Column for JN December 15 2017
Jerusalem. There, I’ve said it, the J-word, the capital which dares not speak its name.
I don’t know about you, but what I have taken from the great Jerusalem furore this week is a sense that those who have been kidding themselves for the last number of years are now finding it hard to cope with some harsh realities.
Let’s start with the mass international delusion about Jerusalem, that it is not the capital of Israel and that successive Israeli governments — since 1948 — were not entitled to call it that. Even those who subscribed to this delusion could not quite bring themselves to insist that Tel Aviv was the capital instead, but they located their embassies and consular representation in the beachfront city, rather than in David’s city of cream-coloured stone.
And the Americans did exactly the same — as did the Brits. But everyone knew that the government seat was in Jerusalem, and if approaches were to be made to politicians or credentials presented to the country’s president, those things had to be done in Jerusalem, and not in the sun and fun of hedonistic Tel Aviv.
At the same time, of course, the right-wingers, who prated on and on about Jerusalem not being a divided city, were just as much kidding themselves. It is perfectly true that since 1967 there is no longer a physical division between east and west Jerusalem, maintained by the Jordanians until Israel succeeded in re-capturing the lamented eastern half of the city during the Six Day War.
But as Donald Trump is likely to learn to his cost, you don’t have to have a physical wall in place to make divisions between populations. Jerusalem was and remains a city of two halves, with Palestinians who were born there staying in the eastern part, while Israeli Jews more generally reside in the west. Anyone with half an eye can go to the Damascus Gate of the Old City and see where the fault lines split.
If that remains the case — except for the hard-line nutters who think it’s a good idea to set up home in difficult or contentious neighbourhoods — then it ought to be possible to hammer out an agreement in which West Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and East Jerusalem is that of the Palestinians. And no, nobody said this was going to be easy or palatable. But if it were easy or palatable it would have been done years ago, and we wouldn’t have needed President Trump sticking his size 10s all over the issue.
The White House, by the way, has conceded that the much-trumped (sorry!) move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is likely to take more than two years. It’s a complete conjuring trick, it wouldn’t matter if the embassy were in Dimona. Everybody knows that the embassy thing is just window-dressing.
So when Trump announces that he is recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the cynic in me wonders why he’s doing it, and why now. For what it’s worth, I reckon it’s much more to do with covering up the ineptitude demonstrated by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, charged with solving the whole Middle East peace thing as though it were a Rubik cube. Go on, Jared! Just one more turn, you can do it!
No? Well, don’t worry. I’ll make an announcement to set the world by its ears. Doesn’t matter if it’s innately meaningless.
No change, there.