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Coming To Terms With ‘Reality’ Of Jerusalem

Coming To Terms With ‘Reality’ Of Jerusalem

Expert on Israeli-Palestinian relations analyzes rising tensions in the City of Gold.

Daniel “Danny” Seidemann is founder and director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, a non-governmental organization launched in January 2010 that monitors Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem. Regarded as a leading expert on contemporary Jerusalem, he was born in upstate Syracuse and made aliyah in 1973. A lawyer, he was interviewed by phone from his home in Jerusalem. This is an edited transcript.

Q: Recently announced Israeli plans to develop housing units in the Givat Hamatos neighborhood of southern Jerusalem were denounced by the U.S. and the European Union for undermining prospects for a two-state solution. Yet Israeli officials say some of the homes will be for Arabs.

A: This project is clearly for Israelis and it is disingenuous to say otherwise. Givat Hamatos is beyond the Green Line [Israel’s pre-1967 border] and building there dictates the nature of the border, which should be determined in negotiations. This is genuinely disputed area. Even if there would be significant building for Palestinians, it would be illegal.

Yet the Israeli government insists that construction is being done in areas that everyone knows will be part of Israel when the borders are finally drawn.

The only ones who know it are those who think Israel has the right to determine its borders. Not everybody knows — and many know otherwise.

There are those who believe the Temple Mount movement in Israel — those who believe Jews should have the right to pray there — are responsible for the recent clashes there with Palestinian protestors. Do you agree?

Even without the Temple Mount movement in Israel, the radicalization of political Islam would be a major problem in the Islamic world and beyond. I am not accusing the Temple Mount people of creating Islamic extremism; I am accusing them of empowering virulent forms of Islamic extremism while marginalizing the forces of moderation.

How have the Israeli police handled the Palestinian violence? The police say they will now talk to them.

There is no political leadership to engage because we prevented it from emerging. If you look at the statements of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, he talks of dealing with the Palestinians with an iron fist. And [Jerusalem Mayor Nir] Barkat talked of aggressive force. They are not talking to the Palestinians or trying to understand why they are in this turmoil.

What is your reaction to the statements of Netanyahu and Barkat that a united Jerusalem will never be divided?

They are ignoring the realities [on the ground]. There are clear lines of division that both Israelis and Palestinians obey every bit as much as if they were made of barbed wire and electric fences. Jerusalem is more divided this day at this hour … than at any point since 1967. Anybody who claims Jerusalem is a united city is totally detached from the empirical realities of the city.

Is this the start of a third intifada?

That’s a muddy term. What’s clear is that this is a popular uprising not started by an individual or group, and that it enjoys broad popular support that has sustained it on a daily and nightly basis for more than four months.

What’s behind the violence?

The Palestinians of east Jerusalem see themselves as living lives of desperation with little hope for a better life. They are living under a government that is apathetic if not hostile to their needs, and it cuts to the inherent unsustainability of Israeli rule.

Do you see American Jews becoming more realistic about Jerusalem?

Their devotion to Jerusalem is pure. They are not being called upon to abandon their love for it, but rather to transform a teenage infatuation into a mature adult love. That means viewing Jerusalem as it is and not as it has been peddled by ideologues. I think that is already happening and I’m encouraged by it.

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