"Next Year in Jerusalem." This phrase ends Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, accompanied by a long blow of the shofar (ram’s horn). So too ends the seder, the at-home service that is the heart of the commemoration of Passover approximately 6 months later. These two liturgical final words at opposite ends of the calendar, in place for close to 2,000 years, are prime examples of why, whatever the other issues, a successful Israeli-Palestinian negotiation leading to a two-state solution will not, and should not, include a division of Jerusalem. Jews will never willingly turn "Next Year in Jerusalem" into a question. The "status of Jerusalem" is not like issues of border location, or security, or resource sharing, or legitimate grievances of displaced residents. Nor is the division of Jerusalem into two cities either geographically or politically doable. The Palestinian Authority and officials of the Obama administration and other governments supporting peace talks must understand: for Israelis and Jews in general, Jerusalem is, simply put, different.
Almost a year ago, I published a diary, "My One-State, Jewish State, Palestinian State Solution," which proposed what I thought was an ideal solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that provided the most benefit for all sides. As with most such ideal solutions, it bears no relationship to the political reality either before or since. Instead, we are in the middle of the latest effort to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work out a two-state solution, and many of the usual issues on all sides are getting in the way.
Successful negotiations involve both compromise and a recognition that each party has positions from which it either cannot or will not move. Good faith negotiations that lead to agreement acknowledge the existence of those non-negotiable issues, and establish mechanisms for accepting and working with them. This is as true for geopolitical affairs as it is for business contracts.
In the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, progress and eventual success require that, just as the Israelis must accept that certain items are non-negotiable for the Palestinian Authority, the PA in turn and the other nations supporting the talks must understand and accept that, for Israel, Jerusalem is non-negotiable. Whether the other parties believe this is justified or legitimate, it is a reality, whose disregard will ultimately doom these negotiations as it has others in the past.
Jerusalem’s difference, and its non-negotiability for Israel, arise from a number of factors. One, as suggested by the liturgical references, is religious. Jerusalem is the holiest city for Judaism, and has been so for approximately 3,000 years, since the construction of the First Temple there by King Solomon in around 960 B.C.E made it the central location of Jewish worship. It remained so continuously (other than during a 50-60 year exile of the Jews from the region by Babylonian conquerors, who destroyed the First Temple around 587 B.C.E.; the Second Temple was built after the Jews were permitted to return) for more than 1,000 years until 70 C.E., when the conquering Romans destroyed the Second Temple (as commemorated in Rome by the Arch of Titus) and exiled the Jews once again from Jerusalem. With the destruction of the Second Temple, worship in Jerusalem became an aspirational goal, as well as a symbol of the end of the forced diaspora from the Jews’ ancient homeland. For this reason, Jewish prayer and synagogue construction is physically aligned toward Jerusalem throughout the world; even within Israel, one turns to face Jerusalem when praying.
Far beyond the references at the end of the Yom Kippur and Passover services, prayers for, and about, returning to and rebuilding Jerusalem fill the daily and festival Jewish liturgy. Additionally, the only other major fast day besides Yom Kippur in Judaism, Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av), commemorates and mourns the destruction of the First and Second Temples (traditionally having both occurred on that day) and is filled with tributes and prayers for a return to Jerusalem. The Bible, too, contains many paeans to Jerusalem, such as the famous verse from 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." By contrast, while Jerusalem plays an important role in both Christian and Islamic faiths, for neither is the city either the most holy location or the focal point for prayer (Muslims, for example, pray toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia).
A second factor which establishes Jerusalem’s difference is its political history. The only indigenous populations in the region to have their capital in Jerusalem in the past 3,000 years have been Jewish nations (which have never been established anywhere else in the world). In addition to being the location for the First and Second Temples, Jerusalem was also the seat of Jewish national government beginning with King David (Solomon’s father) approximately 3,000 years ago and continuing until the Babylonian exile hundreds of years later. After centuries of colonial status under various invaders, the successful Maccabean revolt in 167 BCE against the Assyrian Greeks reestablished a Jewish nation with Jerusalem as its sole capital, lasting more than 200 years (both independently and under Roman domination), until the city’s destruction by the Romans.
From then until 1948, the city and the region were again passed from one invading power (Rome, Byzantium, Persia, the Islamic Caliphate, various Crusader and Islamic conquerors, the Ottoman Turks, and finally the British Empire) to another. Finally, in 1948, Jerusalem returned to its historical status as the capital of a Jewish state, now called Israel, even with half of the city claimed by Jordan, which had attacked and won control over its eastern part, including the Old City. In 1967, after the Six Day War, Jerusalem was unified under Israeli control. There was never a Jordanian or other Arab capital in Jerusalem; today, the Palestinian Authority has established a functioning capital and governmental seat in the city of Ramallah.
The third major reason why Jerusalem is different is how it been treated under others’ rule. Throughout history, foreign conquerors have officially barred Jews (and others) from access to Jerusalem and its holy sites. Jordan, the most recent modern outside occupier of the Old City, went much further than merely prohibiting Jews from coming in (notwithstanding the armistice agreement to permit access); it made a point of destroying and desecrating Jewish synagogues and cemeteries in areas it controlled, as well as seriously restricting access by non-Jews to holy sites. By contrast, under Israeli control, Arab citizens of Israel enjoy unrestricted and legally protected rights throughout Jerusalem, and Christian, Islamic and other holy sites are respected and made accessible to visitors, with Israel even ceding control of the Temple Mount itself to the local Islamic authority (the Waqf), whose management of the site has been controversial. While there have been some security-driven restrictions on certain sites (such as the Temple Mount) at certain times, the sites themselves are unharmed, and overall are open to the public and the world.
What about making Jerusalem an "international city" under the auspices of the United Nations, a concept inherent in the original 1947 UN Partition Plan? To whatever extent that might have been possible in 1947, the treatment of Israel by the UN since then, especially via its former Commission on Human Rights, means that Israel will no longer accept the UN as a neutral party. To a lesser extent, it’s highly unlikely that Israel would accept any outside party’s supremacy over Jerusalem, given the history and religious tradition discussed above. (The repeated modern denial by official Palestinian sources of a Jewish historical or religious connection to Jerusalem emphasizes the risks of non-Jewish control over the city.) The risks, and Jerusalem’s importance to the Jewish people, are just too great.
The majority of Israelis and its government have come to accept the political and functional necessity of a Palestinian state. If this means giving up claims to and abandoning some or most of the territory controlled by Israel post-1967, so be it; Israel has done so before (e.g. Sinai, Gaza) in the interest of peace. By the same token, though, the Palestinian Authority and the international community must accept the reality of Jerusalem and its unparalleled importance to Israel and the worldwide Jewish community if they truly want peace within a two-state solution. Land (even those neighborhoods bordering Jerusalem) can be swapped, refugees (Jewish and non-Jewish alike) compensated or welcomed as citizens or legal residents, access assured and protected, economic cooperation formalized, security arrangements made. If, though, the Palestinian Authority and third parties like the United States insist that Jerusalem be divided, and a Palestinian capital established there for the first time in history, there will be no peace agreement (as there wasn’t in 2000 for the same reason), and neither the Israelis or the Palestinians will be able to move forward from this current, untenable, difficult situation into secure statehood and mutual recognition.