Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why Jerusalem Matters

The importance of the fight to keep Jerusalem from being divided is something that many Americans don't understand. As it's often said, almost nobody goes to East Jerusalem anyway, and we're not even supposed to visit the Temple Mount. So why fight so hard against world opinion to keep it?

Here's one very important reason. There is a new trend in the Arab world of "Temple Denial" - denying that there ever was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and correspondingly denying that there ever was a historic Jewish presence in Israel. (See Dore Gold's important book on this.)

The consequences of this are immense. After all, if there was never a historic presence of Jews in Israel, then we really are stealing the entire land from the Arabs. As Rashi on the first verse in the Torah quotes the nations as saying, Listim atem! You stole our land! Since this is what the new generation of Arabs has been taught to believe, then peace is impossible - for, from their perspective, their cause is just.

Now, the presence of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is simple historical fact, which is completely accepted in the Western world. So one would expect that Western political leaders would have no reason not to say so. But when Barack Obama gave his Cairo speech a while ago, he made no mention of it. Instead, he spoke only of the horrors of the Holocaust as a justification for Jews to be Israel.

Clearly, Obama felt that it would cause trouble to mention the historical connection between Jews and Israel - that it would be counter-productive to the goal of peace. But this is getting things exactly the wrong way around. Peace will certainly never be achieved if the Arab world believes that we have no right to be here. The Holocaust is not enough; if Jews were never historically in Israel, then why should the Palestinians pay the price for the Holocaust?

Temple Denial, as insane as it is, should not be underestimated. There is an increasing tendency for journalists to write as though the presence of a Jewish Temple is not a matter of historic fact, but is instead the subject of "competing narratives." This is extremely dangerous for the future of Israel.

It's rare to find something that all Jews, of all denominations and sects, can agree on. We don't all agree even on basic things, such as the significance of the State of Israel, the origins of the Torah, or the existence of God. So when there is something that all Jews agree on, despite others in the world who dispute it, it's something special. And all Jews agree that, thousands of years ago, there was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

Yom Yerushalayim is more important now than ever before.

40 comments:

  1. The ultimate question is: If giving up the Temple Mount will result in a real peace deal and an end to the killing, is that too high a price to pay?
    I'll leave the definitive answer to someone with Shlomo HaMelech's wisdom but it seems to me that it would be. Yerushalayim is one of the things at the centre of our identity as the Jewish nation. Remove it and you just encourage those who would disconnect us from our Land to say "And see! If they really had ties here, they wouldn't give it up under any circumstances!" You would have torn the heart out from Judaism and removed much of its legitimacy in Israel at the same time. Not worth the price.

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  2. In other words, even talking about giving up the Temple Mount harms the chances of a real peace deal, rather than helping it.

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  3. I think it is legitimate to ask the question of whether the Jewish people even would have the spiritual right to have a state if they voluntarily gave up the Temple Mount, i.e. without being pushed out by force in a war.
    Olmert already agreed to give up teh Western Wall, the Mount of Olives and the Jewish Quarter. They would be placed in under "international control". Since Israeli would no longer control access, it is certain that the Arabs would harrass Jews attempting to reach these places, and the "international body" would be very unlikely to put "neutral" security forces in harms way simply to guarantee Jewish access. Recall the situation when the "neutral" British were in control. To me it inconceivable that any Israeli Jew would even contemplate such a thing. Don't forget that Olmert was born into the Revisionist/Herut/Likud aristocracy. If the Kotel and Temple Mount don't mean anything to him and his KADIMA cohorts, then the leadership of the country is more rotten than anyone of us thought possible.

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  4. Michael A. SingerJune 1, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    How about a Jerusalem where Jewish Israelis can live, work, and pray safely, and a Jerusalem where Palestinian/Israeli Christians and Muslims can live, work, and pray safely? Shared authority could result in such a situation.

    Recall that from 1948-1967, another country (Jordan) militarily occupied East Jerusalem. That's not the situation today, nor would it be if Jerusalem was shared. Israel has the upper hand, as is seen in the slow removal of some Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the rapid build-up of homes for Jews in/surrounding East Jerusalem.

    To me, the use of the phrase "giving up the Temple Mount" seems more like a scare tactic to justify the status quo. I'm confident that I'll still be able to visit and pray in Jerusalem no matter what happens because, as I stated above, Israel is the true power here.

    Also, "temple-deniers" can't deny the Books of Kings, which should also be sacred to Muslims. It seems that what such people really mean is that the "Jews" in Israel aren't truly native to the soil - they're European transplants - and so they extend this thinking to all of Judaism and Jewish history.

    Education, more than anything else, is what is truly necessary!

    Happy Y"Y,
    Michael A. Singer

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  5. How about a Jerusalem where Jewish Israelis can live, work, and pray safely, and a Jerusalem where Palestinian/Israeli Christians and Muslims can live, work, and pray safely?

    That's what exists today.

    I'm confident that I'll still be able to visit and pray in Jerusalem no matter what happens because, as I stated above, Israel is the true power here.

    That's a mistake. The Palestinians would trash it. Even now, the Wakf is causing tremendous damage, and Israel is too scared to do anything about it.

    Also, "temple-deniers" can't deny the Books of Kings, which should also be sacred to Muslims

    Evidently you are mistaken, because they do deny it!

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  6. I'm confident that I'll still be able to visit and pray in Jerusalem no matter what happens because, as I stated above, Israel is the true power here.

    That's a mistake. The Palestinians would trash it. Even now, the Wakf is causing tremendous damage, and Israel is too scared to do anything about it.

    What are the Palestinians "trashing"? Every day, hundreds/thousands of Jews pray at the kotel. Is the Wakf preventing this? Are you referring to the archeological digs?

    Perhaps some clarification about which parts of Jerusalem are in order. RNS, are we worried that if control of East Jerusalem is given to the Wakf, then the Wall/West Jerusalem will be inaccessible? This just doesn't seem likely, and it's very hard to believe that Israel would accept such an agreement.

    Best,
    Michael A. Singer

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  7. They wouldn't stop us praying at the Kotel. But they would destroy all remnants of the Temple that they could find. And, more to the point of this post, it would abet their belief/claim that Israel has no historic claim to the land.

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  8. What are the Palestinians "trashing"?

    Are you referring to the archeological digs?


    uh, hello? They are NOT archeological digs! The wakf abused the site with heavy equipment and simply dumped the archeological treasures.

    are we worried that if control of East Jerusalem is given to the Wakf, then the Wall/West Jerusalem will be inaccessible? This just doesn't seem likely, and it's very hard to believe that Israel would accept such an agreement.

    Perhaps you are indeed not concerned. But what is so unlikely? They barely allow Jews up to the Temple mount now, and under absurd restrictions (such as no non-Muslim praying allowed).

    And why wouldn't "Israel" accept it if Jews like you are not appalled by the idea of giving the site over to the wakf?

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  9. What are the Palestinians "trashing"

    The synagogues left standing at Gaza.

    Joseph's tomb.

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  10. Perhaps you are indeed not concerned. But what is so unlikely? They barely allow Jews up to the Temple mount now, and under absurd restrictions (such as no non-Muslim praying allowed).

    And why wouldn't "Israel" accept it if Jews like you are not appalled by the idea of giving the site over to the wakf?


    Yitz, Israel doesn't really care about "Jews like me" (whatever that means) or you unless I am a member of a politically/financially powerful group. Whether a single Jew is in favor of or against giving E. Jerusalem to the wakf is not relevant.

    I am "appalled" that the wakf is destroying the archeological remains/treasures.

    Jews have free, essentially unrestricted access to the sole surviving piece of the Second Temple. Can't that be good enough? I studied in Jerusalem for a year, and I prayed at the kotel many times, but not once did I feel the need to go to the Mount to worship, given the huge mosque that stands astride it.

    Regardless of whether or not Arabs/Muslims are willing to accept the existence of Solomon's temple, they can't deny the existence of a big ancient wall in their own backyard, but I guess that is what is happening now.

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  11. Yitz-
    I can assure that the Arabs would do everything to restrict Jewish access to the Kotel and eventually to wrest the site away from the Jews.
    As I pointed out, Israel would have no security control under Olmert's plan, but even if Israel had control in an otherwise divided Old City, Arabs would attack across the line and then pull back quickly, with Israeli troops powerless. Or the Arabs would throw rocks from the Temple Mount down on the Kotel area (this has happened before but at least the Israeli police put an end to it). Since the Temple Mount would be under Arab control, all Israel could do is send a diplomatic protest.
    Under Olmert's "internationalization" plan, the Arabs would insist a return to the pre-1948 situation, including having the Western Wall Plaza returned to the Arab owners of the houses of the Mughrabi quarter that stood then until Teddy Kollek knocked them down right after the liberation of the area in 1967. They would also demand the implementation of the British White Paper that came in the wake of the 1929 riots that were strated when the Mufti claimed that the positioning of a Mehitza there was the first move in a nefarious plot by the Jews to take over the Temple Mount. The White Paper ruled that the Kotel belonged to the Arab Muslim Waqf, but that there was a Jewish tradition of praying there. There were also sorts of restrictions about when Jews could pray there and it was forbidden to blow the Shofar on Rosh HaShana (a group of Beitar members would do it anyway and get arrested).
    IIRC the international commission that would rule the old city under Olmert's plan would have 5 members, the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinians and I think Jordan. The 3 Muslims states would always side with the Muslim demands, the US would be neutral and Israel would be alone. The Arabs would threaten to riot if they didn't get their way. So once we have lost control and access of the site, what is Israel going to do...go to war over that?
    Recall that radical Islam is in ascendancy throughout the Middle East. They would waste no time in flexing their muscles in Jerusalem, the city holy to Jews and Christians in order to show who is boss. Recall that when Pope John Paul II conducted outdoor mass in Beit Lehem, the Muslims turned all the mosque loud speakers in order to drown him out.
    The are not interested in cooperation. They are interested in driving us out. That is what would happen if Israel agreed to divide the city. That is for certain.

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  12. > Don't forget that Olmert was born into the Revisionist/Herut/Likud aristocracy.

    It ain't who raised ya. It's who married ya! (Livni has the same "proper" background, for example. Hell, so do Noam Chomsky and Yossie Beilin)

    > How about a Jerusalem where Jewish Israelis can live, work, and pray safely, and a Jerusalem where Palestinian/Israeli Christians and Muslims can live, work, and pray safely? Shared authority could result in such a situation.

    To quote Homer Simpson: "In theory, communism works. In theory."

    > I'm confident that I'll still be able to visit and pray in Jerusalem no matter what happens

    Again, I have some Leafs playoff tickets for spring 2012 to sell you.

    Also, "temple-deniers" can't deny the Books of Kings, which should also be sacred to Muslims.

    Except that Islam has already blotted out or redefined any Jewish claims to Yerushalayim by saying that, in fact, all the prominent kings were proto-Muslims and therefore Jews have no claim to the city.

    Remember that these are the folks who claim in consecutive breaths that the Zionists perpetrated 9/11 and that is was a great victory for Islam.

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  13. The point is, Michael, that the forces of the world are stacked against Israel. The pressure is immense.

    If simple Jews like you and I cannot make a passionate plea for our case, then fuggedaboutit!

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  14. When I wrote this post, I was wondering if it was perhaps a waste of time as I would be just preaching to the choir. But judging from Michael's comments, it really is important to make these points!

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  15. Putting the varying compromises regarding the Old City to the side, what about the rest of East Jerusalem (assuming one sees that as separable form the larger Judea/Samaria issue)?

    Also, I would be interested in any substantiation of "journalists to write as though the presence of a Jewish Temple is not a matter of historic fact" as this is an issue separable from the left/right political divide.

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  16. "Temple Denial" would seem to be a problem on Kol Yisrael. Last week they carried a two-minute profile of the Kotel on "pas-kol shel hamedina" (series of short profiles of people and places of historical significance) which ended with the assertion that the Kotel is the holiest Jewish site.

    I suspect that this view is simply the consequence of a careless attitude to historical Judaism, however I would not be surprised to find many non-religious Israelis who would concur.

    I wonder whether the psak of those rabbis against visiting any of Har Habayit is ultimately more threatening to its kedusha than the visits of those who disagree.

    Eit la'asot laShem?

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  17. If anyone is interested in a recount of the takeover of Jerusalem and the 6 day war in general Michael Orens books "Six Days Of War" is the most comprehensive. Most importantly he relates the tremendous emotions and spiritual feelings felt by everyone during the capture of Jerusalem especially the "Chiloni" generals (Rabin, Dayan) and soldiers. Whoever says that Yom Yerushalayim is a day for the religious only, is completely ignoring the sacrifices our soldiers made and the emotions they felt when conquering the holy city. As to Michael, your naivete speaks for itself.

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  18. When I wrote this post, I was wondering if it was perhaps a waste of time as I would be just preaching to the choir. But judging from Michael's comments, it really is important to make these points!

    Rabbi - I am part of the choir! Y"Y is a supremely important day. Why the misunderstanding?

    As to Michael, your naivete speaks for itself.

    Gee whiz, it seems like no one has faith in Israel to defend itself!

    If the surrounding Arab countries do nothing when Israel blasts Gaza, then they'll continue to do nothing even if Israel relinquishes control of E. Jerusalem. The most important thing is that West Jerusalem and the kotel would remain under Israeli authority.

    Could "the forces of the world" (these phrases sound very apocalyptic) really change that? The situation today is not the same as in the 1920s, 1930s, or 1949-1967. Israel is wealthy, secure, powerful, and confident - as it should be!

    Where is the confidence from everyone else?

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  19. Michael Singer-
    NO SANE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WOULD EVER CONSIDER GIVING AWAY THEIR HOLIEST PLACES. Israel giving away Jerusalem would be interpreted by the Muslims as us committing national suicide. They would never do anything like that. They fight for what they believe is theirs. Anyone would do that. They would say we are totally corrupt and degenerate, just like the Qur'an says. They would say we are just inviting the final push to get rid of us. The rest of the world would look on us with contempt, for the same reason. No normal human being sells his grandmother. I don't believe Israel could survive such a disastrous move.
    It is time that we get rid of this sick Leftist Jewish view that the world will only love us when we deny our identities and we give up our rights.

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  20. IH talks about "East Jerusalem" without realizing that the term, as used by the world, includes neighborhoods where literally *hundreds of thousands* of Jews live, and which are completely integrated with the rest of the city. I sometimes wonder if people who use that term have ever actually *been* to those areas.

    Michael Singer, meanwhile, blithely refers to "West Jerusalem and the Kotel." That alone shows how sadly ignorant he is of the situation on the ground.

    Michael Singer also seems to feel that the Kotel is the holiest place in Judaism, which is completely incorrect, and that as long as he can visit there, there's no problem. He seems not to realize that Jewish access to its *actual* holiest site (the Kotel is, halachically, just a wall) is very, very restricted, and, indeed, seems to be unconcerned about it at all.

    Indeed, I've long believed that attitudes toward going up to the Har HaBayit is a real rationalist/nonrationalist divide. Rationalists realize that there is no problem with aliyat Har HaBayit as practiced, non-rationalists can't wrap their head around it.

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  21. And the ultimate way to insure our sovereignty over Jerusalem is to remove the Arabs.

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  22. I'd expect a blog that explores the rationalist approach to Judaism, to rationally explore the holiness of life vs the Holy Land. How about a blog post a little less emotional and a little more of the theoretical halacha and the practical views of whether or not land for peace would work or not.

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  23. With all due respect, you have shown the ability to think independently on multiple occasions, and it is time you applied that ability toward OJ politics and not just Torah/Science debates. I don't have the time to reply in detail but historical connection is beside the point. Most nations on the planet would witch hands if lands were returned to previous inhabitants. The Palestinians were the overwhelming majority of people there until we came and their rights must be respected. Before you give a dissertation on their denial of our connection give one on our denial of theirs. "Land without a people" is our made-up propaganda and at least as nefarious. Jerusalem was designated an international zone by the UN -- the very body whose designation grants Israel any legitimacy (oh yeah, I forgot, it's the torah?). You can't have it both ways.

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  24. You're reading a lot into my post which I never said. The point of the post was not that the land is ours because of the historical connection. Rather, the point was that a denial of the historical connection will prevent the Palestinians from accepting that we have any right at all to be here.

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  25. Yerushalayim BiYadenu has a dual meaning

    It is in our hands, it is up to us

    (overheard this AM on JM in the AM)

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  26. There were indeed people who lived here-they were called Arabs. And if we are to say that they had a more specific "Palestinian" national identity then what could be more just than to let them have Jordan which is the majority of historic Palestine and which was taken away from the Jews by the British? Why is this fact so conveniently ignored by all the bleeding hearts?

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  27. Let's face it, under present circumstances it will not be possible to deflect the drive for statehood among Palestinian Arabs indefinitely. Unless they follow their previous pattern of violence, they will obtain a contiguous state in the West Bank. That state will contain some portion of E. J'lem. I don't see this happening during the time of the current Israeli government, but that coalition will splinter under sufficient applied pressure. Nor do I see why Israel should not be prepared to surrender sovereignty over Arab areas of E. J'lem. We aren't in messianic times and can't be expected to defend our historical borders against all opposition.

    I would argue for retention of the Jewish/Armenian quarters and full access to the Western Wall with shared control over the temple mount. I would also retain control over Ir David - the historical ancient J'lem. I would incorporate the large settlement blocks such as Gush Etzion, and West Bank cities such as Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel into Israel.

    The above presumes that the PLO government remains under the control of a reasonable and effective technocrat such as Fayyad. If a coalition with a militant Hamas contingent with veto power is produced, then Israel need not and should not agree to serious territorial compromise.

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  28. I have to agree with some of the commentators here that when it comes to Torah v. Science you present all the different sides far better than when you discuss politics. I understand wanting to keep Jerusalem, but I don't think this reason would be very high on my list.

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  29. I second the recommendation of (now) Ambassador Oren’s “Six Days of War”. I would also recommend “Jerusalem: City of Longing” by Simon Goldhill (who also wrote the earlier “The Temple of Jerusalem” that I have not read).

    There is also a new history of Jerusalem written by the British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore (yes – a descendent of ha’Sar Montefiore) that has not yet been published in the US. You can see a video of a lecture he gave on it at: http://www.intelligencesquared.com/events/jerusalem.

    Nachum – please don’t patronize me. I have had family living in Jerusalem since the 19th century. In any case, I don’t mean new neighbourhoods like Pisgat Ze’ev which were built on land that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967; but the mamash Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem like Ras al-Amud.

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  30. Self test: how many of you opining have been to the following locations in Arab East Jerusalem (outside of the Old City):

    1) The Rockefeller Museum
    2) The American Colony Hotel
    3) The Garden at Gethsemane

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  31. IH, I'm not patronizing you; I'm telling you you're wrong. There's a big difference. And if you think Pisgat Ze'ev isn't a demand of the delusional "Palestinians," well, they're not the only deluded ones.

    (I *really* can't understand Y. Aharon. He goes on and on about inevitability, and then lays down *his* ideas and red lines. Sorry, you can't have it both ways. Very upsetting is Abe, who completely dismisses any Jewish claims in favor of some amorphous "rights" of a fictional people- just like in the tochacha.)

    On the other hand, your little "quiz" is the very definition of patronizing. I've been to at least two of the three, as it happens. I'm not a Christian, so why would I care about going to the third? Have *you* ever been to Ras Al-Amud?

    Oh, and by the way, considering that the Montefiores had no children (thus the connection to Kever Rachel), it's kind of, how shall we say, unlikely that they'd have any descendants.

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  32. IH-
    I was at the Rockefeller Museum a couple of years ago.
    Tell me, how many residents of Manhattan visit the South Bronx? Is New York at "united city"?

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  33. The Truth Matters SometimesJune 2, 2011 at 2:03 PM

    The bottom lines is that Israel has got to give up East Jerusalem. Face it, if the whole world demands it's takeover by the Palestinians, it would be political suicide to try to retain it. This is the sad truth, Israel just cannot afford to play hardball, and sadly enough all of Europe, Africa and Asia are extremely pro Palestinian and anti Israeli. To those on this blog that have written that the Palestinians were here before us and we threw them out, read your history its complete nonsense. Although some arabs were here, Jews legally bought all the land from Arab absentee landlords. Furthermore the Israelis are the ones that built the country from scratch and made it relevant again. I recommend reading Howard Sachar book on the History of Zionism for an unbiased account of all this.

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  34. A technicality on "descendent". Simon's great-great-uncle was Sir Moses Montefiore. The video is worth watching.

    Nachum, the following statement is patronizing: "IH talks about "East Jerusalem" without realizing that the term, as used by the world..."

    The fact is that several PMs have previously made the distinction I suggested and accept that Arab East Jerusalem will become part of Palestine when/if the two sides are ready to do a deal.

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  35. "The bottom lines is that Israel has got to give up East Jerusalem."

    There's a littly problem with that. Israel can give up "East" Jerusalem and Givat Shaul too. Will the Pally's accept it? Don't forget it's one of their tactics to make excessive demands so that Israel will appear intransigent by not accepting such demands.
    The Pally's will not accept any settlement.

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  36. Nachum, halachicaly the Kotel is just a shtiebel, not a wall.

    Kollel nick- holiness of life is NOT rational.

    Giving away land so far hasn't brought any positive results. the most rational explanation is thus: the arabs won't give in. Just like giving away Jenin without giving away East Jerusalem hasn't brought anything positive, Giving away parts of Jerusalem while retaining Israeli presence in Tel-Aviv and Haifa is futile.
    This is, I believe, what Natan was trying to point out in this post, and it does dicuss rationalism - Rational behavior this time.

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  37. Nachum, my position isn't so mysterious or self-contradictory. I would, of course, prefer that the Arab peoples accept the Jewish rights to their ancestral homeland. That isn't going to happen, however, until messianic times. In the meantime, in order to avoid perpetual and increasingly hazardous conflict, some accomodation must be made to a people's normal rights to self-determination. The Jews in Israel will have to surrender, at least temporarily, a portion of their biblical patrimony in order to accomodate the basic desire of the Palestinian Arabs for their own land. If not granted willingly, it may come to them anyway given sufficient external pressure.

    I then added my own thoughts as to what an Israeli government should be prepared to grant from territories currently settled by Jews. If that government insists that all of J'lem remain under their control, then a dangerous impass will result. Better that they willingly surrender the Arab areas of J'lem than be forced to accept it unwillingly, or to accept very large numbers of Palestinian refugees. Better that they negotiate a reasonable compromise than be forced to endure a worse situation.

    Of course, no resolution will be achievable if the Palestinians remain uncompromising on their demands. Israel must, however, not be seen as the intransigent party. Right now, the Bibi government is seen in that light. The only ally of consequence that Israel has is the US, and that relationship is getting precarious. Given the many enemies that Israel has - and the list keeps growing (first Iran, and now, Turkey), it would be foolhardy to think that Israel can go it alone.

    I am not so naive as to believe that a peace settlement with the current West Bank leadership will guarantee peace in the future. Who knows what government may succeed Fayaad. Intransigence, however, will guarantee that Fayaad and those like him will not remain or come to power. Certainly, there is risk involved, but there is even greater risk in not entering into a real accomodation.

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  38. But just because there is a historical past of the Jews in Israel, what does that mean? The Temple stood along time ago. Besides Temple denial, one of the strongest points of the Palestinian-Arabs is that the Jews took their land recently, as in reference to the 1947/48 and 1967 refugee issue.
    --Ben

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  39. In Cairo and at the United Nations, the President made clear that Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate. In his May 19, 2001 speech, he said: “When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland.”

    R' Slifkin, why doesn't this statement of Obama count??? From the White House website.

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  40. Because it is all talk and not backed up by any real active support for Israel

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