Jerusalem (JFP)--When U.S. peace negotiator Dennis Ross was asked by reporters, immediately following the conclusion of the grueling Hebron accord, where his next destination would be, the weary diplomat answered "I want to go to Disneyland." Most observers understood this to be nothing more than a wish for well-deserved relaxation from the exhausting demands of Middle East diplomacy.
However, sources close to the Netanyahu government have now let it slip that Ross's words were actually a veiled hint at a possible solution to the next, most difficult stage, in the implementation of the peace process, the formidable discussions regarding the final status of Jerusalem. A potential breakthrough in the anticipated impasse may now have been reached as a result of an unexpected offer from the Disney corporation.
Although all parties concerned insist that the final arrangements will have to be settled through direct negotiations between the involved parties, the preliminary details are as follows:
The Old City of Jerusalem will be leased for an undetermined length of time to the Disney corporation, who will turn it into a religious theme park that will tentatively be called "Holy Land." The park will be subdivided into "Jewish Land," "Christian Land" and "Muslim Land," with the area of each coinciding roughly with the extent of Old Jerusalem's present religious "quarters."
Precise blueprints for the park have of course not been finalised, but the Disney planners, speaking off the record, were visibly enthusiastic about the potential for a series of mechanical rides and roller coasters based on appropriate themes. "We have already produced outlines of a simulation in which visitors, driven along on tracks, will retrace the steps of the High Priest through the ancient Temple, culminating in a special surprise in the Holy of Holies." A similar ride has been devised for the Via Dolorosa, following the stations of the cross.
The greatest excitement is being generated by the projected "Muhammad's Night Journey" ride which will be based on the Muslim prophet's ascent on the steed Buraq through the heavens from the Al-Aqsa mosque.
Officials of the Israeli government were understandably reluctant about confirming the above plans. However one spokesman, Michael Ma'oz of the Foreign Ministry, agreed to discuss some of the issues involved, stressing that none of these statements were, at this moment, more than distant speculations.
When asked about likely opposition from Israel's powerful Orthodox parties, Ma'oz replied that this appears to be less of a problem than previously feared. Disney has agreed to make generous contributions to a number of yeshivahs and other religious institutions. "Many ultra-Orthodox seem quite pleased by the prospect that they can get paid in dollars just for walking around in their traditional clothing. In fact," said Ma'oz, "the rabbis were generally less concerned with the content of the park, which their own people would be unlikely to visit, than with receiving assurances that the Disney folks will not allow the inclusion of any "Reform Street" or "Conservative Square" (A Disney representative did however suggest that non-Orthodox neighbourhoods might be included in prospective satellite parks outside of Israel).
Asked whether this would contradict Prime Minister Netanyahu's pre-election commitment to an eternally united Israeli Jerusalem, Mr. Ma'oz muttered an obscure comment about Pinocchio's nose, and proceeded to point out how "Egged"'s proposed new combined monorail and roller-coaster would provide welcome relief from the capital's traffic congestion.
A representative of the Jerusalem Waqf, `Adan al-Duq, was visibly upset when approached with questions about the alleged plan. However, he too acknowledged that the anticipated antagonism from fundamentalist circles would probably not materialise.
"The Disney people appear to have learned their lesson from the Aladdin fiasco. They were very reasonable about withdrawing their original suggestion about attaching mouse-ears to the Dome of the Rock, and will definitely not be opening any new tunnels. Also, a private agreement may have been reached with President Arafat." Mr. al-Duq was reluctant to go into detail, but rumours circulating in the Jericho marketplace speak of a Disney commitment to allow Mr. Arafat to fulfill a childhood dream involving wearing a costume (possibly of a character from "Snow White") at the California Disneyland.
Sources in the Holy See hinted at a package deal that would allow for the eventual establishment of a "Vatican Land" in Rome.
The issue that troubles most people about the plan, is of course, the security question: Can the Disney crew maintain law and order in the volatile environment of Jerusalem's Old City?
"No problem!" a spokesperson assured us. Remember that the Disney family has official links with at least one world-famous law-enforcement agency. "I can't reveal anything official at this stage, but we expect the area to be policed by an agency that we refer to as the `Temple Mounties'."
Standing at the foot of the Temple Mount, the Disney representative assured us that every effort would be made not to alter or interfere with the city's traditional religious life-styles and traditions. His assurance was symbolically underscored as the ancient chant of the muezzin filled the air with the proclamation "Allah hu `Achbar."