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Reimagining Jerusalem Day

By Michael Felsen, The Times of Israel 
06.06.12
via The Times of Israel (click here for the original article
 
What is the “responsible policy” that might actually transform the present incarnation of Jerusalem Day into one that all of Jerusalem’s inhabitants – Israeli and Palestinian — could celebrate together?
 
In a Maariv interview on Jerusalem Day, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert (who also served as Mayor of the city) shines some light on this subject.  Olmert acknowledges Jerusalem’s unique splendor and charm, and “the tremor that it stirs in the heart of every Jew and among a great many non-Jews.”  But these qualities, he insists, don’t require that Israel’s sovereignty over the city extend to the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.  Olmert tells us that if he could live “on every part of the soil of the Land of Israel” while also preserving Israel’s Jewish and democratic character — and winning  international community support – he would do so in a heartbeat.  But he recognizes that’s simply not possible.  Hence, “responsible leadership needs to recognize that, to resign itself to it…[and] draw the necessary conclusions.”
 
Olmert also avers that he was “within touching distance of a peace agreement.”  Contrary to the conventional wisdom on the subject, he says the Palestinians never rejected his offers: they didn’t accept them, but that’s quite different from rejecting them. “They didn’t accept them because the negotiations weren’t concluded.”  The former prime minister believes that had he stayed in office for a few more months, peace could have been reached.  “The gaps were very small, we had already reached the very last final stretch.”
 
As detailed by Bernard Avishai in his February 11, 2011 NY Times Magazine piece “The Israel Peace Plan That Still Could Be,” on the issue of Jerusalem Olmert and Abbas agreed that Jewish neighborhoods would remain under Israeli sovereignty, while Arab neighborhoods would revert to Palestinian sovereignty.  The Holy Basin, including the Old City, would be governed by an multi-national trusteeship, charged with maintaining the holy sites, guaranteeing access for all religions, and supported by an international force.  The seemingly intractable “Jerusalem problem” ultimately boiled down to the precise parameters of the Holy Basin.  On this, Olmert said “The exact lines were not drawn, but I believe it could easily be agreed.”
 
Olmert was forced from office under a cloud of corruption charges, and some will claim that his assertions are nothing more than attempts at vindication and cheap self-aggrandizement.  But two points should be made:  First, he and Abbas both agree they came achingly close to reaching peace on all outstanding issues, including Jerusalem.  Second, their solution to the Jerusalem conundrum — West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, with shared, international responsibility for the Holy Basin – reflects principles embraced repeatedly in such formulations as the Clinton parameters, the Geneva Accord, and the Israeli Peace Initiative, and generally acknowledged as essential for a two-state solution.
 
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s image of Jerusalem as a beating heart resonates.  But – borrowing another metaphor, from Israeli writer Amos Oz — the leaders of Israel and Palestine, with international assistance, must perform the bold surgery needed to permit it to beat vibrantly for both peoples.  When that reimagined city is finally born, Israeli and Palestinians — and the entire world community — will have ample cause to celebrate a new Jerusalem Day, together.
 
Former Prime Minister and former Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, says that given a few more months he could have reached a peace agreement 
 
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