Tuesday, January 2, 2007

In Memoriam: Teddy Kollek

Some sad news when I woke up this morning, although I suspect as usual many televangelists will be actually quite happy. Theodor Kollek, the long-time former Mayor of Jerusalem, died this morning at the age of 95. Against a gradual tide of anti-Arab resentment, Kollek tried to promote the co-existence of Jews and Palestinians in the Holy City, starting from his election in 1965. He was also a major patron of the arts and made Jerusalem one of the world's top tourist destinations -- so much that when was finally defeated after 27 years in office by Ehud Olmert in 1993, it was hard to imagine Jerusalem without "Mayor Teddy."

Few other mayors have worldwide name recognition. Besides Jerusalem, I can only think of the mayoralties of Paris, London, New York City and Los Angeles that rank in importance alongside Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Kollek's passing is quite bitter. The peace process is at an absolute standstill and even retrenching; and it all comes down to ultimately what the "final status" of Jerusalem will be. Israel insists that it must remain undivided, while the Palestinians want at least the east side of the city (al-Quds), including the Holy Sites of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, as their future capital. Interestingly, only Bolivia and Paraguay have their embassies in Jerusalem or its suburbs -- even El Salvador is in the process of moving its mission to Tel Aviv as most other countries did after Jerusalem formally annexed the East in 1980. This was at about the mid-point of Kollek's tenure and he kept holding out hope even afterwards -- naïvely, perhaps -- that some kind of reconciliation could happen. His downfall, coming around the same time as the Rabin-Arafat accord, was perhaps the beginning of the end (or the end of the beginning, depending on how one views it).

With Hamas running the show, it's hard to see any movement in the foreseeable future -- the moment of opportunity actually expired in 2000 with the collapse of Camp David II, when Arafat was offered 97% of what he asked for plus some territory within what the world recognizes as Israel and it still wasn't enough.

Perhaps with Kollek's passing someone, somewhere, out there will rally all religious groups within the region to recapture the optimism "Teddy" represented and at last come up with a deal that offers peace and security and without triggering the supposed seven-year countdown to Armageddon. One that allows Jerusalem to be shared fairly, and with free access to the Holy Sites not just there but also those sacred to all in Jericho and Hebron as well.

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