The Knesset passed a law yesterday that will make it hard to hand over Jerusalem or the Golan in peace negotiations. From now on, an Israeli government striving to reach a peace agreement with Syria or the Palestinians will have to gain the backing of either a super majority of MKs, or a simple majority of voters in a referendum.
I don't think this is a particular dramatic development. Should there ever be a serious Syrian proposal to make real peace with Israel in return for the Golan, it will be greeted by a majority of Israelis, both in the Knesset and the general populace. Just as there was a near-total majority that supported retreating from the entire Sinai and disbanding settlements in return for peace with Egypt, and just like there was a clear majority for getting out of southern Lebanon and then Gaza in the past decade, even for less than peace.
Jerusalem is a harder call. I have been asking myself for decades what would happen if an Israeli government were to reach a real, viable, end-of-conflict arrangement with the Palestinians, in return for giving up parts of Jerusalem we shouldn't be giving up. Would the Israeli electorate chose peace without Jerusalem over war with it? I've never been sure of the answer, and am not now, either. (My own position, as regular readers will know,is that those aren't the options anyway).
Since Ehud Olmert tried to give away the Old City of Jerusalem, in September 2009, far exceeding any democratic mandate he'd ever received from the electorate, however, I'm in favor of a law that will foil any future similar antics. Yesterday's law means that dividing Jerusalem will require a clear case be made to justify it, and the decision will be made, one way or the other, by the electorate.
Almost 20% of that electorate, by the way, are Israeli Arabs, including a growing number of East Jerusalem Palestinians who are acquiring Israeli citizenship. It's anyone's guess how they'd vote in such a referendum.
A reader asked yesterday if the Jewish Quarter of the Old City is occupied territory. The answer is tailor-made to demonstrate the silliness of the entire discussion.
The Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem has been so named since it was re-settled in 1267, following the ethnic cleansing of the Crusader kingdoms and subsequent conquests and wars which had largely emptied Jerusalem of its Jews. That's 225 years before Columbus stumbled upon America. Between 1267 and 1948 the Jewish presence there was continuous and uninterrupted. It was then interrupted in May 1948, when the Jordanians did some more ethnic cleansing, sending military-aged Jewish men to POW camps and deporting all the civilians. For the next 19 years the Old City was Judenrein, but in 1967 the Jews came back. So, following a presence of 681 years, then ethnic cleansing, the return of the Jews in 1967-68 is now regarded as illegal according to international law, or at any rate, according to one interpretation of it.
If international law was a true legal system, the sovereign would fix that bit of idiocy through legislation. But it isn't, there is no sovereign, corrective legislation isn't possible, and even the various theoretical courts that might adjudicate the matter have no moral standing: why would we accept their verdict? Have they been chosen by us to be judges? Do they share values with us to the extent we're willing to accept their deliberations?
Anyway, it just so happens that some archeologists recently made an interesting discovery in the Jewish Quarter: After destroying Jerusalem in the first century, and destroying it again in the 2nd, the 10th Roman Legion settled in for the long haul, to make certain the pesky Jews didn't return. Settling in included building a public bath for their pleasure - which was recently discovered by (pesky?) Jews who wish to build a mikve - a ritual bath - at the same spot.
Occupied territory? By whom?