Page last updated at 11:07 GMT, Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Jerusalem Diary: Monday 26 November

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem


Tom Segev is one of Israel's leading historians. He's currently working on a biography of the Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal - the first biography that Segev has attempted.

Tom Segev
Tom Segev is writing a book that will show Wiesenthal in a new light
He's renowned for his sifting of sources, and his unswerving attempts to chart a certain path through the competing narratives of the region.

His histories can make uncomfortable reading on all sides. His biography of Wiesenthal will do the same.

It would be wrong to steal Segev's thunder: but there will be revelations which will add enigma and venality to one of the heroic figures of 20th-century Jewry.

The cliche is that we read what historians have to tell us in order to understand the present and predict the future.

And when we meet, over lunch at his local cafe, Tom Segev offers his own guess. It's not a prediction, so much as an expression of a lack of certainty.

"Israel," he says, "might not exist in 50 years' time."

He's not stating how exactly that might happen. But he is saying that time is running out for a two-state solution.

Segev's voice is not alone inside Israel. There are others who warn that if a Palestinian state were to become unviable, for whatever reason, Israel might find it enormously difficult to keep the Palestinians in a stateless limbo.

No-one believed in the UN's map; everyone knew there would be war
Tom Segev
In which case, Israel itself will find it more and more difficult to remain what it describes as a "Jewish and democratic" state.

There's a remarkable lack of interest among Israelis and Palestinians in the Annapolis conference/meeting/get-together, scheduled for Tuesday.

That's largely because of the low level of expectations. But there's also a quiet hum of voices, warning about last chances.

Close by to the cafe where we had lunch is 29 November Street, named after the day, in 1947, when the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, into Jewish and Palestinian homelands.

In his history of the British mandate (One Palestine, Complete), Tom Segev says of the partition: "No-one believed in the UN's map; everyone knew there would be war."

Still, the Zionists accepted the partition plan, a "wise tactical step", according to Segev, even though "the border between the two states was long and contorted, impossible to defend", and the Jewish state would include more Arabs than Jews.

The Arabs rejected the plan and within weeks there was war. Israel declared its independence in May 1948.

"They (the Palestinians) refused to sign their own death warrant," wrote the Palestinian diplomat and nationalist, Anwar Nusseibeh.


On Friday, I wandered down 29 November Street. It being Friday, the street was almost deserted.

29th November St, Jerusalem
No-one is thinking about a significant 60th anniversary
I had just the company of two jittery local dogs, a cat, and a swaying mass of bougainvillea, jasmine and geraniums.

I had intended to ask the residents what they thought of the anniversary, but I only came across distracted-looking mothers, hurrying home with children and Shabbat food-shopping, and a couple of glowering youths.

It is an interesting anniversary for the Israeli authorities to commemorate, however.

The UN vote was not an unalloyed triumph for the Zionists. Resolution 181 of the UN General Assembly called for Jerusalem to be a "corpus separatum", a city under international supervision.

That may never now happen, but it still guides global diplomatic mores.

No country has an embassy in Jerusalem. As the British Foreign Office states: "The UK believes that the city's status has yet to be determined."

So, in the years to come, will there be Israeli and Palestinian streets named after 27 November, the date when the Annapolis conference began the process of resolving the conflict for good? You would get long odds around here.

Read previous diaries by Tim Franks:

Your comments:

Israel have already de-facto assimilated the Palestinian territories, which makes a two state solution in the area kind of moot. What the world instead is waiting for is an end to the civil war going on within the boundaries of this greater Israel. When this happens will also be the day that Israel ceases to exist as a Zionist project. The Jews will simply no more be a majority. How this is going to turn out, so that Israel will continue as a thriving modern economy, is highly dependent on the decisions made today.
Jens M Andreasen, Stockholm, Sweden

I used to visit a high school for religious Jewish girls in Cfar Saba Israel, a typical small Israeli city. There were the usual class pictures on the wall, but with one difference: The years were counted from 1967, the year Jerusalem was unified under Jewish rule for the first time in 1900 years. These girls have an average of 6 children each, building the Jewish nation physically and spiritually. Life for those secular post-Jewish politicians who want to re-divide Jerusalem to quell their empty fears will not be simple or smooth.
Israel Dalven, Emanuel, Israel

The UN General Assembly Resolution 181 although it formed the original basis of the Israel declaration of independence, is today a totally dead letter. It was never accepted by any neighbouring Arab state then, so why should it be resurrected as any sort of legal basis now? Start afresh.
Jeremy Goldbloom, Chorleywood UK

I have very low expectations about concrete decisions being made at this conference. I do think however that as we pile up failures (Oslo, Madrid, Camp David...) we add to the uncertainty for both Palestinians and especially for Israelis. Both peoples are being led by irresponsible leaders and elites.
Allara, Montreal, Quebec

Over 30 years ago, a member of the PLO told me the only answer for the Old City of Jerusalem was for it to become an internationally controlled city. At first I disagreed with him. Now, I agree. East Jerusalem must be given to the Palestinians and West Jerusalem to the Israelis. It is holy to many faiths and people, and cannot be controlled by one [side].
Channah, Indianapolis USA

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