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Rep. James Moran Says Jerusalem Should Be "Multi-National Capital"
by Shirl McArthur and Richard H. Curtiss
Virginia Congressman James Moran startled a largely Arab-American audience recently with an emotional attack on Israeli plans for exclusive rule over Jerusalem. As featured speaker at a May 28 dinner marking the 20th anniversary of the Jerusalem Fund of Washington, DC, Moran said Jerusalem "should not be the political capital, but if it is to be a political capital, then it should be a multinational capital."
In his speech, which followed a day-long seminar on the future of Jerusalem sponsored by both the Jerusalem Fund and the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, Moran, a Democrat who represents an affluent constituency in the northern Virginia suburbs of the U.S. national capital, said neither Israel nor the Palestinian authority "have proved themselves worthy to have sovereignty over this holy place."
In his speech Moran described the "blatant bigotry" he encountered on a 1996 visit to Jerusalem. Describing the "obvious intimidation and pure bullying" of Palestinians by Israelis he witnessed, he said, "I can't understand how men like that can go home at night and expect their wives and children to respect them."
Recounting a personal encounter with the Israeli justice system, Moran said that when he was in the West Bank and East Jerusalem observing Palestinian elections last year "a Jewish citizen" sprayed with mace a Palestinian in Jerusalem on election day. "The Palestinian made a citizen's arrest and took [his Jewish assailant] to the police," Moran said. But instead of detaining the Israeli, the police mercilessly beat and then jailed the Palestinian victim and "afterward they all laughed."
"That's the most vivid memory I have of Jerusalem," Moran declared.
The U.S. congressman followed up the incident, complaining about the jailing of the Palestinian during a previously scheduled meeting with then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Peres subsequently informed Moran that the Palestinian had been jailed for carrying a knife.
"I said that I was right there and that didn't happen," Moran continued. "Peres got him out of jail and later I was told that none of this happened. That experience affected my attitude and it affects my reading of much of the information we are given.
"The point is, there is not a fair system of justice in Jerusalem, and until there is there will not be peace or even a veneer of reconciliation. We are told that the end justifies the means. That is not acceptable and eventually it will be the undoing of those who embrace it."
Discussing the future status of the city that is holy to members of three faiths, Moran said, "There is a great deal more at stake in Jerusalem than Middle East politics. Everyone in this world has something at stake in what happens in Jerusalem...The fact that Jerusalem is such a special place I think requires that it be dealt with in an extraordinarily unique manner. The Likud government has proven its unworthiness to exercise stewardship over this holy place."
Moran said that the exclusion of the Jewish people from many of their holy sites during the 19 years of Jordanian rule in Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967 also was unacceptable. Nor did he spare President Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. When the Palestinian Authority does such things as its recent arrest of Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab for the "crime" of televising the proceedings of the Palestinian Legislative Council, "it underscores its own insecurity and distrust of human rights," Moran said.
This all illustrates that Jerusalem "should not be the political capital." Moran said. "If it is a political capital, it should be a multinational capital Jerusalem was never intended to be any society's political capital. It should be every faith's religious capital...The fact is that you treat others as you want them to treat you. Everyone is equally sacred in the eyes of God. And if that is what we believe, we should start jointly to practice it in Jerusalem."
Proposing that "Jerusalem should be governed jointly by the most respected leaders of our faiths," Moran concluded by suggesting that those who think this sounds idealistic and utopian should look again at the teachings in the Qur'an, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. If we really believe those teachings, "we should start putting it into practice in Jerusalem by giving all God's people equal voice, equal powers and equal dignity to live in the peace and the brotherhood that Jerusalem should exemplify."
The Jerusalem Fund audience of some 350 persons gave Moran a standing ovation. Master of Ceremonies James Sams, a prominent Lebanese-American attorney in the national capital and a co-founder and former director of American Near East Refugee Aid, called Moran's talk "one of the most carefully reasoned statements by any elected official on this subject I have ever heard." Jerusalem Fund founder and chairman Dr. Hisham Sharabi, a Palestinian-American professor of European intellectual history at Georgetown University, said of Moran's proposal, "I'm all for it. However, Israel, through its unilateral actions to pre-empt negotiations, is trying to prevent that from happening."
It was not the first time Moran has publicly criticized Israel. At a June 12, 1996 hearing of the House International Relations Committee shortly after his return from Jerusalem, Moran openly confronted the administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican Committee Chairman Ben Gilman, who represents a heavily Jewish district in New York, over the issue of continuing U.S. support for newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu if he carried out his campaign promise to halt further land-for-peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Questioning then-Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau Moran asked, "Is there any limit to your support for this new government...any point beyond which you would not go along? I...am concerned about [Netanyahu's] policies...his promise to expand settlements, to continue to expropriate houses...[and to violate] the agreement already made to put Jerusalem on the table for final status negotiations...Would you object if the [Israeli] troops are not deployed from Hebron? Will you object if Israel [fails] to keep her promise to create a land passage between the West Bank and Gaza? Or fails to release prisoners?
"We have substantial leverage with Israel...There is that $3 billion a year we give her. We have the responsibility to use [the leverage] to further the peace process for it is in the greater national interest to do so. We are more than a disinterested, passive observer."
Prior to Moran's intervention nearly all of the questions from committee members had been critical of the Palestinian Authority rather than Israel. After the hearing, when a reporter asked if he had ever heard such open skepticism concerning the U.S.-Israeli relationship from a congressman, a State Department official responded: "Never. We were astonished and I suspect Pelletreau hardly knew what to say in reply before that heavily pro-Israel committee." During Moran's questioning there was only stunned silence from the pro-Israel representatives and their staffs.
Moran is a popular former mayor of Alexandria, Virginia, whose district includes both prominent Arab Americans and Jewish Americans. Both categories have reacted to the Jerusalem Fund speech in calls to Moran's office. Although Moran was an outspoken supporter of Israel's Labor government when it was pursuing the peace process, Rabbi Jack Moline, whose synagogue is in Moran's district, disparaged Moran's most recent remarks.
"He is very quick to judge events in Israel in an unflattering light whatever the prevailing government is," Moline said, adding that Moran then "spends a lot of time" explaining himself.
Former Illinois Republican Representative Paul Findley, whose support for better relations with Arab countries in the 1970s led to three successive nationwide campaigns against him by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel's principal Washington, DC lobby, said that as a result of his frank Middle East assessments Democrat Moran "will need a lot of help in 1998. I hope that everyone who hears of his courage will write a check to his re-election campaign committee," Findley said.