Article Library / Structured Jewish World Dialogue

Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division

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

First: In October 2016, UNESCO adopted a resolution that ignored a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount – and prompted an angry response from Israel.[1] In 2017, UNESCO repeated this action, albeit with somewhat softer language.[2]

Second: U.S. President-elect Trump followed previous presidential candidates and promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But unlike previous candidates, Trump and his advisers continued to insist after Election Day that he was serious about implementing this policy.[3] After the completion of the Dialogue process but before this report was written, President Trump proved to be – at least on this specific issue – more similar to his predecessors than he cared to initially admit. His top advisers insisted that the president’s support for moving the embassy is still as solid as it was before, but the actualization of this move has been put on hold for the time being.[4]

Third: At the end of 2016, a UN Security Council resolution treated the construction of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as an illegal act of building in occupied territory controlled by Israel. In a follow up speech explaining the decision of the United States not to veto the resolution, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry argued that Jerusalem ought to be, in the future, “the internationally recognized capital of the two states.”[5] Both the resolution and subsequent speech drew a strong rebuke from Israeli officials and some Jewish leaders in the United States.[6]

These events and others (such as comments made by Turkey’s President Erdogan[7]) highlight the centrality of Jerusalem to both Israel and the Palestinians (and the Arab world in general), and the potential for conflict, including religious conflict, related to the city in the years to come. They highlight the fact that Jerusalem’s international status as Israel’s capital has yet to be resolved.[8]

Political issues – and especially Jerusalem as a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – were front and center in some of the discussion seminars. “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 discussion at Hebrew Union College New York said. Generally speaking, it is known that non-Israeli Jews are mostly supportive of the “two-state solution.” In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that when it comes to American Jews, “about seven-in-ten Jews with no denominational affiliation (72%) think it is possible for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, as do majorities of Reform and Conservative Jews (58% and 62%, respectively). By contrast, most Orthodox Jews (61%) do not think a two-state solution will work.”

However, when discussing the potential ramifications for Jerusalem in peace negotiations, the picture of Jewish support becomes murkier. In AJC surveys of American Jewish opinion, a majority gave a negative answer to the question: “In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction?” (in 2011, 59 percent said no).[9] In J Street surveys, American Jewish opinion looks different, with 70 percent support for a peace agreement according to which “Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem become part of the new Palestinian state while Israel retains control of Jewish neighborhoods and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.”[10] A study of American Jewish attitudes toward Israel from 2010 found that “Fifty-one percent of respondents opposed – and 29 percent supported – compromising on Jerusalem’s status as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction.”[11] The authors of this study explained that “with all other variables held constant… opposition to compromise on Jerusalem increases with conservatism, travel to Israel, and religious background. Support for compromise increases with age and educational attainment. Gender is also significantly related, with women more likely to answer ‘don’t know’.”

Israeli Jews also give various answers to different questions about a possible arrangement in Jerusalem. A survey conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) during the 2015-16 wave of terror attacks and the following year of relative calm, provided information on how Israelis view future arrangements in Jerusalem.[12] Respondents were asked: “In the current situation, what, in your opinion, is the correct solution for the issue of Jerusalem?” The findings of the survey, according to the INSS report, “revealed that approximately 22 percent of the Israeli public supported maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem whereas the rest preferred a degree of change in the city, including concession and/or a new solution.”

According to this survey, approximately 29 percent were “in favor of maintaining the status quo while increasing physical separation in East Jerusalem; some 26 percent favored transferring control of the Arab neighborhoods to the control of the Palestinian Authority; and approximately 23 percent expressed support for the establishment of a separate local authority for the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Even though establishing a separate authority for the Arab neighborhoods was a new idea, it is particularly interesting to note that two separate public opinion polls regarding the idea yielded comparable findings.”

Other surveys have provided different answers to similar – but not identical – questions.[13] A survey by Yediot Daily found that 46 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose any compromise on Jerusalem, 32 percent would accept an arrangement that put the city’s Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian jurisdiction, but also say that “the Temple Mount and the Old City must remain under Israel’s jurisdiction.” Fifteen percent agree that both the Arab neighborhoods and the Temple Mount will be part of the capital of a future Palestinian state. A survey conducted by the newspaper Israel Hayom found that 67 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose a settlement that includes “partial Palestinian sovereignty in the Old City.”  Eighty-four percent oppose full Palestinian sovereignty over the Old City. Most supporters of the arrangement would oppose it if the Kotel were also going to be under Palestinians control, 87 percent of opponents to the deal say that they would keep opposing it even if it means there will never be a peace deal with the Palestinians.

The Dialogue on Jerusalem did not include a question on the two-state solution, but did include several questions on Jerusalem-related political matters. Some of them were simple, and not controversial. For example, on the question of whether countries ought to move their embassies to Jerusalem, a clear majority of participants said yes, with about 62 percent agreeing with the statement “all countries ought to move their embassies to Jerusalem” (support for such a measure was much higher among men (69 percent) than among women (58 percent)).

However, when it comes to the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the issue of who should control Jerusalem, and whether there should be a compromise that divides the city between Israel and the Palestinians, Dialogue participants were more conflicted, and at times even self-contradictory.

On the one hand, a clear majority of close to 75 percent argued that “the Temple Mount must remain under Israeli jurisdiction” (graph 14). A majority of 56 percent also agreed that “Jerusalem should never be divided” (34 percent “strongly agree”, 22 percent “somewhat agree”). Still, a participant in St. Louis said: “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.” In Chicago, a participant voiced a similar sentiment: “I want a peace agreement, but am wary of a situation that puts the Temple Mount in Palestinian hands.” In Rio de Janeiro, some thought “that Jerusalem is not an issue to discuss with nobody [sic], and also not to negotiate with the Arabs. They don’t accept to divide Jerusalem with the Palestinians.”

That Jews want the Temple Mount to remain under Israeli jurisdiction is interesting, and might reflect their lack of confidence that forces other than Israel’s can control this area and safeguard the right of Jews to access it freely. Thus, when we asked participants if they were willing “to let an international force rule the ‘Holy Basin’ of Jerusalem” many “strongly disagreed.” Even among “secular” respondents – the most open to such arrangement – only 13 percent “strongly agreed” with this option, while 61 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” disagreed with it. Among the Orthodox, the most suspicious group of such a proposition, 72 percent “strongly” disagreed with accepting an international force in Jerusalem, and only 14 percent “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed to it.

The level of political attachment to the Temple Mount (graph 15) is interesting, as we take into account the fact that the connection of Jews (especially in Israel) to this site of great historical and religious significance is not very high according to JPPI’s findings. Almost 40 percent of Israelis feel “not at all connected” to the Temple Mount (in Yediot’s survey, 21 percent of respondents said the Temple Mount is the most important site in Jerusalem, compared to 61 percent for the Kotel).

Among non-Israeli Jews who participated in the Dialogue, the level of connection to the Temple Mount is somewhat higher, with half feeling “connected” or “highly connected” to it. On average, it is apparent that the Temple Mount is not a site with which Jews feel a great connection compared to the Kotel or the Old City in general. Perhaps this is not surprising considering the more controversial political connotation of Israel’s control of Temple Mount, and also because many Jews that visit Jerusalem go to the Kotel but not the Temple Mount (for religious, political or other reasons). According to the Yediot survey, 75 percent of Jews said that they had never visited the Temple Mount.[14] In the Dialogue survey, on a scale of 1-4, “the Old City” attachment level was 3.4, “the Kotel” is 3.4, “Jerusalem” was 3.6, and “the Temple Mount” was 2.5.

Although Dialogue participants expressed relatively strong views against the division of Jerusalem, Palestinian control of key areas, and international involvement in safeguarding any arrangement in Jerusalem, it is interesting to note that when presented with a more nuanced statement vis-a-vis a theoretical peace arrangement they responded to it relatively favorably.

Why? Because “I do not want to lose any of it [Jerusalem], but peace is also something I can’t lose,” as a participant in Ann Arbor said. A Washington participant said: “Saying no to having a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem is a deal breaker for me.” Others were no less clear in expressing their support for a peace deal, with the understanding that a compromise in Jerusalem is what the Palestinian side demands.

In the Dialogue survey, participants were asked 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.” About 60 percent of them agreed with it (graph 16). And, of course, this might seem to be in contradiction with their answers to other questions. Nevertheless, even though a majority of participants opposed a division of Jerusalem,[15] and even though a majority opposed a non-Israeli control over the so called “Holy Basin” – a majority is still willing to “compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction” under the above-mentioned circumstances of a satisfying peace agreement[16].

[1] See: UNESCO adopts another resolution ignoring Jewish link to Temple Mount, Times of Israel, October 26, 2016.

[2] See: UNESCO denies once more Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, Itamar Eichner, Ynet News, July 4, 2017.

[3] See: Trump’s U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that he was looking forward to working in a “U.S.embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem”.. See: Jerusalem Post, December 16, 2016.

[4] See: Donald Trump Won’t Move Embassy to Jerusalem, at Least for Now, Peter Baker, New York Times, June 1, 2017.

[5] See: Remarks on Middle East Peace, John Kerry , Secretary of State, The Dean Acheson Auditorium, Washington, DC, December 28, 2016.

[6] See: Jewish groups split on Kerry’s settlements speech, JTA, December 29, 2016.

[7]  See for example: Analysis: Turkey’s Erdogan Stakes His Claim To Jerusalem, Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, May 9, 2017.

[8] The volume of reading material on Israel’s status is endless. For a comprehensive review of the topic see: Is Jerusalem Really Negotiable? An Analysis of Jerusalem’s Place in the Peace Process, Alan Baker, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), 2012. In fact, thus far the world refuses to recognize even west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

[9] See:

[10] See: J Street – National Post-Election Survey: November 8, 2016. In J Street surveys it is also clear that Jerusalem complicates the response of Jewish Americans. When Jerusalem is included as part of a two-state solution deal there is a decline in support for the deal (for example, this formulation has 72%, compared to a 81% support for a formulation that does not include Jerusalem: “I support a two-state solution that declares an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, resulting in all Arab countries establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel and creating an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem”).

[11] Still Connected: American Jewish Attitudes about Israel, Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, 2010.

[12] Zipi Israeli, INSS Insight No. 936, June 15, 2017.

[13] The Yediot and Israel Hayom surveys were both conducted for the 50 celebration of Jerusalem Day.

[14]  This number refers to Israeli Jews except for settlers. 10% of Jews said  they had visited once, 8% more than once, 6% as part of their military service or other work-related purposes.

[15]  Most participants also do not believe that a division of Jerusalem is a likely prospect. When JPPI asked about Arab-Jewish relations in Jerusalem and offered the option that “It does not matter; the city will eventually be divided anyhow,” only 5% strongly agreed with it, and 20% agreed with it. This does not necessarily mean that they don’t foresee a division (they might think relations do “matter” even though a division is forthcoming) but for some of them that is probably what this answer means.

[16] Again, there was a significant difference between men and women in answering this question, with women being more suspicious of the proposed arrangement. 19% of women “strongly” agreed with the statement, compared to 29% of men; 29% of women “strongly” disagreed with the statement, compared to 21% of men.