THE PROSPECT of Is­rael re­turn­ing parts of Jerusalem to Arab con­trol has sparked wide­spread dis­may in the Ortho­dox world.

Is­rael’s Deputy Pre­mier, Haim Ra­mon, re­cently sug­gested that the ced­ing of all-Arab neigh­bour­hoods in the city to the Pales­tinian Author­ity could be on the agenda of the forth­com­ing An­napo­lis peace talks.

But Ortho­dox rab­bis have been lin­ing up to con­demn the very thought of com­pro­mise over the city, whose sanc­tity to the Jewish peo­ple they con­sider of such tran­scen­dent value that it brooks no ar­gu­ment.

Around 100 strictly Ortho­dox rab­bis re­cited spe­cial prayers in the Old City’s Ram­ban syn­a­gogue last month in or­der to re­scind what the in­flu­en­tial Charedi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv be­wailed as the “dread­ful de­cree”.

Pikuach Ne­fesh, a rab­binic or­gan­i­sa­tion claim­ing 1,200 mem­bers in Is­rael and abroad, has also bid them to speak out against Ra­mon’s pro­pos­als. Rabbi Yakov Yosef, of Jerusalem, urg­ing oth­ers to join a call for the min­is­ter to re­sign, ac­cused him of at­tempt­ing “to steal from the peo­ple of Is­rael the rem­nants of our Holy Tem­ple”.

Rabbi Yosef Gore­lit­sky, who chairs Pikuach Ne­fesh, also weighed in: “In ad­di­tion to the des­e­cra­tion of the Tem­ple Mount, [Ra­mon’s] plan will lead di­rectly –– Heaven for­fend –– to the spilling of Jewish blood through­out the land. Does any­one have any doubt that ev­ery cen­time­tre handed over to the Pales­tini­ans will be­come the base for yet more ter­ror?”

Rabbi David Druck­man, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Mot­skin, near Haifa, hoped the gov­ern­ment will “wake up and change the di­rec­tion of the hor­ren­dous path upon which it is march­ing, and take a firm stand re­gard­ing the borders of the Holy Land; this is the only way to re­ceive God’s promised bless­ing of peace.”

Eli Yishai, head of Shas, the Sephardi Ortho­dox party, and a mem­ber of Is­rael’s rul­ing coali­tion, was adamant that “Jerusalem is not for ne­go­ti­a­tion… He who be­gins by re­lin­quish­ing Shu’afat, and Anata [Arab neigh­bour­hoods in East Jerusalem] will end up with a for­eign rule over Re­havia [a par­tic­u­larly plush dis­trict in West Jerusalem].”

Rabbi Daniel Sper­ber, a Bri­tish-born pro­fes­sor at Bar Ilan Univer­sity, and a res­i­dent of the Old City, em­pha­sised the con­se­quences of pre­vi­ous con­ces­sions by Is­raeli gov­ern­ments. The Oslo Ac­cords of 1993 led to the sec­ond in­tifada, and the with­drawal from Gush Katif has en­cour­aged the end­less rocket at­tacks from Gaza, he ar­gued: “Why would a with­drawal from part of Jerusalem be any dif­fer­ent?”

Protests have also come from be­yond Is­rael. The lead­ers of Amer­ica’s main­stream Ortho­dox or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Ortho­dox Union, told Is­rael’s Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert in a let­ter that they were “man­dated to un­der­take all ef­forts that are nec­es­sary to se­cure and main­tain Yerusha­layim as the eter­nal and un­di­vided cap­i­tal of the State of Is­rael”.

One of the few Ortho­dox rab­bis who could be said to sup­port Mr Ra- mon’s sug­ges­tions is fel­low MK Rabbi Michael Mel­chior (Labour-Meimad), a for­mer Min­is­ter for Di­as­pora Af­fairs. But even he has reser­va­tions about the Deputy Prime Min­is­ter’s plans for the Old City and the Tem­ple Mount.

“His pro­pos­als mostly re­peat those ac­cepted by the gov­ern­ment in 2001,” Rabbi Mel­chior said. “Th­ese di­vide East Jerusalem be­tween Is­rael and the PA, and place the holy sites un­der the aegis of the ap­pro­pri­ate re­li­gious author­ity, with no na­tional flags in sight. I see no rea­son why not to con­tinue to ac­cept this now. Ob­vi­ously there has to be a creative so­lu­tion for the Old City, a spe­cial type of ju­rispru­dence to gov­ern it.”

But other rab­bis strike a more omi­nous note. Rabbi Shi­mon Naf­talis, a Lubav­itcher, who pro­fesses lit­tle faith in politi­cians, says: “They say one thing to­day, and an­other to­mor­row. They talk and talk but in the end they give ev­ery­thing away. This is even more true of Likud. Ra­mon in Kadima is ba­si­cally a Likud­nik. I’m very pes­simistic.

“The Sat­marer Rebbe [the late Rabbi Yoel Teit­en­baum] pre­dicted that the sec­u­lar Zion­ist state would fall apart in this man­ner. I think the Arabs have al­ready won and it’s only a ques­tion of time be­fore the state dis­ap­pears.”

Ortho­dox rab­bis are hor­ri­fied at a pro­posal by Is­rael’s Deputy Pre­mier to cede parts of Jerusalem to the Arabs

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