Prior to the Six-Day War in 1967, Jews couldn’t enter the Old City in Jerusalem. The Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest shrine, was off limits, and mosques were being constructed in the Jewish Quarter — the idea being it would never again be a Jewish neighborhood.
Welcome to Jerusalem as a divided city — a catastrophe for Jews and another war just waiting to happen.
This is the kind of Jerusalem that the Palestinian Authority, indeed much of the world, want to see again, which is why they protested so strenuously Israel’s announcement this week that it has solicited bids to build nearly 700 new apartments in Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.
How quickly — or conveniently — the world forgets.
To be clear, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a partial freeze on West Bank settlement construction earlier this year — a gesture to the Palestinian Authority to restart negotiations — he pointedly excluded Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1980, from that order.
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s our point: Jerusalem as a divided city has been tried. It doesn’t work.
Under Jordanian stewardship, access to holy sites was denied to Jews and severely limited to Christians. Jewish holy sites were actually desecrated, while the Dome of the Rock, which sits on the site of the First and Second Temples, underwent major renovations.
In other words, the Arab stewards of eastern Jerusalem did the same things for which the world now criticizes Israel.
Talk about hypocrisy.
After 1967, though, adherents of the three major monotheistic religions had near-unfettered access to their holy sites under the enlightened administration of the city’s late mayor, Teddy Kollek. That has continued under his successors. Israel’s stewardship of the whole city has proven more democratic and open than the Arab stewardship.
The Palestinians’ main criticism of Israeli administration, that they are not permitted to build and must jump through hurdles to receive construction permits, took a body blow Monday when Israeli Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias announced that 500 housing units were recently authorized in the eastern Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Silwan. According to Ynet, only two of the 500 are for Jewish families.
So the question remaining is whether Israel should refrain from construction in eastern Jerusalem until the city’s final status is settled.
From where we sit, the status is settled. While city limits and control of holy sites may be negotiated, Jerusalem is one city, and Israel has earned the right, morally and through fortunes of war, to make it its capital. One may build in one’s own capital.