O Jerusalem!

O Jerusalem!
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Trump adds to the volatility of a great city where the divine and the political blend

THE WEIGHT OF the promised ground, its temples, walls, synagogues and mosques, arenas of ancient divisions, press down heavily on generations of its people. Peace-brokers, well-intentioned diplomats and leaders come and go with burnt fingers and singed reputations. Jerusalem stands—irreparable, irredeemable—at a fracture of religion and politics, history and civilisation. There are few issues in the world quite so contentious. The only consensus after decades of talks on what to do about Jerusalem has been that peace, whenever it comes to this land, requires both Israel and Palestine to agree on its status. And they never do.

The maladroit and clodhopping figure of the US President has now appeared, promising to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, thus recognising it as the capital of the Jewish state. He says the announcement marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict. Who knows what this means: is he applying shock therapy to bring everyone back to the table for negotiations? Or is he prejudicing the peace process and throwing the region and much of the world around into turmoil?

Jerusalem stands on the foundation of many warring faiths united in their unyielding reverence for it. It is al-Quds in Arabic and Yerushalayim in Hebrew. Christian forces led crusades a thousand years ago to retrieve it. Christendom no longer claims it, but the wars do not end. The holy ground bears deep scars, memories of which are still alive.

The Old City at his heart has four quarters now: for Muslims, Jews, Christians and Armenians. Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad travelled here from Mecca and ascended to heaven at the spot where now stands the Dome of the Rock. Christians believe the Christian Quarter hosts the site where Jesus was crucified and later resurrected. The Jewish Quarter is home to the Wailing Wall, a remnant of a wall of the mount on which the Holy Temple once stood. Jews believe that inside the temple was the Holy of Holies, the location of the foundation stone from which the world was created, and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims enter the walled city to be greeted by the smell of incense and the sound of church bells, muezzin calls and Jewish rams. They co-exist in uneasy everyday harmony, but the place has long been a pawn to the territorial designs of modern nation states. Back in 1947, when the UN voted to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish territories, Jerusalem was to be a separate entity under international supervision. But this lasted less than a year, and in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, it was divided into western and eastern sectors under Israeli and Jordanian control respectively. Israel has expanded since to include both East and West Jerusalem, with all its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy places, and claims it as its eternal capital. This is unacceptable to Palestinians, who regard East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent Palestinian state.

The Jewish and Arab populations of Jerusalem live side by side, but lead largely separate lives.

Trump says he is working on an ‘ultimate deal’. A New York Times report claims the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman has pressured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept a peace plan that would involve Palestinian control of disconnected enclaves in the West Bank and make do with the East Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis as a capital. This is probably going to be rejected by the Palestinian leadership.

There is no answer in sight and that is also an eternal truth of Jerusalem.