I looked up, and I saw a man holding a measuring line. “Where are you going?” I asked. “To measure Jerusalem,” he replied, “to see how long and wide it is to be.
— Zechariah 2:1-2
Let’s be clear: Jerusalem must remain the capital of the Jewish homeland. But the only way to ensure Jerusalem’s future is to prevent the city from being reduced to a rhetorical flourish.
We are supporters of a two-state solution and want to see international recognition for the capital of Israel in Jerusalem. But we cannot help but be frustrated by how much of this debate is marred by a lack of information about what is really happening on the ground, and by simplistic rhetoric which mythologizes Jerusalem as eternally united and undivided. We are troubled by the omission that some recent Israeli actions are undermining the two-state solution, and with it, the future of Israel as a Jewish, democratic home.
The Obama administration was right to speak out against Israeli construction in East Jerusalem because it makes it more difficult to achieve a successful two-state solution. No credible peace process can survive unproductive steps by either side, and Israeli actions in Jerusalem certainly fit that bill. So, too, must the United States hold the Palestinians accountable, against continued incitement to violence and glorification of terrorists.
We also believe that a viable two-state solution — the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic home — must be based on 1967 lines with agreed and reciprocal land swaps, as well as a shared Jerusalem that houses the capitals of both states. Previous negotiations have produced creative ideas for resolving the toughest issues and ensuring freedom of access and respect for holy sites.
And most importantly, achieving a two-state solution and broader regional peace is the single best way to finally achieve international recognition for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That will mean Palestinian rule over the Arab areas of East Jerusalem and Israeli control over Jewish areas of Jerusalem. Then Israel can build anywhere within its established borders with the complete support of the international community.
Furthermore, many simplistic talking points about Jerusalem do not hold up under scrutiny.
Many American Jews know only West Jerusalem and the Old City, the latter of which represents just 1/60th of municipal Jerusalem. Yet greater Jerusalem, stretching almost from Bethlehem to Ramallah (East Jerusalem was added to Jerusalem in 1967 and formally annexed by Israel in 1981), is a divided city with unequal regard for Arab and Jewish needs.
The rosy picture some paint of a Jerusalem where all people — Jewish, Arab, and other — are able to build anywhere they want is simply false. It is virtually impossible for Arabs to build in Jewish neighborhoods, and politicized red tape and administrative hang-ups make it difficult for Palestinians to even obtain building permits in Arab neighborhoods.
Not only is it virtually impossible for Palestinians to build in Jerusalem, some are even evicted from their homes. Jewish housing projects are being set in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah, in construction funded by wealthy American Jews. Arab Palestinian families who have lived in their homes since 1948 have been evicted and thrown in the street to make way for Israeli Jewish families.
We now face a stark choice. American Jews, with our deep personal connections to Israel and to Jerusalem, can either choose to ensure Israel’s security and peace for Jerusalem by supporting pragmatic, win-win peace options or tacitly support a dangerous, dead-end status quo.
We can line up with those who would hold on to all the land of Israel, even if it is destructive to Israel’s future or in conflict with democratic and Jewish values. Or we can recognize the painful, yet necessary, steps we need to take to achieve a two-state solution and support President Obama’s sensible leadership in the Middle East.
Thankfully, many throughout the American Jewish community agree. A March J Street poll found that 82 percent of American Jews support the United States playing an active role in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, with 73 percent of American Jews supporting this even if the United States publicly states its disagreements with both Israelis and Arabs. Nearly three-quarters of American Jews support the United States “exerting pressure” on all parties to make the necessary compromises to achieve peace.
With that kind of backing, now is the time for the United States to assert itself as a credible steward of peace through a two-state solution. It is critical President Obama receives support and encouragement from pro-Israel and pro-peace American Jews as he presses for tough decisions from Israel and the Palestinians, because the gates of opportunity for real peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians are closing.