Israel’s Last Stand

In full-scale retreat mode since the Oslo Accords in 1993, Israel now finds itself with little else to give away—except half of Jerusalem.
From the July 2007 Trumpet Print Edition

Addressing Israel’s parliament on Jerusalem Day 10 years ago, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the Jews’ stunning victory in the Six Day War of 1967: “The main meaning of this … victory is that Jerusalem will remain united and whole under Israeli sovereignty for eternity.” During that same Knesset celebration, outgoing Labor Chairman Shimon Peres, Netanyahu’s political rival, said Jerusalem “must be recognized as the indivisible capital of Israel. We cannot allow it to be wounded or divided again.” Ehud Olmert, Jerusalem’s mayor at the time, also weighed in on the importance of keeping Jerusalem united: “Only as one city, as the capital of one people, will it continue to exist, to flourish and to be built.”

Many Israeli commentators believe Olmert’s slogan (“Peres will divide Jerusalem”) is what catapulted Ehud Barak to leadership of the Labor Party in 1997. According to Barak, Labor’s position on Jerusalem would never change: “Jerusalem’s unity and Israeli sovereignty in the united Jerusalem are a cornerstone of our policy. This is how the Labor-led government acted in the past and this is how we will act in the future” (Jerusalem Post, Dec. 11, 1997).

Around the same time, Capitol Hill in Washington was nearly as unanimous in its support for a united Jerusalem as was the Knesset. Toward the end of 1995, the House of Representatives voted 374 to 37 in favor of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by mid-1999. The Senate passed the measure by a vote of 93 to 5. Even though President Bill Clinton was against the move (and never followed through on it), the vote nevertheless signified overwhelming American support, not only for Jerusalem to remain united under Jewish control, but to serve as Israel’s capital—something the international community had never recognized.

When Netanyahu spoke before Congress on July 10, 1996, he thanked the legislators for their vote to relocate the embassy. Congress gave him a standing ovation after he dismissed Palestinian claims for control over parts of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will never be redivided, Netanyahu assured his receptive audience: “We shall not allow a Berlin to be erected inside Jerusalem.”

How times have changed in 10 years. Today, Jerusalem is a city united in name only.

The Clinton-Barak Surrender

Despite Ehud Barak’s assurance to the contrary, Israel’s long-standing policy of a united Jerusalem serving as its capital was reversed one year after he ousted Netanyahu in 1999.

Near the end of his first year in office, in May of 2000, with popular support in Israel, Barak pulled Israeli troops out of its security zone in southern Lebanon. Still, on the issue of Jerusalem, he looked unshakable. That same month, on Jerusalem Day, Barak made this celebratory statement regarding the nation’s capital: “Only those who do not understand the depth of the total emotional bond of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, only those who are completely estranged from the vision of the nation, from the poetry of that nation’s life, from its faith and from the hope it has cherished for generations—only persons in that category could possibly entertain the thought that the State of Israel would actually concede even a part of Jerusalem.”

On July 10, the day before Barak left for America to negotiate a peace deal with Yasser Arafat, he reminded the Knesset about the “red lines” he had been proclaiming in the lead-up to the peace talks, which included no return to 1967 borders and “a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty” (New York Times, July 10, 2000).

But then, just days later, Barak inexplicably set out to redivide the capital city.

Working at Camp David with President Clinton, who was in his last year of office, Barak desperately wanted a deal with Arafat before the American political landscape shifted. For his part, President Clinton was also determined to broker a peace deal between Jews and Palestinians in hopes of repairing a legacy that had been severely damaged by numerous scandals during his second term.

In a move as surprising as it was delightful to President Clinton, Barak agreed to give up most of the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and much of the Old City, even allowing the Arabs “custodianship” of the Temple Mount. This marked the first time an Israeli prime minister had ever offered to redivide the city.

“From 1967 until 2000, the door for Israeli withdrawal from Jerusalem was largely closed,” wrote former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold in his recent book The Fight for Jerusalem. But during the Camp David meetings, Clinton and Barak busted that door wide open. It was a stunning reversal of what had been a hard and fast Israeli position: a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Arafat,” Gold wrote, “suddenly had over half of Jerusalem’s Old City within his grasp.” Yet to Clinton and Barak—both now firm believers in the land-for-peace strategy—Arafat’s response to their overture must have come as a total shock. He wanted complete sovereignty over the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem. According to an Arab newspaper, Arafat responded to their offer by saying, “I will not agree to any Israeli sovereign presence in Jerusalem, neither in the Armenian quarter, nor in the al-Aqsa Mosque, neither in Via Dolorosa, nor in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They can occupy us by force, because we are weaker now, but in two years, ten years, or one hundred years, there will be someone who will liberate Jerusalem” (memri, Aug. 28, 2000).

Thus, two days later, the Camp David summit ended with no deal. Making matters worse for Israel, Arafat returned home and drew up plans for another Palestinian uprising against Israel—using Ariel Sharon’s September visit to the Temple Mount as a trigger for the second intifada. If anything, Gold wrote, the peace conference appeared to have hardened Arafat’s stance. “Arafat called his new war ‘the al-Aqsa intifada,’” Gold wrote. “The name was intentionally misleading, implying the Temple Mount’s al-Aqsa Mosque was in danger. It also reflected an effort to mobilize the Palestinians and to signal to the wider Arab world the start of a campaign to capture Jerusalem. The [Palestinian Liberation Organization’s] Radio Palestine called on Palestinians to rush to defend the Temple Mount, while Hamas, the terrorist organization that began as the Palestinian branch of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, distributed leaflets to the same effect. Since that time, Israelis have suffered a never-ending wave of Palestinian sniper, rocket, and suicide bombing attacks, mostly directed at civilians” (op. cit., emphasis mine throughout).

Nevertheless, as if oblivious to reality, President Clinton and Prime Minister Barak forged ahead with another proposal for “peace” that would obligate Israel to surrender half of Jerusalem. In December of 2000, Clinton and Barak sweetened the deal for Arafat, offering Palestinians all the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, as well as unrestricted control over the Temple Mount—in effect rewarding Arafat handsomely for his violent uprising. They offered him everything he asked for at Camp David.

By that point, however, Arafat wanted more. So he rejected their second proposal and pressed ahead with the intifada. Over the next five years, 500 suicide attacks against Israel caused more than a thousand Jewish casualties.

Public Outcry

Once Israelis caught wind of Barak’s duplicitous negotiating—and the fact that they had nearly lost half of their capital without having any say in the matter—they turned out in droves to express their disgust for his administration. In a demonstration organized in January of 2001 by Ehud Olmert, 400,000 Israelis from all over the country assembled at the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City. Labeled “One Jerusalem,” the event attracted the largest group of demonstrators in Israel’s history.

“I have never been so deeply moved as I am now to see all of you so pressed together here in the streets of Jerusalem, so excited and enthusiastic,” Mayor Olmert said. “This is not a political rally. This is the expression of the deep emotional link of the people of Israel to our eternal and undivided capital.”

The outcry was loud enough to get Barak booted from office. In special elections shortly thereafter, he was trounced by Ariel Sharon’s Likud after serving only two years of his six-year term.

But, in one sense, the damage of Barak’s offers to Arafat had already been done. “Barak and Clinton expected that unprecedented Israeli concessions would convince the Palestinians of the Israelis’ genuine commitment to peace,” Gold wrote. “But instead, the breaking of Israeli diplomatic taboos opened up a Pandora’s box” (ibid.).

The real significance of the failed negotiations between Barak and Arafat in 2000 is not that Arafat refused to accept half of Jerusalem—it’s that an Israeli prime minister actually made the offer. Before July of 2000, that had never happened.

But with Jerusalem now on the table as a bargaining chip, Israel had revealed its hand to the Arabs. Public opinion among Jews didn’t matter to the Palestinians. All that mattered was that Israeli negotiators were now willing to divvy up Jerusalem.

Olmert’s Redivision Plan

After Barak’s sellout, any air of invincibility Israel may have had at one time all but disintegrated.

In response to the second intifada, Barak’s successor, Ariel Sharon, erected Israel’s “wall of defense”—465 miles of barriers composed of concrete walls, ditches, fencing, barbed wire and security cameras. And while the wall significantly reduced the threat of suicide bombings within Israel proper, one could also argue that the barrier itself signified a concession of the territory located on the opposite side.

In September 2005, Sharon unilaterally withdrew all Israeli forces from Gaza after 14,000 troops escorted, in some cases forced, about 9,000 Jewish settlers out. It was Israel’s first complete territorial withdrawal since handing over the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1979. And it came without any assurances from the plo that it would disarm the terrorist wing of Hamas, whose principle political position has always been the destruction of Israel.

During free elections just months after Israel left, Palestinians left little doubt about what they considered to be the main cause of Israel’s retreat from Gaza: terrorism. Why else would they elect a Hamas majority into the Palestinian Legislative Council?

Meanwhile, just weeks before the Hamas victory, Israel was rocked by political upheaval when Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke. That cleared the way for someone else to step into the position of prime minister: Jerusalem’s former mayor, Ehud Olmert. But by that point, Olmert was a mere shadow of the man he claimed to be as mayor.

Several years had passed. Pandora’s box had been opened. By this time, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, the Palestinians—even Jews—were now discussing the surrender of East Jerusalem. In December of 2005, a poll published by Yedioth Ahronoth found that about half of Israelis supported the idea of giving up parts of Arab East Jerusalem if it would solidify a peace deal with the Palestinians. Quite a change from the public outcry years earlier.

Just before the results from that poll were published, the Jerusalem Newswire said that Olmert had “on more than one occasion stated Israel would eventually have to relinquish the dream of an eternally united Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty” (Dec. 13, 2005). And so, after barely one month in office, the man who coined the phrase “Peres will divide Jerusalem,” who organized “One Jerusalem” day in 2001, who said there was a deep emotional link between Israelis and their “eternal and undivided capital,” revealed his proposal to offer portions of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

In early May of 2006, Kadima lawmaker Otniel Schneller told the Associated Press that Olmert’s government was devising a plan for redividing Jerusalem. Of course, he insisted Olmert wasn’t dividing the city—only sharing it. But this plan, like every other retreat in recent years, calls for evacuating Jews from Arab neighborhoods. “Those same neighborhoods will, in my assessment, be central to the makeup of the Palestinian capital … al-Quds,” Schneller said, referring to the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

Together with the East Jerusalem hand-over, Olmert’s plan calls for dismantling numerous Jewish settlements in the West Bank, hurting the livelihood of tens of thousands of Jews. The separation barrier dividing Israel from the West Bank would then be moved westward in the Jerusalem area, cutting the city in half, meaning Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would no longer be isolated from their Palestinian brothers in the West Bank. Of course, it also means terrorists in the West Bank would no longer be prevented from entering Jerusalem.

The Old City, including the Temple Mount, according to Schneller, would remain under Israeli control, but would be part of a “special region with special understandings”—which, of course, the Arabs will never accept. In any event, Olmert is ready to move forward with his plan even without further negotiations with the Palestinians. He hopes to have it in place by 2010.

“A division of Jerusalem looks realistic for the first time,” the Associated Press wrote. “The plan reflects a sea change in the thinking of most Israelis, who once considered sacrilegious the idea of abandoning any part of the holy city.

“Since Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast War, Israelis had been in broad agreement that the city could never again be divided. But after five years of intifada bloodshed, Israeli voters swept Olmert’s Kadima party into office … on a platform to separate from the Palestinians for the good of the Jewish state” (May 5, 2006).

And even after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 turned that area into a haven for terrorist activity; even after Hezbollah launched a war last summer from the area Barak evacuated in southern Lebanon in 2000; Israeli voters are holding fast to this platform of retreat. A poll conducted by the Jerusalem Institute for Israeli Studies earlier this year showed that while 84 percent of Israeli Jews believe genuine peace with the Palestinians is not possible, 57 percent are willing to make concessions on Jerusalem in order to reach a peace agreement.

Broken Will

Even as Israel empties its pockets at the negotiating table, Palestinians are undoubtedly preparing to walk away, just as Arafat did in 2000. If they have learned anything from recent history, it’s that they can get a whole lot more in return for violence. And how much more satisfying their conquest will ultimately be when they humiliate the Jews by forcefully taking half the city, as Bible prophecy says will happen (Zechariah 14:1-2).

But Zechariah’s prophecy is about to be fulfilled only because of another prophecy that, in part, has already happened.

Hosea 5:13 says, “When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb: yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound.” That wound, as the Trumpet has often explained, is the Arab-Israeli peace process. One former Israeli leader described it as a “collective bargaining” process. Israel bargains—the Arabs collect.

But it’s even worse than that. The Arabs are using the peace process to destroy Israel. And so even as Israel pulls back, lays down its arms and keeps bargaining, the terrorists will continue pushing for greater gains through kidnappings, rocket attacks and suicide bombings until, as Arafat said at the end of Camp David, they are finally strong enough to “liberate” Jerusalem.

But the tragically sad part of this scenario is that Jews are willing to give most of it away even now, without a fight! What a remarkable change in their thinking—even from what it was just a few years ago, when hundreds of thousands of Jews gathered at the Old City, with Ehud Olmert, of all people, to show their support for a united Jerusalem.

This year’s Jerusalem Day festivities weren’t nearly as festive as they were in years past, even though it happened to be Jerusalem’s 40-year anniversary as a united city. Many members of the Knesset were downright angry because of how many foreign ambassadors chose to boycott the celebrations, including the American ambassador.

But as the president of the Jerusalem Foundation, Ruth Cheshin, noted, Israeli politicians should look at themselves first. They are the ones who, year after year, attend these celebrations and give rousing speeches, and then turn their backs on their capital city. “It has been four decades that prime ministers and ministers who deal with Jerusalem affairs appear at the annual celebrations for Jerusalem and declare how much must be done for Jerusalem. These promises are empty of content and dissipate the following day,” Cheshin told the Jerusalem Post on May 16. She made her remarks soon after a study revealed that the Jewish population in Jerusalem could be reduced to a 60 percent majority by 2020.

Cheshin concluded, “History will surely judge all those who stood at the helm of the government and did not bother to save and cultivate Jerusalem.”