Jerusalem: The Eternal City of Jewish Longing

Dec. 18 2017

In a 2016 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), then-candidate Donald Trump stated his intention to “move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” Eric Cohen, looking beyond recent policy debates, examines the meaning of the phrase “eternal capital” itself, and the ways in which Jerusalem has represented the aspirations of Jews both ancient and modern, both religious and secular:

We should have respect for the capital cities of the world, in nations large and small. Yet we would describe very few of them as “eternal.” Ottawa, Amsterdam, Caracas—most modern capitals cannot carry the civilizational weight of such a phrase. But Jerusalem is no ordinary capital. It is a political center with theological significance. . . .

For two millennia, the Jewish people were in exile. Jerusalem remained a real place—often a bloody crossroads of God, war, and politics—but it was also a dream in the Jewish mind, sustained across the generations through prayer: “Next year in Jerusalem!” . . .

The mystery and pain of Jewish history should keep us theologically modest in claiming to know God’s will or to understand the full meaning of the Jewish journey through time. But we can say this: the resurrection of Jerusalem—after centuries of wandering and after the near-death experience of the Holocaust—eludes simple rational explanation. It so defies the odds that one might understandably believe that the divine dealer knew the cards all along, even if we can never fully grasp the rules of God’s providential game.

To say that Jerusalem is the “eternal capital” of the Jews is not merely to say that it is, in this temporal world, always and forever the Jewish capital city. It is to stake a larger claim: Jerusalem is where the Jew most directly experiences eternity. In walking where the biblical ancestors walked, in praying where the ancient Israelites prayed, in governing where they governed—the Jew in a sense leaves time itself. He transcends history. Abraham and his descendants stand equidistant together before the eternal. Then becomes now, now becomes then, and the eternal mystery of God’s election of the Jewish people is experienced in the flesh.

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More about: AIPAC, Israel & Zionism, Jerusalem, Jewish history, Judaism

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank