From his window in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood, the eminent Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai contemplated the rough walls of the Old City, glowing golden in the sun, and recalled the pain of the two decades when he and other Israelis were denied access to what they regard as the "eternal capital" of their nation and the seat of their faith.
"For me, as a Jew, life without Jerusalem is not possible, and Jerusalem without the Old City is not Jerusalem," Amichai said. "That may sound like an extreme statement, and in literal terms it is.
"But it sums up all the emotions that Jerusalem has for us, that are part of our identity. Jerusalem, and our love of what we call the 'City of Peace,' is what makes us Jews. And once Jerusalem has become such a symbol for a people, it cannot be de-symbolized."
Across the city, at his home amid the olive trees on the slope of Mt. Scopus, looking out toward the Old City and Al Aqsa mosque with its golden dome, the Palestinian writer Nasser Eddin Nashashibi was equally emphatic, equally passionate.
"Jerusalem is the embodiment of all the history, the culture, the politics and, above all, the religious faith of the Arab people for nearly 15 centuries," he said. "For us, Jerusalem is Al Quds --The Holy. As a Muslim, I must believe what God told me in the Koran--that he had blessed Al Aqsa and the land around it, that we are commanded to care for this and that we must not let it fall under foreign control. This we believe, and this we must obey."
As Israelis and Palestinians come to terms with one another on the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jerusalem looms as the most difficult issue of all, one on which neither side sees much room for compromise but where an impasse could endanger the overall peace.
"I tell my Israeli cousins, 'Deal with us, the Palestinians, on Jerusalem, for it is just one of many issues between our peoples, and we will be reasonable,' " Nashashibi said. "If we do not find a just solution for Jerusalem, however, the whole Arab world will become involved, and then the whole Muslim world, more than a billion people, and they will not rest without Muslim sovereignty over Jerusalem, I tell you, they will not rest. . . ."
Although an architect of the recent accord on Palestinian autonomy and generally dovish, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is--like most Israelis--unyielding in his insistence that Jerusalem come under Israeli sovereignty.
"This is our only capital, and for them it is their never-never capital," Peres said last month. "They can dream--we deny no one his dreams--but united Jerusalem is and will remain Israel's eternal capital."
For Israelis, as the symbol of their ancient religion and their national rebirth as a modern state, Jerusalem evokes the strongest reactions even from moderates. For Palestinians, Jerusalem, as their home for centuries as well as Islam's third-holiest shrine, brings even the normally calm to a full-flushed rage.
"A few thousand years of history and the problems they left cannot be decided in an instant," Amichai said. "For the sake of peace, we should solve what we can solve, and leave Jerusalem for a while, even for 20 or 30 years. . . . A miracle may happen in the meantime."
But under Israel's agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Jerusalem's future will be discussed in the second stage of negotiations, starting in 1995.
The competing claims to Jerusalem--the Arabs' based on nearly 1,400 years of residence, the Jews' going back even further, almost 3,000 years--have already taxed the minds of diplomats and statesmen for 77 years; none of 56 solutions enumerated recently by Israeli researchers has won acceptance from both sides.
"Everyone is, in essence, trying to square the circle," Israeli historian Yair Sheleg said, summarizing the long efforts to find a compromise that satisfies Israelis and Jews and, at the same time, Palestinians and Muslims.
Israelis and Palestinians today both reject redivision of Jerusalem along the lines of the 1948 armistice, which left the city split, east and west, between Jordan and Israel. But their demands are fundamentally conflicting.
Palestinians propose a sharing of Jerusalem so that it would be the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine; they say the Arab sections on the city's east side should be under Palestinian sovereignty and the Old City should be either Palestinian or under an inter-religious council.
Israel rejects this formula as a de facto repartition and a violation of sovereignty it says dates from 1000 BC, when its greatest king, David, took Jerusalem as his capital.
Israel insists on all of the present, much expanded municipality--the Old City, first of all, other portions of East Jerusalem that were under Jordanian rule after 1948 and the western areas built since 1860--and says the Palestinians must establish their seat of government "elsewhere."
Palestinians object, saying this awards Israel territory it occupied by force in 1967, undercuts the Palestinian autonomy to which Israel has agreed and violates the religious character of Islamic and Christian holy places.
Among individual Israelis, there are recent signs of flexibility.
"Jerusalem can be divided, not physically of course but in terms of functions and roles. What's the big deal?" asked Tom Segev, a prominent writer and social commentator. "Maybe it's a bit early and it will be easier as tension drops.
"Really, what does Israel want with those Arab neighborhoods?" he asked. "We declared the city reunited after the Six-Day War (in 1967), but we saw how quickly and sharply it redivided at the start of the Palestinian intifada (uprising) 20 years later. . . . For the sake of peace, can't we share?"
But an opinion survey for the weekly Israeli newspaper Kol Hair in August showed that 57% of the city's Jewish residents wanted the present situation preserved and only 8% were ready for joint sovereignty or international status. There might be room for compromise in giving international or special religious status to Islamic and Christian holy sites; almost 25% said they could accept this.
Despite their proclaimed devotion, many Israelis only rarely visit the city. A member of the Kibbutz Dorot in southern Israel said that, although he had worked in Tel Aviv for years, he had visited Jerusalem only six times. "It's a symbol, yes, a museum, a place for prayer," Oded Barish said. "But for me, it's not a place for living."
Even Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, in a passage echoing well-known Jewish prayers, wrote after his 1898 visit to the city: "If I remember thee Jerusalem in days to come, I will not rejoice at your memory. A moldy depression of 2,000 years of inhumanity, dark fanaticism and filth lie in its alleyways."
But the passion for Jerusalem was evident at the birth of Israel as a modern state. "The real Jerusalem is only that which is within the walls (of the Old City)," one member of the Knesset, or Parliament, declared in the debate ratifying the armistice with the Arabs. "What is the point of a state of our own without Jerusalem?"
As Israel's capital, Jerusalem today is a relatively poor city focused on government, education and health care, compared with commercial Tel Aviv or industrial Haifa. It loses many of its secular young people to Tel Aviv, where there are jobs and life moves faster; it draws in return the strictly observant haredi Orthodox.
Under Mayor Teddy Kollek, the city has remained 72% Jewish and 28% Palestinian since its unification in 1967; its population, however, has increased to 550,000 through a vast enlargement of its borders to incorporate outlying Jewish settlements.
"It's a paradox--despite the passion for Jerusalem, most Israelis don't want to live here in the center of the city," Segev said. "To them, it is too political, too conservative, too religious, too crazy, even too fanatical. The nation's mood today is really for suburbia and a normal life. . . . That's why, given time, there could be a compromise on the city."
Hanna Siniora, former editor of the East Jerusalem newspaper Al Fajr, also believes a compromise will come, but only with time and probably after peace-threatening confrontations over the city.
"The problem of Jerusalem is solvable, but I fear the solution is not near," Siniora said.
Each side has extensive arguments going back into history, invoking its religious traditions, asserting rights to nationhood and citing basic human rights.
Mahdi F. Abdul-Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, recalled the fierce debates among a group of Jewish, Muslim and Christian theologians his center brought together to discuss the future of Jerusalem.
"Yet, together they agreed on something special about Jerusalem," he said, "not its holy sites, not its religious character, but its human aspects. To them, Jerusalem was a living organism, with flesh and blood, and that is why they felt so strongly about it."
The problem of Jerusalem arises, first, from the Roman destruction of the city and dispersal of its inhabitants about AD 70 after a Jewish rebellion against imperial rule and, secondly, from its conquest by the Arabs in 638 and its subsequent development as a Muslim and Arab city.
But the root of the conflict over the city, which is also sacred to Christians, is in the return to Israel of Jews from 2,000 years of exile in the Diaspora--and the consequent sense of dispossession felt by Arabs and Muslims.
"Jerusalem is our home, and we feel that we have been thrown out of it," said Said Husseini, a member of a leading Palestinian family that has lived here for 600 years. "We understand the Jews' need for a homeland, a state, and accept the fact of Israel. But should restoration of their rights mean the abridgment of ours?"
The issue is not solved by a pragmatic sharing of real estate because deeply philosophical questions of self-identity, national legitimacy and human purpose are involved.
"Jerusalem can never be taken or given--it is not a subject for either political deliberation or for military action," argued Adnan Husseini, director of the Islamic trust that maintains Al Aqsa and mosques in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.
Rabbi Jonathan Blass, head of a rabbinical training program, was equally adamant. "Peace means a lot," Blass said, "but Jerusalem is worth more. . . ."
Further, there is a consensus among Jews that "peace cannot be bought at the price of mortally wounding our national identity," Blass contended. "When land is more than land, when land is identity, there is unanimity that it is worth fighting and dying for."
Adnan Husseini finds the Israeli arguments very threatening. "OK, the Jews have their promises (from God), and we have our promises," he said. "But this is a childish quarrel, and if it is carried to the extreme as Israelis are ready to do, then it will bring a religious war, nothing less than that, because Jerusalem is holy to all Muslims."
Among the most popular songs in the Arab world are those calling for the "recapture" of Al Quds . Three times a day, observant Jews pray for the "peace of Jerusalem"; they recall it at weddings, while mourning, in grace at meals and each year at Passover when the promise is, "Next year in Jerusalem."
The conflict over Jerusalem, thus, will be "enormous, earthshaking, cultural, primordial," predicted Rabbi David Hartman, a leading Israeli philosopher.
"We are forcing a confrontation that was silenced for 2,000 years," Hartman said. "The issue that Jerusalem poses is, 'Can Christianity and Islam rethink their own foundations without giving Judaism a second-class status?' In other words, does Islam need an 'enemy image' in Judaism, or can it define itself by itself?
"Jerusalem is more than a place for us--it is one of the most powerful educational forces in the life of our people," said Hartman, whose family had lived in the Old City for generations but left for America in 1929 after anti-Jewish riots by Arabs here.
But Jerusalem must not remain the "Capital of Memory" for Jews as it was for 2,000 years, Hartman argued, reflecting on his family's return in 1971; it must be a city in which they truly live.
"Jerusalem is a holy city not for something that happened 2,000 or 3,000 years ago, but for the way that people act in their lives," Hartman said. "It's not lovely--it's earthy. It's not spiritual, but very carnal, very physical. It has smells and sounds. People live here and work here and make love here.
"And Jerusalem tests you every day--boy, does it test you . . . on the street, driving the car, at the market, everywhere. What kind of lives are we living? If God has a stake in history, he has a stake in daily life. . . . Jerusalem is everything we are trying to do, everything we are."