A New Plan for Jerusalem's Old City
By Moshe Phillips
Jerusalem's Old City is the holiest part of Judaism's holiest city. What we now call the "Old City" is what the Bible means when it refers to Jerusalem. There should be little doubt that the new Obama/Clinton policy for Israel will include pressure on Israel to negotiate away Israel's full control of the Old City and other parts of Jerusalem. Benjamin Netanyahu now has the opportunity to, as he has so often put it in the past: "change the facts on the ground".
Netanyahu is projected to bring Likud electoral victory. But what new ideas is he advancing? Netanyahu should announce now, before the Knesset election, that the next Likud led government will relocate the Prime Minister's Office and the Prime Minister's official residence to Jerusalem's Old City and it will begin the process upon the first day he takes office.
Support for such a dynamic move would come from Jews the world over and other friends of Israel. It could also lead to more pressure being put on the Obama Administration to move America's Embassy. In a 1996 letter the late Senator Jesse Helms wrote to a Jerusalem based policy group that "I look forward to working with you
to encourage all nations to move their embassies to Jerusalem, and to recognize that Holy City as Israel's eternal capital."
The U.S. government has failed to relocate the American Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv for the last ten years. The Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed by the U.S. Congress on October 23, 1995 and the law reads that "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999".
The active and vital American Evangelical community would certainly see a strengthening of the official Israeli presence in the Old City as positive. Christian Holy sites in the Old City would surely be more secure under this plan.
By repositioning the Prime Minister's office and official residence Netanyahu will not just "change the facts on the ground" he will change the focus of the so-called Peace Process and future talks. Negotiations will no longer start with the so-called "status" of the Old City. The so-called Quartet, the U.N. and the Arabs would first have to petition for20the removal of the Old City's Prime Ministerial infrastructure before any "status" talks could proceed.
The reason that Netanyahu should do this now is that there is no better time than now. As President George Bush leaves office and as the Obama Administration is ushered in the opportunity hit the reset button on the entire Arab-Israeli reality is but a brief moment in history that is pregnant with possibility.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly by moving the Prime Minister's office and residence now Netanyahu guarantees that future Prime Ministers will have a tough time offering any concessions on Jerusalem's "status". No Israeli politician will find it as easy to retreat from the Old City after such a strategy is in place.
Let no mistake be made moving the Prime Minister is not just a gambit. Jerusalem is too important for games. Jerusalem is at risk. The entire Zionist enterprise is at stake. The Israeli Right simply must step it up. Stating that Judea and Samaria are lands deeded to the Jewish People by G-d as delineated in the Bible and settling the entire land is just part of an answer. There must be more.
An honest examination of Likud history shows that it has not been setting the agenda. It has been reacting, and far too often that reaction has tragically included retreat.
Menachem Begin himself retreated from Sinai through the Camp David Accords. No one in Likud offered more than token opposition. Shamir abstained from the vote on Camp David. Sharon personally carried out the plan to make Sinai free of Jews and oversaw the forced removal of young Jewish families from their homes and neighborhoods in Yamit. Shamir later retreated from Taba and under his leadership the Madrid talks were started that eventually led to the Oslo Accords and the Oslo War. Sharon's so-called "disengagement" from Gaza was a reaction to the Intifada there.
A basic flaw in Likud thinking has been that by maintaining the status quo that they have achieved something positive. This goes back over twenty years to Shamir's time. As Time Magazine reported on September 30, 1991 "
Shamir is perfectly satisfied with the status quo" and the New York Times reported on March 13, 1988 "
if Mr. Shamir's Likud bloc remains committed to the status quo, it will damage Israel's security over the long run.
Shamir responded to these accusations in a March 5, 1989 saying: "One hears everywhere accusations leveled against us and particularly against me. Everywhere they say, 'Shamir is a status-quo man. Shamir is opposed to any change, he is satisfied with things the way they are.' And when they say status quo they include the intifada, terrorism, and so forth, and the danger of war. And I say explicitly: I am not in favor of the status quo, because it is lacks the element of peace. And we are in favor of peace."
Netanyahu can change Israel's destiny, lead pro-actively and protect Jerusalem. He should pledge now to move to Jerusalem when he becomes Prime Minister. He can change the status quo and honor the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 137): "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy."
Moshe Phillips is a member of the executive committee of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans for a Safe Israel / AFSI. The chapter's website is at: www.phillyafsi.com and Moshe's blog can be found at http://phillyafsi.blogtownhall.com.