Yom Yerushalayim

Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) is approaching and this year we will mark the passing of 43 years since the reunification of Israel’s capital.

When I was in high school, we once debated the notion of whether Jerusalem was the centre of the earth. We concluded that while this was clearly not correct from a geographical perspective, it certainly was a centre for three of the world’s major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam and definitely the centre for the former. 

Sometimes, when I read how much the city of Jerusalem dominates world news headlines, I begin to think that perhaps Jerusalem really is the centre of the earth after all and this has certainly been the case in the first few months of this year. 

In March, the US was deeply angered by the questionable timing of an Israeli announcement of the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, which coincided with US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the area (see more). Since then, many commentators on the Middle East have been more than willing to present the issue of the status of Jerusalem as the obstacle to peace in the Middle East. This has led many to speculate that the love affair between the US and Israel was over, particularly after Obama’s apparent snub of Prime Minister Netanyahu in late March (see more). Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, declared that Israel and the US were facing their worst crisis in 35 years (see more). 

In April, another surprising issue emerged, this time in the UK. The Advertising Standard Agency ruled that images of the Western Wall would no longer be allowed in Israeli tourism ads because “the status of the occupied territory of the West Bank was the subject of much international dispute and … the ad implied that the part of East Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the State of Israel… the ad was likely to mislead” (see more). 

That’s right. You have read it correctly: the Western Wall – the Kotel – the single most recognisable image of Jewish life in the world, the symbol of over two thousand years in exile, built by the sweat and toil of Jews, this most famous icon is considered so controversial that it has been omitted from a tourism advertisement for the Jewish State! 

While some might say that some little advert over in the UK is not such a big deal, it is worrying how widely this view has been accepted. It seems to me to be rather symbolic  of the entire debate surrounding Jerusalem, where somewhere along the line, any claims that Israel seems to have over the Old City now seem to be illegitimate. 

In the meantime, both of today’s local papers feature articles about the latest round of proximity peace talks. In these talks, the Israelis and the Palestinians would not meet directly, but would relay their positions through US envoy George Mitchell. Please read ‘Obama restates US duty to Israel’ by John Lyons in the Australian, and Jason Koutsoukis’ analysis entitled ‘Israel, Palestinians set for new talks but gap is a gulf’ from the Age. 

While Koutsoukis devotes most of his column space talking about why Israeli preconditions are going to spell the end to the peace process, he makes no reference at all to the fact that the Palestinians have not yet even announced their agreement to even begin proximity talks (see more), let alone their ever expanding statements on anticipated preconditions required before they are even prepared to start talking about anything, not to mention their failure to end incitement against Israel and their celebration of past terrorist mass murderers. 

So with Obama restating his commitment to Israel’s security, after months of a basic stand-off between Israel and the US, what does this all mean for Israel-US relations? 

Will the relationship between Israel and the US make it through this rocky patch?

These questions will be best answered by Ambassador (Ret) Yoram Ettinger, who will be speaking next Wednesday night at the Zionist Council of Victoria’s Yom Yerushalayim Oration.

Ettinger, who is an expert on Israel-US relations, will be speaking on the topic “Jerusalem, Washington and the Obama Factor” on Wednesday 12 May at 8:00pm, in Melbourne at Beth Weizmann Community Centre. Click here for more information. *

* note that Yoram Ettinger is also speaking on Tuesday 11th May in Sydney at the NSW State Zionist Council Annual General Meeting – see here.

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