Jerusalem being but one issue.
Jerusalem: Palestinians wanted East Jerusalem to become the
Palestinian capital. The Israelis want the city to remain under
Israeli control, with a symbolic Palestinian role.
Borders and settlements: Palestinians sought total Israeli
withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza to the 1967 borders.
Israel wanted to keep about 10% of the West Bank, an area
which would then include the major settlements.
Refugees: Palestinians wanted Israel to accept responsibility for
refugees, to grant them a right to return and to compensate those
who can''t. [Compensation to be paid by the West.] Israelis feel
no real responsibility for the refugees and offered a minimal right
of return to allow some families to reunite.
Water: Palestinians want the final say over the use and
distribution of water flowing through the West Bank. Israelis seek
to maintain control of the aquifer which provides the nation with
a quarter of its water.
On the land front, as a follow-up to the 1993 Oslo Accords,
Israel had turned over control of most of Gaza and six West
Bank cities to the Palestinians by the end of 1995. Withdrawal
from Hebron was delayed until 1997, with the removal of the
majority of Israeli forces. In October 1998, Israel agreed to turn
over more West Bank territory. Phase III has yet to take place.
Former Soviet dissident and current member of the Israeli
parliament, Natan Sharansky, begins to describe one side of the
"Israel is not a normal country, nor will it ever be...The 1948
War of Independence and the 1967 Six-Day War transformed the
identity of Jews around the world and strengthened their
connection as one people. A peace process that entails
transferring biblical lands; determining the fate of a Jerusalem, to
which we have prayed for 3,000 years; and allowing even a
limited right of return of Palestinians to a country that is the
source of our pride and unity is a process that will also transform
our identity as a nation. It has the potential of dangerously
undermining our connection as one people."
Next week, a lengthy discussion on what happened at Camp
David, why Arafat is to blame, and whether Barak can survive,
Sources: [For both Parts I and II]
Daniel Klaidman and Jeffrey Bartholet, Newsweek
Fouad Ajami, U.S. News
Terry Atlas and David Makovsky, U.S. News
Ethan Bonner, New York Times
Lee Hockstader, Washington Post
Natan Sharansky, Washington Post
Jim Hoagland, Washington Post
William Safire, New York Times
Richard Cohen, Washington Post
John Kifner, New York Times
Jane Perlez, New York Times
John Lancaster, Washington Post