MIT's 'Just Jerusalem' Contest

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is in over its head. It is holding a contest to solve the Middle East conflict. The goal? To make Jerusalem "just, peaceful and sustainable" by 2050.

MIT has begun accepting entries for its "Just Jerusalem" contest from poets, philosophers, engineers and diplomats on how to do it.

Should Jerusalem be the capital of both Israel and Palestine? How should the city that means so much to so many people be governed?

It’s certainly a laudable goal. But there are hints the entire process is misguided from the start.

How does the co-director of the project, associate dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning Diane Davis, describe the endeavor?

"We think MIT brings a veneer of neutrality," she said.

I think "veneer" is the operative word here.

Here’s how my dictionary defines the term — first as a verb, then as a non:

    1: to cover with a thin layer of more costly material; especially to cover (wood) with a wood of finer quality;

    2: to give a superficially attractive appearance to;

    3: to glue together (thin layers of wood) to form plywood;

    1: a thin surface layer of fine wood or costly material laid over a base of common material;

    2: any of the thin layers glued together in plywood;

    3: any attractive but superficial appearance or display;

And that’s what I predict from this latest experiment in meddling within the affairs of a sovereign nation — a superficial display.

Busybody Dennis Ross, the U.S. envoy dispatched to the Middle East by President Clinton, had this to say about the project: "The main value of a contest like this is to show that people care enough to try to find solutions."

Perhaps that’s the best that could be said about his own efforts in the region that brought about the current uprising by Palestinians, now in its seventh year.

Laughably, he suggested the two sides were not far apart in previous negotiations. Let me tell you something: No two sides could be further apart and still be on the same planet. The Palestinian leadership and, I fear, the people who have adopted that identity, seek the destruction of the state of Israel and the Jews who inhabit it. The Israeli leadership and people would do almost anything, including gamble with their own security and lives, to make peace.

Ross thinks it’s just a matter of working out some thorny details, such as what should be done about the Temple Mount and who should be in charge of electricity and water.

"These are problems that should be solved, and, I believe, can be solved," said the man who couldn’t solve them with all of the resources of the most powerful nation on Earth at his disposal.

Tamara Wittes, a fellow (sounds like a gal to me, not a fellow) at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, suggested ideas should "keep holy sites open to all." There’s just one problem with that. Holy sites under the administration of Muslims are not open to all right now. They are open only to Muslims.

Proposals must be postmarked by Dec. 31, with the winners announced next March. But I won’t wait. I will offer my entry right now.

Israel should retake control of the Temple Mount and the rest of Jerusalem and never let go again under any circumstances. Further, it should retake control of the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria and annex the Golan Heights. All of this territory should be proclaimed the eternal state of Israel. Anyone who doesn’t like it would be free to leave.

That is the recipe for peace. It is the only solution that would have a chance of bringing peace. And it is the only idea that will never win the $50,000 prize.