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Jerusalem Mickey-Mouse

A flap over Israel's Disney exhibit is not just fantasy

A battle for American public opinion is being waged as the Palestinians and Israel start the next stage of their peace talks, which include the issue of Jerusalem.

Why does the PR battle matter? Because any deadlock in the talks will likely need to be broken, as usual, by American diplomatic arm-twisting.

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But attempts to sway the United States can show up in the most unlikely places - like Disney World.

Last week, a dispute erupted over an exhibit on Jerusalem at Epcot Center. A $1.8 million gift from the Israeli government helped pay for the exhibit, which simulates a journey through Jerusalem's 3000-year history. Obviously, the exhibit's emphasis is on the Holy City's Jewish roots, which run very deep, alongside Christian and Islamic cornerstones.

Israel desperately wants the US to recognize Jerusalem (instead of Tel Aviv) as Israel's capital before the Palestinians declare statehood and designate East Jerusalem as their capital. Israel seized largely Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967.

The exhibit has sparked Arab-Americans to accuse Disney (which incidentally owns ABC News) of taking sides on the peace agenda's most emotional item. They have organized a boycott of Disney products. Arab League nations may follow suit.

Disney has since altered its display a bit, taking out overt references to Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Israel doesn't mind. One Israeli official said no one could miss the point, even if the words aren't there.

Now all this is just wrangling over a theme-park exhibit in steamy Orlando that must compete with such attractions as "It's a Small World." Imagine the wrangling to come in the real negotiations over Jerusalem's status.

Resolving this issue in the talks will demand extraordinary patience and the deepest wells of humility found in the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic faiths. The most practical issue is which political entity can ensure that the holy sites will always be open to all Jews, Christians - and Muslims. One idea is that the old part of the city be controlled by an international body.

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PR battles such as the Disney flap have no place on the path to a just solution. Jerusalem itself, a historic site of wisdom and love, deserves better.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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