Forty-seven years after the historic reunification of Jerusalem it is now time to rid the world of the notion that the future of Jerusalem is up for negotiation. The most practical way of clarifying this important point is for the State of Israel to announce that it intends to build without hesitation in all parts of Jerusalem.
For far too long we have been on the defensive when it comes to building in Jerusalem. Our quiet acceptance of international condemnation and tepid response to tersely worded statements criticizing our building plans have loosened our hold on Jerusalem. Neighborhoods such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, once part of the consensus and indisputably considered part of the State of Israel under any possible future agreement, are now treated by our American allies and the international community in the same manner as illegal outposts in Judea and Samaria. Only by expanding the existing neighborhoods of Jerusalem, while simultaneously planning, building and populating new building projects in all parts of the city can we hope to change international perceptions about our capital. More importantly, enacting such a plan will greatly decrease the chance of future Israeli governments considering to ever again divide the city.
I am under no illusions. I realize that such a move would result in vocal criticism from many of our allies, not to mention from those in our region who do not recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist. Some may even move beyond condemnation of our plans to build in our historic capital and even attempt to impose ill-advised diplomatic sanctions on our country in reaction to such a move. This should not deter us. Previous Israeli government have shown considerable political bravery in defense of Jerusalem, which provides us with considerable historical precedent for defying international will when it comes to Jerusalem.
In 1949, just one year after the founding of the state, prime minister David Ben-Gurion began moving the government offices from their temporary headquarters in Tel Aviv, where they had been established due to security concerns during the War of Independence.
Consequently, the United Nations began to debate a resolution to internationalize Jerusalem and strip the city of Israeli sovereignty. In December 1949, Ben-Gurion came before the Knesset and proudly declared that Israel would not accept the UN resolution, saying, “Jerusalem is an organic, inseparable part of the State of Israel, just as it is an integral part of Jewish history and belief. Jerusalem is the heart of the State of Israel... We cannot imagine, however, that the UN would attempt to sever Jerusalem from the State of Israel or harm Israel’s sovereignty in its eternal capital.”
Ben-Gurion’s decision to move the Knesset and government offices to Jerusalem was met with outrage in the international community. The UN voted for Resolution 303 to internationalize Jerusalem and even the Americans, who under the leadership of president Truman had so bravely been the first country to recognize the Jewish state in 1948, voted in favor. Ben-Gurion, however, stood strong, declaring in defiance that, “There has always been and always will be one capital only – Jerusalem the eternal. Thus it was 3,000 years ago – and thus it will be, we believe, until the end of time.”
Prime minster Levi Eshkol showed similar backbone regarding Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War.
While many of us today still regret that his government did not fully annex all of Judea and Samaria, we will forever remember his brave stance to expand Jerusalem’s municipal borders to include the eastern neighborhoods.
Prime minister Menachem Begin then took this initiative one step further in 1980 by enacting a Basic Law declaring that Jerusalem, the “complete and united, is the capital of Israel.” Once again, the international community vigorously protested Israel’s decision regarding its capital. UN Security Council Resolution 476 even designated Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem a violation of international law.
Twenty years of negotiations that came dangerously close to establishing a Palestinian state have now eroded our hold on our eternal capital. Only by the government of Israel declaring loud and clear that every corner of the city is now open to development will this trend change.
This means that we must move forward on three important fronts. First, the government must build without any hesitation in the existing neighborhoods within western and eastern Jerusalem. Second, we must build new neighborhoods that will make it geographically impossible for anyone to ever again contemplate dividing the city. Finally, we must recommit ourselves to closing the unacceptable gaps that exist today between the Jewish and Arab populations of the city. It is of utmost importance that the Arabs who live in Jerusalem internalize that we view them as equal residents and plan on them remaining so forever.
Today we are once again at a crossroads regarding Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. Political and diplomatic bravery is in demand as it has been so many times before in our young state’s short history. Only by recommitting to building without hesitation in our capital will we be able to ensure that Jerusalem will remain ours for generations to come.
The author is deputy defense minister of the State of Israel and author of Israel: The Will to Prevail.