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  • Writer's pictureBrendan Szendrő

On The Subject Of Jerusalem

Moving the embassy means the two-state solution is dead.

'Cause people keep asking me how I feel about the Jerusalem embassy issue:

For the most part, I keep giving them the same answer - I think it’s dangerous. I think it’s dangerous for Americans, for Jews, for Israelis and for Palestinians. I also think it’s condescending, because the president seems to think he can manipulate the Jewish community into supporting him, and even though the Republican brand is toxic beyond redemption among most American Jews, it’s still effective to some degree.

A lot of American Jews feel a strong affinity for Jerusalem, strong enough that even if they disagree with the president, they might side with him on this one. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t understand the temptation. My childhood self probably would’ve been excited by the announcement. When you’re younger you don’t see the human cost of ideals, you run on adrenaline and chase visions and to a large degree that’s what happens here, too.

I’ve been against the occupation, at least, since I was 16, but I always had to pause when it came to Jerusalem. There’s a somewhat vindictive narrative that floats around the pro-Israel quarters, about Jerusalem, and it’s not entirely wrong so much as it ignores the whole Palestinian side of things. In the other camp, you have the same thing, and obviously “both sides are right/wrong” is a real cop-out answer, but that’s not my point. There’s an instinct to assign blame, figure out who’s fault the whole thing is and try to dole out punishments accordingly. That’s not conducive to compromise.

So, to those in favor of moving the embassy, hear me out:

It’s true that under Jordanian rule, Jews had no access to prayer sites, but under Israeli control, Muslim Palestinians have continued trusteeship of the Temple Mount. It’s true that the Israelis have offered the Palestinians almost everything in past negotiations, including an international Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Authority has refused. It’s true that Jerusalem has served as a beacon of hope for Jews throughout thousands of years of exile.

It’s true that my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, broke down in tears upon hearing of the unification of Jerusalem, because he never imagined Jews could ever defend themselves.

It’s also true that upon entering the city, the IDF destroyed entire sectors of indigenous homes, crushing at least one person to death; an officer at the time referred to the neighborhood as a “toilet bowl.”

It’s also true that the Israeli government continues to regulate the private lives of Palestinians in both Jerusalem and the West Bank, often times with overwhelming and unnecessary force.

It’s also true that discriminatory practices towards Palestinians have cut them off from their homes, deprived them of vital resources and led to widespread humanitarian crises. It’s also true that in refugee camps across the Arab world, Palestinians long to return to Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa.

I understand the temptation on the part of many fellow Jews to throw their hands up in frustration at every failed peace negotiation, to pull the rug out from under the Palestinians and say “fine, then we’ll take it all!” There’s a lot of personal feelings of pride and attachment that go into that. From the Palestinian end, though, there’s an equivalent amount. The Jewish people suffer from a great deal of trauma, related to 2,000 years of exile. Palestinians are now dealing with the same sense of dispossession, in part at Israel’s hands and in part at the hands of other Arab leaders.

The issue at hand is how an equitable settlement can provide both Jews and Palestinians with the rights and security they need. Jewish history provides ample evidence for the suffering of stateless people - why leave the Palestinians to the same fate? In every country, Palestinians live the way Jews once did in Europe and the Arab world, segregated, barred from high-level positions, isolated in cantons and forced to serve middleman roles. As a result, they face the constant threat of violence.

Recognizing another person’s grievances, even if they’re against you, doesn’t mean you have to relinquish your own claims. The world is big enough for Israelis and Palestinians, and the world is big enough to house any number of peoples with vastly different experiences and perceptions.

The Jerusalem embassy move gives a clear symbol to the world that the two-state solution is dead. There can be no other result than continued violence. As much as I feel an attachment to Jerusalem, there’s no avoiding the fact that, if there isn’t a settlement over it, the conflict will not end. That doesn’t mean giving it up completely; an international city could work, or even slicing the city up into Jewish and Palestinian components. The question of how best to settle it is another subject entirely.

Israel gave Jews the world over something to be proud of, and Jerusalem served as its crown. The longer the conflict drags on, though, the more Israel isolates itself. That historic Jewish need for security has evolved into a condition of perpetual fear, to the point that no power disparity can ever be enough to placate that sense of instability. These feelings make it particularly easy for certain figures to manipulate Israeli officials into doing the bidding of more powerful countries. Watching Netanyahu lie prostrate before our president in the US is the Zionist dream in reverse, as is this overly militarized whack-a-mole-style response to Palestinian discontent.

There’s so many walls on Israel’s borders that it begs the question of who’s being penned in. This feeling of insecurity in Israeli society has bred a ghetto mentality, in which Israel isolates itself from the world and depends on the hegemon for its protection. As the conflict continues, Israeli society continues to be corrupted by these impulses. The end result endangers Israeli security in more ways than one - continued conflict leads to escalation, and the demographic issue always looms. Relying on the United States cripples Israel’s freedom of action. Isolating itself from the global community makes the country unsustainable, held in place only by the United States’ continued dominance, which is far from guaranteed.

None of that really touches on the Palestinian side of things, in part because I wrote this specifically for a Jewish, pro-Israeli audience. From a Palestinian point of view, however, there are obvious, ongoing humanitarian concerns. Not only is there a great deal of physical suffering, but the toll it takes on the Palestinian psyche is also enormous. Few Palestinians in Gaza have been unhurt by the series of wars. Every Palestinian in the West Bank knows the checkpoints, and has seen the constant presence of Israeli soldiers. Under such levels of stress, anger is bound to boil over, and certain prejudices are bound to come out.

Recognizing Jerusalem is largely symbolic - the actually embassy move will not occur for another several years - but it delivers a deathblow to the peace process, shows the Palestinians that they have no options other than violence, isolates Israel further from the global stage, makes Americans, Israelis and Jews targets and continues to escalate out a conflict that has devastating effects on the Palestinian population, and toxic effects on the Israeli mind. And all that, I say knowing the intense spiritual attachment so many Jews feel for the city.

So, in short, I’d say it’s a bad thing.

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