What does it mean for Israel that the free world has a new leader, U.S. President Joe Biden?
Will it be a “third Obama presidency,” based on coldness towards Israel, or will Biden choose to forge his own path?
It could very well be the latter, based on the following:
- Broad popular American support for, and Biden’s personal sympathy towards, Israel;
- The basic logic of strengthening America’s most trusted ally;
- The two countries’ mutual desire to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons;
- The positive international dynamic generated following the Trump administration’s Middle East initiatives.
There are certain issues that require particular reinforcement, however, such as the importance of having a united Jerusalem under Israeli control, which the new administration in Washington will be under tremendous pressure—from within and without—to take steps that are liable to compromise the future of united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. To compromise.
One positive sign is the fact that both Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken have already committed not to roll back the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or the move of the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.
On the other hand, they both have also expressed continued commitment to the “two-state solution,” albeit recognizing that the Palestinian Authority will not quickly return to the negotiating table. Blinken also has said that he wishes to ensure that neither party “takes steps that make the already difficult process even more challenging.”
To plan for the future and avoid a repetition of past mistakes in this realm, Israel must do the following:
- Refrain from freezing construction and building plans in Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern part of Jerusalem. This is especially important, as nearly half of the city’s 570,000 Jews reside there. Note that under former U.S. President Barack Obama, most building was frozen for over 6 years but it did not bring the parties closer to any peaceful resolution.
- Continue to enforce the law regarding including illegal Arab construction, income and municipal taxes and crime. This will strengthen Israeli sovereignty over eastern Jerusalem and the peaceful coexistence among all its citizens, whether Jews, Muslims or Christians.
- Prevent the P.A. from encouraging terrorism and civil unrest due to an anticipated “liberation” from the Jewish state.
Any peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will require the agreement of both parties, and a commitment on the part of the P.A. to stop incitement and dismantle all terror infrastructures and activities. There are multiple ideas addressing the eventuality of a resolution, which include the option of a two-state solution.
But even the latter should not include the disastrous division of Jerusalem into two capitals, for a host of historical, religious, social, security and practical reasons. Supporters of Israel and a united Jerusalem must adopt strategies to ensure that the rusty, failed and dangerous narratives regarding an Arab capital in Jerusalem are not reintroduced.
The following are some important points to improve, educate and advocate for keeping Jerusalem united and secure. The goal is to share the facts with the American public and legislators on both sides of the Congressional aisle.
- Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years—never that of Arab or other entities. The only period of time when Jews did not live in Jerusalem was the 19 years of Jordan’s illegal occupation of the city between 1948 and 1967. During that time, the Jewish Quarter was destroyed, including multiple historical synagogues, and Jews were not allowed to visit their holiest sites for even a short prayer.
Placing major parts of the holy city under Arab sovereignty is a high security risk to residents and visitors. Prior to 1967, Arab snipers targeted Jewish pedestrians and residences, and areas near the partition were danger zones. Today, Hamas and Fatah terrorists would have little trouble repeating this scenario, but much more intensely.
Social and security unrest would cause large numbers of residents to leave Jerusalem permanently, thus weakening the capital and the morale of the entire country. Tourism would drop drastically, and the city’s economy would cave.
Urban development and growth would be stifled. Almost all of the strategic high ground in the city and its surroundings would be left under Arab control, with severe security risks to all its residents.
- A united Jerusalem is a huge asset for all peace-loving citizens—whether Jews, Christians or Muslims—and for the United States.
U.S. support for Israel is motivated both by Judeo-Christian values and America’s own strategic interests:
A stable and strong Israel has successfully limited the success of radical nationalist movement victories in Lebanon, Jordan and PLO-controlled areas. In addition, Israel assists America in intelligence-gathering, covert operations and many other projects. A weakened Jerusalem significantly hinders Israel and its value to the U.S.
Unfettered unrest and radicalism in a divided Jerusalem would quickly embolden jihadists to export their ideology to the U.S. and its allies.
- A large portion of the Christian public in the U.S. feels strongly that Jerusalem must remain under Israeli control and sovereignty. The absolute majority of Christian tourists to Israel visit Jerusalem safely.
Pre-1967 Israeli history, and current events around the world, show that Christian holy sites in Muslim-controlled areas do not fare well, and are often destroyed. Only Israel can guarantee that Jerusalem remain an open city, embracing all religions with holy sites freely accessible to all.
- Most Arabs in Jerusalem do not want to live under Palestinian jurisdiction, which would rob them of freedom, financial stability and other Israeli benefits. Surveys of eastern Jerusalem Arabs by international groups continually reflect this fact.
Dividing Jerusalem would imperil the jobs of more than 40,000 eastern Jerusalem Arabs who work in western Jerusalem daily at salary scales often four times higher than those in P.A.-controlled territory.
Former P.A. Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Hatem Abdel Kader has said, “Jerusalem is at the bottom of the [P.A.’s] list of priorities. The Israelis have a plan and vision for Jerusalem, while the Palestinians have nothing to offer.”
It is crucial to make all of the above as widely known as possible, for the benefit of peace-loving citizens of all religious beliefs and backgrounds in the Middle East and beyond.
Dr. Shmuel Katz was born in Hungary, raised in Israel. served as an officer in the Six-Day War, gained extensive trauma experience during the Yom Kippur War, is double-boarded in surgery, a fellow of the Israeli Surgical Society and of the American College of Surgeons and other medical societies. He is on the board of many pro-Israel organizations.
Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel’s minister of tourism.