Jerusalem in the context of the rise of Islamism in the Middle East acts a catalyst for global jihad in the apocalyptic sense. Dore Gold in his latest book The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West and the Future of the Holy City explains this notion, saying: "Jerusalem plays a key role in their apocalyptic traditions. According to the Islamic version of the end of history, a messianic figure known as the Mahdi (the rightly guided one) will appear and establish his headquarters in Jerusalem."
In terms of religion, Jerusalem is the embodiment of the correlation between politics and religion for both Israelis and Palestinians. The city is one of the key elements of the final-status talks between these two parties. As such, many Palestinians like to believe that because Israel purposely does not reach final-status talks it does not want peace. And, of course, this is dependent on Jerusalem becoming the capital of the Palestinian state. This narrative is skewed, as it conveniently ignores the fact that some of the biggest obstacles to resolving the conflict in 2000 were not land, but issues of refugees and security.
Division Almost a Reality
The possibility of a "divided Jerusalem" almost became a reality under the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, where at Camp David he offered a peace proposal to Yasser Arafat that included Jerusalem. Consequently, the Palestinians rejected the offer and then launched a four-year wave of violence that confirmed what everyone had long known: Jerusalem is one of the most convoluted issues facing Arab and Israeli negotiators.
The offer itself represented a dramatic change in the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians: Until then, no Israeli premier had dared discuss the fate of Jerusalem. In retrospect, Barak was playing a dangerous chess game with Rabin's legacy as he was groomed to be his successor.
Even though the proposal was not ultimately implemented, the mere idea revealed a revolution in the Israeli frame of mind.
Barak, erroneously, believed that dividing the city would stop the violence.
The uniqueness of Jerusalem as the eternal capital for Israelis and Palestinians demands explanation because it is the foundation for both of these societies' bonds with the land. Jews have remained loyal to Jerusalem for more than 3,000 years, when King David made it the capital of his kingdom and home to the First Temple.
Jerusalem, on the other hand, is not mentioned once in the Koran, and there is no connection between the city and Muhammad's life.
Jerusalem gained Muslim importance only when it was not under Muslim control, around 1150, which consequently led to a Muslim call for jihad on the Christians. From a Palestinian perspective, only after the Six-Day War in 1967 did Jerusalem become part of their political doctrine.
As the think-tank Mideast expert Daniel Pipes explains: "This neglect came to an abrupt end after June 1967, when the Old City came under Israeli control. Palestinians again made Jerusalem the centerpiece of their political program. The Dome of the Rock turned up in pictures everywhere, from Arafat's office to the corner grocery. Slogans about Jerusalem proliferated, and the city quickly became the single most emotional issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict."
Furthermore, when U.N. Resolution 242 was drafted, Jerusalem was intentionally not mentioned, as then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg explained in a letter to The New York Times: "Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate." Goldberg never saw Jerusalem as "occupied" or as a bargaining chip for peace talks; thus, Jerusalem should not be divided.
The city is the flashpoint for the intractability of the conflict. Therefore, land for peace is problematic at best. The bigger problem is how to create a dialogue based on the exchange between a tangible variable ("land") and a nontangible variable ("peace").
Asaf Romirowsky is the manager of Israel & Middle East affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.