'A revolution is underway in Jerusalem'

Jerusalem affairs minister Zeev Elkin discusses major changes for Israel's capital.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Old City Jerusalem
Old City Jerusalem

It is still not clear whether we will see him soon in the mayor's office, but also in his role as minister of Jerusalem affairs, Zeev Elkin views the capital of Israel not only as the heart of the nation but also as the heart of action.

In an interview with the Sovereignty journal, Minister Elkin refers to a number of issues, including the ways to strengthen sovereignty in the eastern part of the city, the transfer of the American embassy to the capital and the international hasbara activities in his ministry.

We begin our conversation with Elkin with the international reversal regarding Jerusalem, a reversal that began with the American decision to relocate their embassy to the Israeli capital, and in its wake, other countries have joined and apparently still more will join them.

“This is a breakthrough. To us, these matters are obvious, it is clear to us that Jerusalem is our capital; however, over the course of an extended period, no one in the world was willing to officially recognize that reality. In practice, though, they recognized it; they meet the Prime Minister of Israel, and the ministers and the members of Knesset in Jerusalem, the foreign ministry is in Jerusalem and most of the work of the ambassadors is in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the move of the embassy to Jerusalem is a breakthrough, and the proof is that one country after another is asking itself: If the Americans are moving to Jerusalem, why won’t we do so as well.

What leads Honduras, Guatemala, the Czech Republic and perhaps additional countries to this reversal? It is a result of activity along several channels, Elkin explains, among them the diplomatic activity of the Israeli government vis-à-vis the various countries, who seek to demonstrate their friendship with Israel in practical terms. Beyond that, he notes, these are countries with connections to the United States that seek to express their support for the superpower’s position through the relocation of their embassies. Beyond that: “There are also those motivated by the religious factor, the special status and symbolism of Jerusalem, its biblical status, is a sufficient reason in their eyes.”

The Israeli media makes certain to emphasize in myriad headlines the Palestinian threat of a painful reaction to the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem. Elkin points out that the iron-clad rule for Israel is to be perpetually vigilant with regard to security; however, beyond that, he finds no reason to frighten ourselves. “During the years that I have been in politics, I have already heard several times people like Ehud Barak issuing dire predictions if, God forbid, we do not capitulate or compromise…We must be vigilant; however, we must not terrify ourselves with apocalyptic predictions.”

Minister Elkin does not deem it wise to be overly impressed with the Palestinian rage that perceives the transfer of the embassy as the burial of the diplomatic negotiations on the one hand, and on the other, a pretext for violence and escalation. “I did not see that the Palestinians came to the negotiating table before this decision; therefore, I view that rationale as baseless. However, beyond all that, this step entails a declaration of the truth. We will not relinquish our history and the areas that are the very heart of our nation.”

At the same time, when he is asked whether the American administration is seeking to pacify the Palestinians prior to relocating the embassy, he says: “The administration is attempting and will attempt to resolve the matters with Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority. In my opinion, it will not be successful, and I very much hope that it will not be at our expense. As a member of the cabinet, I say that it is incumbent upon us to do everything to ensure that indeed, it will not be at our expense. The tendency to pacify the Arab world at our expense has occurred; however, as it is clear to all, this administration is much friendlier than its predecessor.”

Two Billion Shekel to Reinforce the City and Its Heritage

Jerusalem Liberation Day is a good opportunity to take a closer look at the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, a ministry, which when it was established, many contended that it was a ministry without any real substance, whose entire purpose was to glorify the name of the capital city, and for all intents and purposes, has nothing substantive behind it or in it. Elkin recalls those contentions and is convinced that the three years that have passed since the establishment of the ministry have eradicated those contentions and silenced the detractors.

“Any intelligent person who considers the ministry’s activity over these three years, sees how it is gaining momentum and that it is influential,” says the minister who separates between the matters relating to its heritage and the matters relating to Jerusalem, which are under the jurisdiction of the ministry. In the section addressing heritage, Elkin mentions the accelerated activity during the period leading to the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence, which included, among other things, an initiative to renovate and restore Independence Hall, the structure in which the state was declared in 5708 (1948). In addition, he mentions the investment of his ministry in heritage sites like Herodion, Kefar Etzion and Shilo, where a massive sum of money was invested in a special Visitors Center, in the Golan Heights, and in many additional historical sites throughout the country.

With regard to Jerusalem, Elkin estimates the sum raised by the government on behalf of the capital over the course of the last three years at over two billion shekel. “This is a contribution to everything that transpires in the city: The strategic development of the city, the induction of Jerusalem into the elite of the international hi-tech community, developing new sources of income, etc., while at the same time developing the ancient heritage of Jerusalem.

To Apply Sovereignty in Practice in East Jerusalem

Over the course of several years, Minister Elkin warned about the neglect of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods and the creation of a vacuum that the Palestinian Authority would fill, with regard to, among other matters, the local school system, which leads to incitement of the youth of East Jerusalem and their increasing involvement in terrorist acts. Today, he announces, we are on the precipice of a revolution in these neighborhoods. “The policy, common to both Left and Right, of non-intervention and lack of investment there, and the de facto lack of sovereignty, was the error that led to the reality that most of the terrorist acts during the most recent wave of terrorism originated in Jerusalem and its environs. Therefore, on Jerusalem Day, we intend to pass a governmental decision that will address these elements, with one of the foundations being a revolution in the area of education that we will implement together with Ministry of Education. We will transfer the East Jerusalem educational system to Israeli auspices. For a year already, we have been implementing a pilot program to support the schools that adopt the Israeli syllabus. This will receive special emphasis, because we believe that it is a crucial matter.”

Elkin relates that the transfer of the East Jerusalem educational system to Israeli auspices, which the Palestinian Authority has provided its content to date, is not a simple step, since despite the interest and demand on the part of the parents, it is difficult for the school administrators to implement the transfer due to a long-standing taboo and due to pressure exerted upon them. In order to extricate them from the influence of those pressures, special compensation and incentives are required.

He also mentions the need for special economic support for the ultra-orthodox [haredi] section of the city in order to facilitate development that will in turn generate income for the municipal system.

A City with Its Own Foreign Ministry

The activity of the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs goes beyond the internal affairs of the city. Elkin ascribes special significance to the struggle over the international status of the city, especially to counter the activity of significant international forces in various arenas, e.g., the UN, which seek to sever the Jewish connection to the city and produce “bizarre resolutions,” according to his characterization. UNESCO is only one example of this.” We adopted a decision to establish a quasi-foreign ministry for the defense of Jerusalem, which will work in concert with the Foreign Ministry. We bring influential people to disputed places, to the city of David, to the Mount of Olives, etc. I believe that Jerusalem knows how to defend itself when it tells its story, if people will just listen.”

The activities of that “Foreign Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs” include the recent international conference of jurists from around the world in which the theory that according to international law Israel has no rights in Jerusalem was debunked. Among other items, ancient seals were displayed on which names like “Barukh ben Neriya,” which is mentioned in the book of Jeremiah, and even the name of a prime minister named Netanyahu appears on one of the seals. “The Christian world sees and discovers that the characters in the Bible in which they believe speak to them from the findings,” the minister relates, and notes that testament to the influence of that exhibition can be ascertained from the complaints submitted by the Arab representatives to the UN Secretariat over the staging of the exhibition.

Toward the end of our conversation with Minister Elkin, we ask one more question and we allow him to choose whether or not to answer it: Does he indeed plan to contend for the position of the next mayor of Jerusalem? Elkin, characteristically, does not exploit the opportunity provided him to avoid answering, and chooses to answer, albeit diplomatically. “I receive many requests, from both municipal and national figures, to contend for the position. I am considering the matter very seriously. Despite the fact that, ostensibly, I am an influential governmental minister, Jerusalem is not just any city. It is the heart of the nation, and the heart of activity; therefore, I am seriously considering the prospect of running for mayor. It is a decision that must be taken by the Likud movement as well, whether or not to present a candidate. I will make my decision in the coming weeks.”

Minister Elkin said the above in an interview given to the 10th issue of the Sovereignty journal published these days by the Sovereignty Movement.