A tale of two cities
East Jerusalem is of no practical or religious use to Israel. Allowing it to become the Palestinian capital would benefit everyone.
Half way along the route from my house and the town centre, the bus approaches the walls of the Old City before swinging sharply to the left and heading up Jaffa Road. As it veers round the corner, the spot we call "the edge of the world" comes into view - the invisible divide between East and West Jerusalem, which effectively marks the city limits of the Jewish part of town. Barely any Jew has reason to venture beyond the junction, since - whatever the diehard nationalists claim - Jerusalem is a divided city already, in all but name.
Which is why there really is no good reason for Israel to continue to hold on to the Arab half of the city, especially given the mileage the government would gain from relinquishing their grasp. The political significance of acceding to Palestinian demands to hand over half of Jerusalem would mark a watershed moment in relations between the two peoples, and provide enough momentum to carry peace negotiations to previously uncharted waters.
Not that we should be motivated by political manoeuvring alone. As a friend of mine commented while we ate lunch near the Kotel (Western Wall): "We ought to be proud to give the Palestinians their half of the city, so that they can experience the same joy at gaining their spiritual capital that we did in '67." In his eyes, not only would we be "lifting a great weight from our own shoulders", but also bestowing on the Palestinians the same gift of pride and self-worth that so inspired the Israeli public when Jerusalem was conquered 40 years ago.
Anyone with a real desire to grant the Palestinians a viable, independent state is all too aware that East Jerusalem must be included in the package, if there is to be any chance of a successful resolution. Just as Israeli Jews didn't feel their country was complete until the Old City was captured in the six-day war, so too will the Palestinians feel eternally short-changed if they are expected to live in a state that doesn't have East Jerusalem as its capital.
However, even in what some describe as the post-Annapolis state of optimism, the issue of dividing Jerusalem is still an incredibly thorny one - to Israelis, at least. According to the November peace index published by Tel Aviv University, 39% of Israelis interviewed saw Jerusalem as the most difficult hurdle to overcome in the quest for peace between the two camps. Although this figure has declined considerably since 1999 (when it stood at 57%), there is no denying that decades of nationalist propagandising has left a significant impact on Israeli psyches when it comes to the prospect of carving up the holy city.
But, while many Israelis are happy to let their hearts rule their heads, the plain facts are that East Jerusalem is of no importance whatsoever in either practical or religious terms. As Ruth Meisels pointed out in Friday's Ha'aretz, "there is no commandment mandating Jewish political sovereignty in Jerusalem". Just because the orthodox have adopted Jerusalem as a symbol of Jewish independence and autonomy, does not mean that the rest of the country should be duped into believing the hype. Jerusalem is no more required to be under Jewish control than Herzliya or Tel Aviv, as far as the Bible is concerned.
Therefore, given the potential for reconciliation with our Palestinian neighbours by agreeing to share control of the city, it takes a particularly hard heart to demand that not one inch of Jerusalem is ceded in the interests of peace. Whether we like it or not, the only way forward in the search for true harmony is to treat the Palestinians as equals when it comes to negotiations, and that means acknowledging that their claims to Jerusalem are just as worthy as our own.
Consenting to such a deal doesn't have to mean that the we revert to the pre-1967 situation, when Jews were all but denied access to the Western Wall. As I wrote in June, the Kotel is the focal point of world Jewry, and consequently we can never allow it to become off-limits again to those who wish to pray there. But that stipulation doesn't preclude the possibility of turning the Old City into an international protectorate, where Jews and Muslims alike would be able to roam unimpeded.
If that were to happen, the rest of the puzzle would fall into place pretty easily. The area lying to the east of the Old City, which is all but entirely Palestinian, should be handed over to serve as capital of the new Palestinian entity, whilst all that lies to the west would remain under Jewish control. And then, in the conciliatory climate that would inevitably follow such a move, perhaps the world would finally recognise West Jerusalem as Israel's capital - something it has understandably refused to do until now.
Until the issue of Jerusalem is resolved fairly, there is little chance of any of the post-Annapolis green shoots thriving and producing any kind of worthwhile harvest. The Palestinians have said as much, and - along with the refugee dilemma - there is no way that any Palestinian leader can be expected to deliver peace without having brought his people an honourable resolution to the problem.
And, painful as it may be to admit, the Israelis know that if they are to ever do justice to their downtrodden neighbours, they will have to part with much of their beloved city. To not do so will mean prolonging the conflict for another half century and another two or three generations - and that would be far too heavy a price to pay just to protract the myth that Jerusalem is "united".