Jerusalem and (some Minor Reasons Why Palestinian Independence will not End the Conflict)

by Gedalyah Reback

Not Actual Photo

This September, the Palestinian Authority will attempt to gain recognition as an independent state via a vote in the United Nations’ General Assembly. It is taking a a page out of the playbook of the Zionist movement and the leadership of what would become Israel. This time, the Arabs will support a resolution that partitions the land into two states. In a lot of ways, it is a big vindication of the Zionist Movement and the State of Israel. After 63 years, the two state solution wins.

That does not resolve the conflict though. Even if Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu stops fighting this political move by Mahmoud Abbas and his Prime Minister, Israel will not withdraw from all of the West Bank – and especially not Jerusalem.

There are a plethora (awesome academic term) of political questions about the past, present and future of the city. Will it be divided along the 1949 armistice lines? Why did the European Union pass a policy resolution last year demanding East Jerusalem be the capital of a Palestinian state, but its members refuse to recognize even just West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Would Israel and Palestine share control (and government) over certain areas; that is to say, the Temple Mount?

And the last question is why we are far from seeing Israel and Palestine enter into a peace treaty. The negotiating teams have failed to discuss the issue with seriousness. Either 1) one side refuses to talk about it – as it seems Tzipi Livni refused to do (in a meeting with former Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat; check out the Palestine Papers released a couple months back by Al-Jazeera), or 2) the proposals simply do not reflect the complicated and unique reality that two sets of religious law have to be analyzed in order to find an elaborate way for Jews and Muslims to share the spot.

How to Negotiate over the Temple Mount

Despite what we think we know about Judaism and Islam, neither religion has a simple outlook on the location. But it is safe to say that the spot is much more significant to Jews than it is to Muslims. A former big shot in the Israeli security services recommended some months ago that the Temple Mount be the center of the negotiations unless we want to see this whole thing drag out any longer (or explode into another Israeli-Palestinian war).

What needs to be considered is that for two groups the Temple Mount is vital, crucial and indispensable: 1) those Jews who interpret Jewish law as obliging us to not let non-Jews control the Temple Mount, or requiring us to build the Temple ourselves and 2) those Muslims who maintain the sanctity of the current buildings on the Mount.

Well, how indispensable is not clear. The reality is that Jews and Muslims see the whole location as holy, but for very different reasons. FEW PEOPLE REALIZE that Jews and Muslims do not agree on which part of the Temple Mount complex is the central, holiest spot.

While there is no dispute the entire area has deep, legal and/or traditional significance to both religions, the Jewish focus remains on the spot that housed the Holy of Holies, roughly where the Dome of the Rock stands today. The Al-Aqsa mosque on the other hand maintains sanctity as a mosque, something disputed regarding the Dome (some Muslims say the entire Temple Mount plaza is considered a mosque) .

I am not implying coming up with something would be easy – it will be creative – but I am pointing out that what we think is set in stone and impossible to resolve isn’t necessarily so.

The Conflict Once Was National and is Now Religious

One of the mistakes which the above-mentioned security dude alludes to is thinking we can leave religious groups out of the negotiations of the conflict. This is also the view of Rabbi Michael Froman of the West Bank Settlement Tekoa. he is unique not just because he has met Muslim clergymen tied to Hamas and befriended them, but has even pledged he would stay in a Palestinian state if it were created. Aside from these absurdly interesting issues he brings up, his basic premise stands that Religious Zionist Jews and groups like Hamas have to consider their own interests just as important during negotiations.

I cannot pretend that all Religious Zionists or Islamists think this way – many of them see this as an all-or-nothing war or all-or-nothing political game. But I know Religious Zionists who would find what I am saying at least interesting. I doubt there are no Islamists who might think the same way. Having a political, empowering ideology for one’s religion does not preclude being pragmatic or even kind of liberal.

Personally, as an Orthodox Jew, my concerns are about the immediate future of the Temple Mount and Jews’ physical connection to it. The Western Wall is not the object of our affections and duties, but what lies behind it.

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