Israel Education Day speaker: Compromise is critical

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If the Hebrew prophets hadn't written the biblical message of justice, peace and love in Jerusalem, the city's status might not be the most controversial component of the peace accords, says Kalman Yaron.

Jerusalem is not just a political debate. It's also a religious one that too few people comprehend, Yaron said during a recent phone interview from his Jerusalem home.

Yaron, former director of the Martin Buber Institute of the Hebrew University and a champion of Israeli-Palestinian relations, hopes to shed light on the city's textured history at the 14th annual Israel Education Day Sunday, March 10.

Ten sessions that focus on Jerusalem –ranging from art, music and poetry to discussions on Israel's upcoming elections and a mock trial of Jesus with Jewish and Roman law — begin at 10 a.m. at U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. The event is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay and more than 20 synagogues and organizations, and funded in part by the federation's Endowment Foundation.

Yaron will discuss the city's holy places and their meanings for Jews, Christians and Muslims, before delving into what he sees as the three possibilities for Jerusalem's future:

Do nothing; divide the city into two parts — with or without walls; or have Israelis, Palestinians and Christian groups share sovereignty under one umbrella.

Like many of his colleagues in Israel, Yaron believes compromise — even in Jerusalem — is the real key to peace.

"If Israelis are certain of a comprehensive and durable peace [occurring], Jerusalem is really the last barrier to it. Most [Israelis] will find it heartbreaking, but I speculate they will allow the Palestinians the possibility to partake in the administration of Jerusalem [for peace]," he said.

Though Israelis will likely compromise, he said, they nonetheless feel that Jerusalem is their historic right.

"Jerusalem is Jewish and has been for 3,000 years. There has been an ongoing Jewish presence there from the Bible until this day. Historically, we were there first." Plus, "no one else [Christians or Muslims] made it their capital."

However all the parties have made competing historic claims to Jerusalem, and none have produced peaceful agreements over the city's status. So options need to be examined, he said.

"I don't think we'll be able to keep all we have now under absolute Israeli control, because of political pressures" from the United States and Palestinians, Yaron said.

Recalling that Jerusalem was divided with a wall before 1967, Yaron dismissed the option of splitting the city.

"Now there is no clear line between East and West and it seems impossible to have a division again because of demographics," he said, noting that Jewish settlements are now spread all around the city.

Both Labor and Likud say Jerusalem should never be divided as it was before 1967, he said. So the only option is to make Palestinians and Christians partners with Israel in administering the city, Yaron said. He suggests all three parties might manage their individual holy places or education systems.

But first Jerusalem has to reach to the negotiation table.

"This [issue] will be difficult for both parties. But I believe we'll end up giving the Palestinians some sort of foothold in administering the city," Yaron said. "The Palestinians probably will not be satisfied. But we have no choice.

"Unlike the Golan, which is a strategic issue, Jerusalem is an emotional problem."