Netanyahu’s extremist mistake

James Carroll writes:

The most astounding aspect of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pronouncements in Washington last month was not his resounding “no!” to the Palestinians, or even his discourtesies to President Obama. It was his repudiation of mainstream thinking in his own country, especially about Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s utter dismissal of any Palestinian claim on the city is a radical shift away from an Israeli political consensus that has emerged over the last two decades. His insistence that Jerusalem will be eternally “undivided” ignores the movement that had been made away from the idea of “division” — as if any one wants a return to the era when barbed wire sliced through Jerusalem’s heart — to the idea of a city “shared,” with each party able to satisfy an ancient longing.

Until recently, Israeli leaders steadily signaled openness to a compromise that would give a Palestinian authority control over Muslim and Arab sections of the city, with equivalent authority over Jewish areas remaining with Israel. Structures of cooperation for overlapping municipal administration and economic activity were to be worked out.

When proposed as part of a comprehensive settlement of all issues, the idea of East Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian state drew solid majorities of support among Israelis. Just as they had come to embrace the hope of a “two-state solution,” they understood that Jerusalem would necessarily be the capital of both states. Negotiations never reached defined details for Israeli-Palestinian sharing of Jerusalem, including the possible participation of other nations, but the principle had taken hold. So had the spirit of compromise — the spirit Netanyahu now wants to snuff out.

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