Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

Before Deciding Who Rules Jerusalem, Decide What Jerusalem Is

| Dec. 06, 2017

Even though I do not practice religion, upon stepping foot in Jerusalem for the first time, I knew it was an exceptional place. The weaving streets and alleys of the Old City lead one through colorful shops owned by Armenian, Jewish, and Palestinian Christian and Muslim residents. The walled city contains the magnificent and sparkling Dome of the Rock, the deeply moving Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the elegant al-Aqsa mosque. Quite simply, there is no place like Jerusalem on earth.

There are several ways to conceptualize Jerusalem’s centrality to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One is in the religious and historic terms that make the city a subject of such emotive power. Many have warned President Donald Trump against announcing U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital due to concerns that it will fuel anger about control of the city’s most sacred religious sites. However, a premature U.S. position on Jerusalem would also lay bare a basic ambiguity about the city that underlies the conflict—namely, the question of what Jerusalem actually is, and who are, actually, Jerusalemites.

It is not despite, but because of, Jerusalem’s significance for communities of faith around the world, that the American position must be grounded in the reality of the city today, rather than provocative, attention-grabbing statements. And the reality of Jerusalem is that it is not a fixed concept, but has been rhetorically and tangibly resized to suit Israel’s strategic, symbolic and political objectives. The seeming capriciousness of Israel’s decisions about who and what constitutes Jerusalem, from 1967 to the present, has provoked anxiety among Palestinian residents of the city and its environs. If President Trump announces America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, this gives Israel a blank check to redraw and reshape the city as it pleases, which likely means continued isolation and stagnation for the city’s Palestinian residents.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Greenwald, Diana.“Before Deciding Who Rules Jerusalem, Decide What Jerusalem Is.” The National Interest, December 6, 2017.

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