Past efforts at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have failed for multiple reasons, chief among them the issue of Jerusalem. And while the leaders gathering in Annapolis have agreed not to agree about the holy city's fate for now, it will likely be the unbridgeable divide in the follow-up negotiations. As Madeleine K. Albright noted, "If Jerusalem were just a real estate issue, we could have dealt with it long ago." Jerusalem is hardly a real estate issue. It is at the heart of the Israel-Arab impasse, for it relates fundamentally to history, theology and national identity.
The last time Israelis and Palestinians met in Maryland, they were at Camp David in July 2000. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak unexpectedly put the division of Jerusalem on the table for Yasser Arafat's consideration. To the surprise of the Israelis and President Clinton, not only did Mr. Arafat reject the offer, but he and his chief negotiator - now Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - flatly refused to acknowledge the religious and historic connections of the Jewish people to the holy city.
From the religious perspective, Jerusalem is at the heart of religious identity for Jews - we pray each day toward Jerusalem and for its welfare, we regularly read the Biblical accounts of our forefathers that take place in the city's environs, and we conclude our holiest days with the prayer that next year we will celebrate in Jerusalem.
Historically, King David made Jerusalem his capital 3,000 years ago, and since then Jerusalem has been the national capital of the Jewish people; only brute force has kept them out. From 1948-1967, when the Old City and eastern parts of Jerusalem fell under Jordanian rule, Jews were barred entry to the Old City, denied worship at the Western Wall at the foot of the Temple Mount and denied access to the ancient cemeteries on the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion. Following the 1967 Six Day War, Israel recaptured and unified the entire city and opened the holy sites of all faiths to all people.
Under Israeli control, Jerusalem has been restored and improved, and its religious diversity is once again allowed to flourish. Pilgrims of all faiths come to Jerusalem for spiritual sustenance; they are not turned away. Muslim mosques, even those constructed on the mount where the Jewish holy temple once stood, operate freely, under Muslim religious oversight.
There is little reason to believe that if Jerusalem is discussed at Annapolis - or months from now at a meeting resulting from Annapolis - the discussion will play out any differently than it did in 2000. Even in recent weeks, senior Palestinians have publicly denied the historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem and stated they will not recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
In light of such statements, Annapolis is destined to join the litany of sites of failed Mideast meetings - as it should, if the religion and history of the city of Jerusalem are ignored once again.
Nathan J. Diament is director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. His e-mail is email@example.com.