Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division – Interim Report

In 2016, three developments highlighted Jerusalem’s centrality as a point of political friction in the Israeli-Palestinian arena.

First: In October 2016, UNESCO adopted a resolution denying a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount – prompting an angry response from Israel. In 2017, a softer resolution still managed to garner a majority vote, even though a number of countries opposed it this time. Second: U.S. President-elect Trump followed previous presidential candidates and promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The president (as of this writing in May 2027) has yet to act on his promise, and his administration’s current position is that this move is under serious consideration. Third: At the end of 2016, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 passed denouncing the construction of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as illegal building in Israel-controlled occupied territory. In a follow up speech, in which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained the U.S. decision to withhold its veto of the resolution, he argued that Jerusalem ought to be, in the future, “the internationally recognized capital of the two states.” Both the resolution and the speech drew a strong rebuke from Israeli officials, and from some U.S. Jewish leaders.

These events and many others (such as recent comments made by the president of Turkey) highlight the centrality of Jerusalem to Israelis, Arabs and Muslims, and warn of possible serious conflict in the years to come. Many are quick to point out that Jerusalem’s international status as Israel’s capital has not yet been resolved.

Political issues – and especially Jerusalem as a flash point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – were front and center in many of JPPI’s Israel-Diaspora Dialogue discussions. “It’s a city of paradoxes and extremes, and all the tension that exists within Israel/Palestine is doubled or tripled there,” a participant in a seminar on the New York campus of Hebrew Union College said.

Support for relocating embassies to Jerusalem was widespread among Dialogue participants, with close to 70 percent agreeing with the statement “All countries ought to move their embassies to Jerusalem.”

But when it comes to the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the issue of who should control the city, and whether there should be a compromise that divides the city between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews are more ambivalent, and at times even contradictory. On the one hand, a clear majority of more than 70 percent agreed that “The Temple Mount must remain under Israeli jurisdiction.” A 55 percent majority agreed that “Jerusalem should never be divided.”

Yet, when presented with a more nuanced statement regarding a theoretical peace arrangement they responded differently. “I’m not opposed to some kind of capital for Palestinians but not the Temple Mount. Not in the Old City. Maybe the eastern suburbs of Jerusalem,” said a participant in St. Louis. His view, and that of many others, was also seen when we asked participants to agree or disagree with the statement: “In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, if satisfied with the rest of the agreement, Israel should be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction.” It may seem contradictory – in fact, it is a contradiction, but even though a majority oppose a division of Jerusalem, and even though a majority oppose non-Israeli control over the “Holy Basin” – a clear majority was still willing to “compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction” under the above-mentioned circumstances of a satisfactory, durable peace agreement.