It's been a few weeks since the Camp David slumber party broke up, and while the two sides have been holding secret talks to try to get things back on track, it's been slow going. Jerusalem remains the major stumbling block.
The good news is that although the Israeli press has now published the unprecedented compromises that Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians at Camp David, Israelis are not up in arms. One poll showed some 40 percent of Israelis ready to give up Arab East Jerusalem without even knowing what they would get in return, which is why I still believe Israelis will vote in favor of a fair, far-reaching deal.
True, the political midgets in Parliament are trying to cut Barak to pieces. But at some level, much of the public understands that he is engaged in the greatest possible Zionist endeavor: building secure boundaries for a democratic Jewish state that doesn't rule over millions of Arabs and in which Jewish Jerusalem is recognized by the Arabs and the world as the capital of Israel.
And although Yasser Arafat has been on a Magical Mystery Tour since Camp David, trying to garner support, he has kept the Palestinian streets quiet and his lines of communication to Israel open. He still wants a deal.
But that requires a wrenching compromise on Jerusalem. No one in the Israeli, United States or Palestinian delegations will say this publicly, but they all now know what a sustainable deal requires: Israel must be given sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the entire Western Wall and all the Jewish neighborhoods, new and old. And the Palestinians must be given sovereignty over all the outer Arab neighborhoods, virtually all the inner neighborhoods and the Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters of the Old City. What the Muslims call the Haram and what the Jews call the Temple Mount must be shared, with joint sovereignty.
Barak has already offered a lot of this. He might as well go all the way now and at least get the benefit of a possible deal. Either way, his opponents will accuse him of "dividing Jerusalem." This is a canard. As anyone who has visited Jerusalem knows, it has been psychologically and religiously divided since 1967. The walls may be invisible, but they are high and thick.
The real truth is, Jerusalem will be united only if it is shared. Only when each side is secure in its own space will they both feel free to experience the whole city. That's why Barak, in offering to share Jerusalem, is really offering to unite the city for the first time in its modern history.
Remember, what the Jewish people were praying for all these years was not to police the Muslim Quarter or collect the garbage in Wadi Joz. What they were praying for was control of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the Jewish Quarter, the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus. All those could be part of a united Jewish Jerusalem that would be recognized by the Arabs and the world. But the price is letting go of the Arab-Muslim parts of the city.
The good news: If they can share Jerusalem, they can share the Middle East. Because the only way they can share Jerusalem is by acknowledging and respecting each other's deepest claims.
New York Times News Service