All Writings
September 11, 2006

Jerusalem’s Final Status Must Reflect Its Uniqueness

The conflict over Jerusalem transcends territory, time and human experience. In real historical time it is primarily a conflict between two peoples who have deep roots in the same space. It is a multi-dimensional conflict involving seemingly irreconcilable religious, demographic and political realities. Finally, it is a conflict between Israeli and Palestinian nationalism, in which Jerusalem stands at the center.

There is a growing consensus among Israelis and Palestinians on a number of key issues in connection with the future status of Jerusalem. Most Israelis and a majority of the Palestinians rule out, though for different reasons, a redivision of the city and insist on keeping Jerusalem physically united under any new Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Both sides also agree that freedom of worship must be guaranteed and that free movement of people and goods between East and West Jerusalem must not be hampered. Finally, both sides are in agreement that, in contrast to past years, the economy of united Jerusalem must be more fully integrated to strengthen the financial base of the entire city.

Whereas a near or full agreement on these important issues is fundamental to any future solution, the rift between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the larger question of sovereignty and the ultimate control over the eastern part of the city remains wide open. This is where historical experiences come into play; this is where demography and civil and political rights could grind any reasonable discourse to a halt. And individual and national psychological dispositions leave very small openings for mutual accommodation.

The Israelis and the Palestinians know, however, that they must accommodate each other. For more than two and a half decades Jerusalem has provided a microcosm for Israeli and Palestinian cooperation, and it worked well even at the peak of the Palestinian uprising (intifada). If coexistence is attainable anywhere, Jerusalem must take the lead, especially because the largest concentrations of Jews and Palestinians live side by side in Jerusalem and are determined to stay in place.

However, there is no evidence that Israel will ever relinquish its sovereignty over East Jerusalem, nor are there grounds for suggesting that the Palestinians could, in this respect, force Israel's hand. For this reason, all previous proposals that have been based on two separate political sovereignties in East and West Jerusalem have failed. What is needed is not a manipulation of the present status of the city to create false images of an equitable solution, but a far more imaginative yet practical formula that will go a long way towards satisfying the Israeli and Palestinians' larger national objective.

The trade-off, therefore, may very well be reduced to an Israeli agreement to the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state with "special rights" for the Palestinians in Jerusalem in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel's sovereignty over a united Jerusalem. Thus both Israel and the PLO will find that Jerusalem will play its "ordained role" as the catalyst for an overall settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian discord and for permanent peace. Since the road to such an agreement will not be an easy one, it is worth summarizing where it has gone, what it looks like today, and what obstacles still lie in its path.


The Israeli Position
The Israeli claim to a united Jerusalem as its eternal capital is derived from three basic factors: the Jews' historical rights, the Israeli experience with the Arabs and Jerusalem's transcendental value to Jewish life. The historical right

There no dispute about the continued Jewish presence in Jerusalem, which dates back to the Canaanite period (3000-1200 BCE). The Jews inhabited Jerusalem before and during the First Temple period (1200-586 BCE). King David captured Jerusalem from the Amorites and transformed it into the national Jewish capital. By moving the ark of God from Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem, he established Jerusalem as "the city of God," the religious and political heart of the Jews.

King Solomon built the First Temple and a royal palace in Jerusalem, thereby transforming Jerusalem into both a holy city and a secular center. After Solomon's death Jerusalem served as the capital of the smaller kingdom of Judah. When the Babylonian army seized Jerusalem, the ruler Nebuzaradan expelled most of its citizens and set fire to the temple and to their homes (587 BCE). Many Jews defied the royal edict and remained in Jerusalem. By that time, Jerusalem had become indispensable to normative Jewish religion and psychology.

The Second Temple period (586 BCE-70 CE) began after the fall of Babylon. King Cyrus of Persia issued a decree permitting the Jews to rebuild the temple ushering in a period during which the Jews governed themselves with total religious freedom. After a prolonged siege by the Romans, the Second Temple was destroyed by the Emperor Titus in 70 CE. Thereafter, in succession, Jerusalem was occupied by the Romans (70-324 CE), the Byzantines (324-637), the Arabs (638-1099), the Crusaders (1099-1260), the Arabs again in the Mamluk period (1260-1516), the Ottomans (1517-1917), the British (1918-1948) and the Jordanians (1948-1967).

In June 1967 Israel captured East Jerusalem, and in the same month it was united with the western part of the city and annexed to Israel. Since then Jerusalem has remained united under Israeli sovereignty. It is important to note that from the time King David made Jerusalem the religious and cultural center of the Jews there has always been a Jewish presence in the city, often in defiance of authority and under the harshest of circumstances.

On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, Justice Menachem Elon was selected to write what is known as the Jerusalem Covenant. The following passage from the Covenant sums up Jerusalem's historical impact on Jewish life from Abraham's time to the present, "In this City the prophets of the Lord prophesied, in this City our Sages taught Tora; in this City the Sanhedrin [the high religious court] convened in session in its stone chamber. (For here were the Seats of Justice and the Throne of the House of David, for out of Zion go forth Tora, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.) We once again take our vow: If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right arm lose its strength; may my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, if I did not raise up Jerusalem at the very height of my rejoicing" [Psalm 137:5-6].

Israel's experience with the Arabs Although
Jews and Arabs have lived together in Jerusalem for centuries, from the Israeli perspective the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem lacks both historical and legal foundation. East Jerusalem fell into the hands of Jordan during the war of Israeli independence 1948, and Jordan annexed the city in 1950. Only Britain and Pakistan recognized the Jordanian act. Israeli officials insist that recognizing the Hashemites' guardianship over the Muslims' holy shrine in Jerusalem does not negate Israel's sovereign rights over the east part of the city. Jerusalem was never Jordanian territory and King Hussein could not "bequeath" it to the Palestinians when he relinquished Jordan's administrative and legal ties to the West Bank in 1987.

During the 19 years of Jordanian rule (1948-1967) Jewish synagogues and cemeteries were desecrated, and the Israelis were forbidden to pray at the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, the Jews' holiest shrines. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who in 1967 was army chief of staff, recalls vividly that Israel had no design to capture the old part of the city at the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War: "It all depended on King Hussein," said Elie Wiesel; "would he adopt a wait and see policy, or would he open a second front? By committing the most fatal error of his reign, the Jordanian sovereign invited Motta Gur and his troops to enter history." Israel was hoping all along that the Jews would eventually be permitted access to their holy places through peaceful negotiations. Ample evidence shows that King Hussein did not heed (then) Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's plea not to enter the conflict, and, against the advice of his own generals, joined Egypt and Syria in attacking Israel. Shortly after the war King Hussein admitted that entering the war was the most profound mistake of his reign and vowed never to engage Israel militarily again unless in self-defense.

Jerusalem's transcendental value to Jewish life
In a conversation with Elie Wiesel, Motta Gur, who led his troops to liberate the old city, said that "the battle for Jerusalem was no ordinary engagement, it was the liberation of history itself. . . . Jerusalem defies comparison." The capture of the old city was widely seen as nothing less than the renewal of God's covenant with the Jews. For the Jews, East Jerusalem represents their past and present, the source of their religious and cultural heritage. "Without Jerusalem," said David Hartman, a leading theologian at Hebrew University, "the majority of Israelis believe there will be no future." The hope of returning to Jerusalem has been the main source of strength for Jews throughout their dispersion, and centuries of exile have been unable to sever that attachment. In 1983 Mark Heller reflected on what was then the Israeli consensus: "Jerusalem has become of transcendental value for Israelis, not as an instrument to promote some larger end, but as an intrinsic part of collective purpose itself, and if there is any outstanding issue about which it can truly be said that an Israeli national consensus exists, it is that Jerusalem remain the capital of Israel, undivided and wholly accessible." Rabbi Abraham Verdiger, deputy minister for Jerusalem affairs connects Jerusalem to the very existence of Jews: "Jerusalem is the heart that gives life to the body. It gives reality to the image. I do not know how we could have survived without that image of Jerusalem before our eyes."

Viewed as the fulfillment of the biblical promise, for most Israelis the unification of Jerusalem is a matter outside the domain of the Israeli government or any other religious or secular body. Therefore "no one," said Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, "has the right to reverse that act or relinquish what has been now restored to Jewish rule in perpetuity."

Since 1967, successive Israeli governments reaffirmed inviolable Jewish rights to all of the city. Addressing the Israeli Knesset in early August 1994, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated: "This government, just like all its predecessors, believes there are no differences of opinion within this house concerning the eternalness of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jerusalem, whole and united, has been and will remain the capital of the Israeli people under Israeli sovereignty, the place every Jew yearns for and dreams of. The government is resolute in its position that Jerusalem is not a negotiable issue. The coming years, too, will witness the expansion of construction in metropolitan Jerusalem." Maimonides wrote, "The holiness of Jerusalem persists into the future, for it derives from the Divine Presence and that can never cease. . . . Even while in ruins, its sanctity has not lapsed."

Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion added one other critical dimension to the Jews' affinity to Jerusalem. Although at the time he referred to the western part of the city, even deeper sentiment today links the very essence of Jewish being, Jewish suffering and Jewish redemption to East Jerusalem: "We declare that Israel will not give up Jerusalem of its own free will," Ben-Gurion stated on December 5, 1949, "just as throughout thousands of years it has not surrendered its faith, its national identity, and its hope to return to Jerusalem and Zion despite persecutions which have no parallel in history."

Israel's right to Jerusalem has been taken so much for granted by the Israelis that virtually no effort has been made to persuade the international community of its historic justice. In that sense any claim the Palestinians may have must be considered only in the context of the united city as Israel's capital. Now, while there is near-unanimous agreement about united Jerusalem's role as Israel's capital, Israelis differ widely in their approach to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians over East Jerusalem.

Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, a leading Israeli educator, echoes Israel's mainstream view when he reflects on the question of present day Jerusalem and its historical role. "Ours is the task of making David's capital the city of peace, the city of justice, the city of God. To do that will take all the wisdom and moral strength we can muster."

The Palestinians' Position
On its face the Palestinian position on East Jerusalem appears equally convincing, and from the Palestinian vantage point just as unequivocal. They, too, base their claim to Jerusalem on three grounds: historical rights, their experience with the Israelis and Jerusalem's place in the Palestinian National Movement.

The historical record
It is important to note that the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem is an extension of the Arab's historical claim dating to the conquest of the city by the Caliph Omar and the defeat of the Byzantines in 637. During the Arab period that followed (638-1099), Jews and Arabs lived side by side. Although Caliph Omar transformed the remnants of the Jews' Second Temple into a place of Muslim worship, the Jews were generally accorded religious freedom by his successors. In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and remained in control of the city until 1260, when it fell back into Arab hands.

In 1517, after 256 years of continuous Arab rule, Jerusalem (as a part of greater Syria, along with Arabia and Egypt) fell to the Ottomans. Under Turkish rule, the Arabs remained generally in charge of the day-to-day affairs of the city under the distant supervision of the pasha (Turkish commissioner). Following 400 years of Turkish rule, Turkey surrendered Jerusalem in 1917 to Great Britain. Under the British mandate, the Palestinians continued to enjoy quasi-autonomous rule, but Jerusalem was never made the official seat of any Palestinian or Arab entity. In 1947 the Palestinians rejected the U.N. Partition Plan that divided Palestine into a Jewish and a Palestinian state. The West Bank was part of land allocated for the Palestinian entity while Jerusalem, East and West, was to become an international city.

In the war of Israel's independence in 1948, East Jerusalem was captured and then annexed by Jordan, and in 1951 Jordanian law and administration were extended to the city. During the 19 years of Jordanian rule, Palestinians participated in the administration of the city but did not actively seek to establish their own authority in Jerusalem. In mid-1988, King Hussein severed Jordan's legal and administrative ties to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, while maintaining the Hashemite guardianship over the Muslim holy sites.

From the Palestinians' perspective, the historical record is clear: East Jerusalem has for generations been and continues to be an Arab city. The Palestinians, though part of the Arab nation, are a distinct people who have been living in Jerusalem for centuries, albeit under foreign rule. Over the years they have developed very strong cultural and religious attachments. Their right to the city, the Palestinians insist, is thus naturally rooted in the historical and religious realities. Most Palestinians are Muslims, and have joined their political claim to the city with Islamic tradition. After all, Jerusalem was identified as the midpoint of Muhammad's mystical night journey to visit God's presence. Both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa mosque, Islam's third holiest shrines, are situated there. Indeed, Palestinians argue very strongly that they are the city's indigenous people and hence have the legal and natural right to inherit the land and assume the responsibility of guardianship over the Muslim shrines.

Palestinian Nationalism
The Palestinians view Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent Palestinian state. This theme has been repeated so often by Chairman Yasser Arafat and other PLO leaders that for Palestinians, Jerusalem has become synonymous with Palestinian nationalism. During the past 27 years, the PLO has been relentless in driving political wedges into Jerusalem's unity so as to assert Palestinian rights to the city. Nabil Shaath, chairman of the political committee of the Palestinian National Council, insists that "the Palestinian right in Jerusalem has been and remains inviolable." Without Jerusalem, many Palestinians now believe that there is no hope for a genuine Palestinian national revival, though for the first two decades of Israeli rule, Jerusalem was not an issue in Palestinian politics because most Palestinians hardly ever entertained the notion that Israel was there to stay. From their perspective, like the rest of the West Bank, East Jerusalem was occupied territory, and it would be liberated in time. "I was naive," said Hana Siniora, a prominent Palestinian leader, "I thought Israel would be forced to withdraw, as they were forced to withdraw from the Sinai in 1956. Many Palestinian officials working for the Jordanian government left King Hussein's picture hanging on the wall thinking that Israeli rule would be short-lived." That day, however, did not come, and the Israelis could not just be wished away. A more practical-minded group of Palestinians has long since begun the search for a more realistic solution.

According to Faisal Husseini, the PLO official responsible for coordinating the Palestinian position on Jerusalem, the chapter on the future of Jerusalem is far from being closed. Indeed, he and many other Palestinian leaders argue that Israel has not yet really won anything decisive because the international community, including the United States, has not recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, says Husseini, "is to make Jerusalem the capital of both states, only this way will there be real peace and coexistence."

It remains a fact, however, that from the time Jerusalem was first occupied by the Arabs in 638, the city was never made the capital of any Arab regime. (After the conquest the Arabs located their capital in Ramallah, not Jerusalem.) Some Muslim scholars suggest that the reason may have been in keeping with the Muslim tradition of not building capitals in their holy cities. In fact neither Mecca nor Medina in Saudi Arabia, where Islam's first and second holiest shrines are located, serve as capital cities, nor do Najaf and Kerbala in Iraq, cities sacred to Shia Islam.

What further complicates the Palestinian claim over East Jerusalem is the widening discord with the Jordanians in connection with the right of guardianship over the Muslim holy sites. The verbal war between the two sides has intensified since the Washington declaration acknowledging Jordan's role subsequently embodied in the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan signed in October. The treaty states that "Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom over the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem." Here it is obvious that Israel sought to separate religious and political issues; by maintaining Jordan's "special status," the Israeli government hoped to satisfy Arab demands about continued control over their religious and cultural affairs thus weakening the Palestinians' political claim to Jerusalem. By insisting on maintaining its traditional role as guardian of the holy places in Jerusalem, with Saudi endorsement, Jordan unwittingly came to support the Israeli position. Jordan's foreign minister, Talal Sataan Al-Husseini, reiterated Jordan's position separating East Jerusalem as a territory the Palestinians should claim on their own, from the Muslim holy sites, which have been and continue to be administered by Jordan. Al-Husseini insisted that the Washington declaration simply "restated a long-standing fact." The Palestinian delegate to the Arab League, Mohammed Sobeih, rejected the Israeli-Jordanian agreement on the ground that the Palestinians "alone were entitled to jurisdiction over the eastern part of the city," which contains the Al-Aqsa mosque. But Jordan's ambassador to Cairo, Naif Al-Qadhi, while disagreeing with the Palestinians' counterclaim, emphasizes that "Jordan's position toward Jerusalem is clear and unambiguous because we look at it from the viewpoint of religious jurisdiction, which is subject only to God."

The Palestinian experience with Israel
For the first two decades of Israeli occupation, Jerusalem served as a microcosm of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. The Palestinian intifada, which erupted in December 1987, galvanized Palestinian nationalism and served to kindle much of the resentment Palestinians had harbored toward the Israelis.

There is certainly some merit to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's claim that East Jerusalem residents have a lower standard of living than their Jewish counterparts but face the same high municipal tax rates. Yet the city and state give little back to Arab sectors of the capital, particularly compared to the investments made to enhance the development of the Jewish population. Building permits have been severely limited in Arab areas, even under the liberal policies of former mayor Teddy Kollek. "The cement wall and the barbed-wire fences should never be returned," says Mr. Siniora, "but the present political situation under which the Palestinians are denied their basic rights, must also not be allowed to continue." "Things have improved during the past 25 years of occupation, but that was only natural (when compared to, say, the conditions in Jordan)," said Faik Barakat, a former member of an East Jerusalem municipality under Jordanian rule. "But look what is happening around us; thousands of apartments are being built in the Jewish settlements. But in Beit Hanina, [where Barakat lived] you cannot get a permit to build a single home."

At least in part, the Israeli government policy that favored Jewish but stifled Palestinian population expansion, has dramatically changed Jerusalem's demographic picture. In this respect many of Israel's plans for the future of Jerusalem have come to fruition. Jerusalem's Jewish population more than doubled over the past 25 years, from nearly 197,000 to more than 420,000. Nearly 165,000 Jews live in East Jerusalem and the surrounding housing development projects, which gives them a majority over the Palestinian population. During the same period, the Palestinian population has also more than doubled from 70,000 to 150,000, yet the demographic disadvantage made the gulf too wide to be ignored in dealing with the future status of the city. This, however does not deter people like Osman Hallak, the editor of the East Jerusalem daily Al-Nahar. "We, the Arab residents of Jerusalem, feel like we have been put in a ghetto. I am not looking for symbols; the issue of capitals is a political thing. What I want is a line that distinguishes where Palestinian Jerusalem begins and ends." Others, like Al-Husseini, feel strongly that, given the opportunity to build and expand, the Palestinians would within a very short period move toward a majority. In his view, this will redress the discriminatory policies of the Israeli government and set the stage for real coexistence under conditions of complete equality.


The issue of Jerusalem is complicated enough with Israel and the Palestinians as the principal parties to the dispute; it becomes still more complex when the concerns and interests of the international community, in particular those of the United States and a number of the regional players, are taken into consideration. Inevitably, they become factors in the calculus of any solution fixing the city's eventual political status and structure.

The U.S. Position
Over the years Israel has been extremely diligent in trying to gain U.S. acquiescence if not outright support for its position on Jerusalem. The Israelis succeeded in building strong congressional support that has had a salient and steady influence on the attitude of successive administrations toward Jerusalem. Although the Israelis could not change the formal U.S. position on Jerusalem, the United States has opposed the Arab states' repeated attempts to change Israel's policy regarding the status of the city.

The official U.S. position on Jerusalem was adopted in 1947. Like the United Nations, the United States chose to treat Jerusalem (East and West) as a "corpus separatum," an international entity controlled neither by Jews nor Arabs. The American position began to erode before it was firmly spelled out. On January 4, 1950, the State Department forbade U.S. officials to do business in Jewish West Jerusalem, but a year later, the Department of State already began to ease those restrictions because not having direct access to Israeli officials was self-defeating and because of American domestic political pressure. By November 1954, the U.S. ambassador was allowed to present his credentials in West Jerusalem, effectively ending the boycott.

The same did not apply to East Jerusalem. Despite varying degrees of opposition to Israel's policies, successive American administrations since 1967 have quietly supported Israel's policy of "entrenchment" in East Jerusalem. The Johnson administration, however, never recognized Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem and resisted Israeli and congressional pressure to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was President Lyndon Johnson who abandoned the old policy in favor of a new formula, essentially stating that Jerusalem should remain united and that its future status should be determined by the parties to the conflict themselves.

In 1969, the Nixon administration made its first peace proposal regarding Jerusalem. Secretary of State William P. Rogers generally adopted President Johnson's position, reaffirming that the "status of (Jerusalem) can be determined only through an agreement between the parties concerned, [that is the governments of Israel and Jordan] taking into account the interests of other countries in the area, the international community, and especially the Catholic Church." The Rogers plan stated specifically that "we, [the United States] believe Jerusalem should be a unified city within which there would no longer be restrictions on the movement of persons of all faiths and nationalities. Administration of the unified city should take into account the interests of all of its inhabitants of the Jewish, Islamic and Christian communities." Prime Minister Golda Meir firmly rejected the Rogers plan and began to accelerate the development of major housing projects in and around the united city.

In March 1980, the Carter administration supported U.N. Security Council Resolution 465 condemning Israeli settlements as illegal, including those in Jerusalem. The Carter administration, however, did not support a resolution that called on Israel to withdraw from the territories unless it did so in conjunction with a peace agreement. The Reagan administration, which was openly sympathetic to Israel, turned an almost completely blind eye to the question of Jerusalem. During the Reagan era, the Likud governments, headed first by Menachem Begin and then by Yitzhak Shamir, took Reagan's passive stance as a license to expand dramatically the city's housing developments and infrastructure so that Jerusalem would become irreversibly a single functioning entity. Some Israeli political analysts even argue that it was President Reagan who may have sealed the fate of East Jerusalem.

The Bush administration was considerably more "evenhanded" in dealing with Israel and the issue of Jerusalem. President Bush stood strongly by the formal U.S. position, but not much was enunciated by his administration to label East Jerusalem as an occupied territory. On March 3, 1990, while vacationing in Palm Springs, California, President Bush stated: "My position is that the foreign policy of the United States says we do not believe there should be new settlements in the West Bank or in Jerusalem…. This was our strongly-held view." As a result, President Bush insisted on linking Israel's request for $10 billion in loan guarantees to the cessation of new development in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

By a series of small moves, the Clinton administration has crept closer to the Israeli position on Jerusalem than any previous administration. In meeting with Jewish leaders, President Clinton seems to have become the first sitting U.S. president to endorse Jerusalem as Israel's unified capital. In February 1994, the American ambassador to Israel broke a long-standing tradition by crossing the unmarked 1967 border to address a group of visiting Jewish leaders.

And in March 1994, in order to abstain from a paragraph referring to Jerusalem as "occupied territory," and for the first time in nearly a decade, the United States demanded a paragraph-by-paragraph vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the massacre in Hebron.

The Position of the International Community
In general Israel has paid only cursory attention to the international community's rejection of Israel's demand that Jerusalem remain united as its eternal capital. The Israelis long ago came to the conclusion that very little could be done to change international opposition before the Arab-Israeli peace process got underway in earnest. It took the demise of the Soviet Union, the PLO's main benefactor, to neutralize the international support that the former Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc used to muster on behalf of the Palestinian position. The peace process has also changed the attitude of many large and small countries toward Israel. During the past two years, scores of countries including China, Japan and India have established full diplomatic relations with Israel without reference to the final status of Jerusalem, and in recent months several countries have decided to move their embassies from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem.

At present there is no major power that champions the Palestinians' rights in Jerusalem, an important factor that further undermines the already weakened Palestinian position. It is ironic that the Palestinians have no one left to defend their cause but the United States, a country at best neutral but likely to support the Israeli position.

The Arab States' Position
The Palestinians have thus far received only lukewarm support from the rest of the Arab states. Some Israeli political analysts suggest that King Hussein knew that his chances of recovering East Jerusalem were practically nil, a factor that weighed heavily on his 1988 decision to sever Jordan's legal and administrative ties to the West Bank, in effect leaving it to the Palestinians to lose East Jerusalem. The stipulation in the Washington declaration that granted the Hashemite Kingdom the continued guardianship over the Muslim holy shrines further removed the critically important religious element in the Palestinians' claim to Jerusalem. Jordan has signed a peace treaty with Israel without any reference to Palestinian rights, and the Saudis appear happy with continued Hashemite guardianship of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

The Syrians are struggling to regain the Golan Heights and long ago abandoned other territorial claims except to parts of southern Lebanon, a position Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa reaffirmed in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on October 4, 1993. The Egyptians, who made peace with Israel in 1979 against the wishes of the Palestinians, still speak of an equitable solution. However, the Egyptians do not insist on the return of East Jerusalem as a prerequisite to a comprehensive peace. Other Gulf and North African Arab states are more concerned with their economic development and ties with Israel than with the Palestinian problem; in fact, many of these countries are negotiating major economic deals with Israel, as was revealed in the economic conference held in Casablanca, without requiring Israeli concessions on the Palestinian front.

Rapprochement with the Vatican Israel has waged
a quiet but a resolute campaign to establish full diplomatic relations with the Vatican before determining the final status of Jerusalem. The Vatican's willingness to do so signaled an important departure from its earlier position. Until a few years ago the Vatican continued to insist on the internationalization of Jerusalem. That demand was subsequently abandoned, and the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican was not conditional on any Israeli concession. Israel, in fact, has rejected even symbolic international supervision of the city's holy sites. Moreover, there is no hint in the agreement that the holy shrines, now or at any future time, would be in the care of the Palestinians.

It appears that the Vatican is no longer concerned, as it was earlier, that the move would have an adverse impact on its interests in the region, its relations with the Palestinians or the special status of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem. Israel and the Vatican agreed that the Vatican will participate in talks regarding the future of Jerusalem. "We acknowledged, of course," said Yossi Beilin, Israel's deputy foreign minister, "that there is an interest among the Christians in speaking about the holy places in Jerusalem…. All religions will have to participate in this solution." It is also clear that the Palestinians understand the implications of the new diplomatic rapprochement between Israel and the Vatican; many Palestinian groups have deplored what they termed "premature" ties, particularly since Israel still "occupies Palestinian territory."

Realities on the Ground
It is important to note that while Jerusalem's future political status remains, from the Palestinians' perspective, open-ended, there is a clear Israeli and Palestinian consensus about the imperative of maintaining the physical unity of the city under any new political configuration. Three factors have been crucial in galvanizing that consensus. First, more than any other place in Israel and the territories, Jerusalem has the largest interdispersed population (nearly 420,000 Jews and 160,000 Arabs). Over one-third of Jerusalem's Jewish population lives in areas of the capital beyond the Green Line (the 1967 borders). The Israeli consensus is clear: No Israeli government could remove even a few Jews from Jerusalem and stay in power. And no serious Palestinian leader speaks of a mass exodus of Jews from East Jerusalem or from the new neighborhoods such as Neveh Ya'akov in the north, or Giloh in the south. The Palestinians do seek, however, an opportunity to increase and sustain a Palestinian majority in East Jerusalem.

Second, redividing Jerusalem became inconceivable from the day the old part of the city was captured by Israel in the 1967 War. From that day forward everything was done by Israeli government and city officials to promote the unity of the city including creating images of the "reunification," all designed to remove the memory of the 19-year period during which the city was divided. In July 1980, the Begin government extended a Basic Law to Jerusalem that declared the city to be "whole and united as Israel's capital over which Israel exercises exclusive sovereignty." While preserving the social integrity of the separate ethnic quarters in the city, East and West Jerusalem have now been fully integrated in all aspects of day-to-day life. All municipal services, including electricity, water and sewage, were extended to the east part of the city, resulting in a dramatic improvement in the quality of life of the Palestinian residents. In addition, roads, physical infrastructure and internal security have been joined into a single system to facilitate the movement of people and goods.

Every authoritative Israeli and Palestinian spokesperson with whom I talked wants to see such a system remain intact. In fact, both sides agree that the future viability of the city depends on the interdependence of the two parts. However, the physical unity of the city, the Palestinians argue, is not inconsistent with maintaining separate political and legal jurisdictions.

Third, Jerusalem was divided only once in its long history during the nineteen-year span of Jordanian rule. Following the annexation of East Jerusalem in June 1967, successive Israeli governments have systematically removed any physical barrier or symbol of the earlier division. "All major developments [in Jerusalem] represented politically and strategically motivated planning," said Israel Kimchi, who was until 1989 one of the city's planners. Since the eruption of the intifada in 1987, socioeconomic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians has been dramatically curtailed. Both sides now agree that Jerusalem's east-west relations of economic interdependence remain critical today and that they cannot be severed without destroying the city's economic base.

Israel's Internal Political Debate
The success of Israel's "reunification" campaign has been so overwhelming that it has had at least one perverse effect: It has stifled public Israeli discussion of other options that might exist for the city. Notwithstanding the Israelis' determination to keep Jerusalem united as their sole capital, the peace process has created enormous pressure to force public debate on an issue that was considered taboo only a year ago.

The turning point came when the negotiations on Gaza-Jericho began in earnest, and Arafat insisted that the fate of East Jerusalem be placed on the negotiating table. Rabin acquiesced, and the "non-negotiable" has now become negotiable but deferred to a later date to avoid a political firestorm that could topple Rabin's government.

Moshe Amirav, a former member of the Jerusalem municipal council, argues that concession on the final status of Jerusalem did not start with Shimon Peres's letter to Johan Jorgen Hoist, the late Norwegian foreign minister who orchestrated the secret Oslo talks leading to the Israeli-PLO agreement. As early as 1967, the Israeli government had conceded that "the status of the Arab residents of Jerusalem is not the same as the Arab residents of the Galilee, Acre and Jaffa." Then in 1968 the government reasserted its former position: "We regard the residents of eastern Jerusalem in all aspects as residents of the West Bank."

That same year (1968) the government granted religious autonomy to the Arabs of eastern Jerusalem. Ironically, some members of the Likud party regarded the link between eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank as a guarantee against the possibility of having to give the West Bank to Jordan or the Palestinians. Likud accelerated the construction of new Jewish housing projects and satellite townships around Jerusalem, while denying the Arabs building permits in the district's master plan. What this did was to create a new reality – a binational metropolis with a Jewish majority. (Even today the building push continues. At the beginning of September, the government permitted the construction of 6,000 new flats to ease the housing shortage in the Jerusalem district, reported The Jerusalem Post, week ending September 10, 1994.)

Those who support a more flexible approach to the Palestinians' demands for political rights point to the lack of a clear understanding among the coalition partners in the Rabin government regarding Jerusalem's final political status. The political platform of Meretz, the Labor party's principal partner in the coalition government, calls for Jerusalem to remain Israel's unified capital. Yet Yossi Sarid, Meretz's leader, who is deeply involved in the negotiations with the Palestinians, has said more than once that he "would support negotiating the city's final status," implying that he would go beyond accommodating the Palestinians within the framework of a united city as Israel's capital.

Some other members of the Labor party, including Teddy Kollek, renowned for advancing the spirit of Jewish and Arab cooperation, concede that a political division of the Jerusalem municipality has become all too conceivable. Kollek warns against compromising on political sovereignty: "Allowing the Palestinians to put their capital here," he said, "will lead to a divided city, with two police forces and two customs systems."

To shield Israel's declared position on Jerusalem from becoming subject to negotiation, some members of the Knesset have suggested that any changes in the status of the city must be submitted for ratification by the Knesset and must receive a two-thirds majority to pass. Considering that an overwhelming majority, both in and out of the Knesset, is on record opposing any changes, such a requirement makes the prospect of tampering with the political status of Jerusalem virtually non-existent. Jerusalem, these Knesset members maintain, is the one issue that stands above politics and certainly above party discipline. "No government would survive a vote of confidence, should it take any step that might jeopardize the future political status of Jerusalem," said Ariel Sharon. "Rabin knows that, the Palestinians know that, and the Israeli public knows that."

Israeli polls have repeatedly confirmed that when it comes to Jerusalem, the majority of the Israeli public are against any move that could undermine the city's unity or political status. In an effort to avoid surrendering any political ground, Israeli opposition-party officials have gone out of their way to disabuse the public of the growing perception that the political status of Jerusalem is, after all, negotiable. Peres, who is considered soft on many issues concerning the Palestinians, reiterated his government's position when he said, "There is no difference of opinion on the issue of Jerusalem…. Jerusalem, Israel's capital, within borders decided by the government of Israel, will remain a united city where Israeli law will prevail, where autonomy will not be imposed – and the eternal capital of Israel."

Peres's letter to the late Norwegian Foreign Minister Hoist appears to be less momentous than might have been imagined. Peres insisted that his letter made reference not to Palestinian political institutions, but specifically to those of a religious and social character. The PLO vision for the future of Jerusalem is one city with two city halls, two sets of national institutions and two flags as the capital of two sovereign states. Contrary to the PLO view, "Jerusalem," Peres said, "will not be the capital of two states…. It will not become a Berlin, divided by a wall, it will not become part of the autonomy, and the institution of the autonomy will not operate out of Jerusalem."

Peres's statement was echoed with even greater fervor by Rabin. While Arafat was in South Africa recently, he called for jihad (holy war) to liberate Jerusalem. In response, Rabin reaffirmed Israel's long-held position that "Jerusalem will remain united under Israel's sovereignty, as the eternal capital of Israel forever."

Rabin's statement was intended to further dispel any notion that his government is equivocating about the future political status of Jerusalem. "We never stated," one Israeli official said, "that after two years from the time the Gaza-Jericho agreement went into effect, we will negotiate the political status of the city. What we are saying is that we will be prepared to negotiate the political status of Palestinians and their institutions in Jerusalem." Having said that, however, the Rabin government knows that to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians, some concessions will still have to be made.

It should be noted that a few Israelis feel that their government will face the prospect of choosing between a comprehensive peace and sovereignty over a united Jerusalem. The Palestinians, the argument goes, are not negotiating from a position of strength. Try as they may to invoke historical rights, the Israelis can make a case just as convincing or even stronger. Moreover, Jerusalem was never ruled by a Palestinian authority, and they (the Palestinians) have never established legal jurisdiction over any part of the city.

With all this as given, public discussion of the Jerusalem issue can only be helpful. Indeed, Rabin can count on overwhelming public support for his formal position to guard against intensifying Palestinian pressure for major political concessions. But by encouraging public debate, he is also preparing the Israelis for the measure of flexibility necessary for formulating a separate political status for the Palestinians living in a city which is wholly under Israeli rule.

With strong support from the Clinton White House and a most sympathetic Congress, Israel is likely to remain very firm in negotiating with the Palestinians on the future status of Jerusalem. With the demise of the Soviet Union and lukewarm sympathy of the Arab states, the Palestinians have been left with very limited international support. Finally, the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican was nothing less than a diplomatic coup that is bound to further strengthen Israel's negotiating position.

It is unlikely that any of these conditions will change dramatically in the next several years. The comprehensiveness of the Arab-Israeli peace will depend much more on what the Syrians do than on what the Palestinians desire. The final status of Jerusalem will remain an issue for a very long time, but it will not be the core problem on which the fate of a comprehensive peace will depend.


Perhaps a more effective way to establish the conditions for a solution to the final status of Jerusalem is to point out what has, thus far, not worked. Over the years many proposals have been made to find a solution to the Jerusalem dilemma. Most of these proposals have had certain positive elements. However, in the end they have all failed, because a) they did not take into account many of the aforementioned realities, which are not likely to change dramatically in the foreseeable future, and b) because they have tried to change the status of the city in a vain search for a "fair solution."

Adnan Abu Odeh, the chief of the Royal Hashemite court of Jordan, proposed that the holy places of Jews, Arabs and Christians be governed jointly by the highest representatives of the three religions. East and West Jerusalem would be ruled by Palestinians and Israelis, respectively, allowing total and complete freedom of movement to all people. Abu Odeh's proposal was flatly rejected by the Israelis because it presupposes the creation of a Palestinian state and even more because it subjects Jewish holy places to the governance of the "highest representatives of the three religions." The Israelis have sworn never to allow their holy shrines to be under any authority but Jewish, and believe that the sacred sites of other faiths should be administered by their respective religious authorities.

Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem for 27 years, proposed a modified borough system. Under his proposal the Palestinians would have complete administrative autonomy over their religious and cultural affairs, a kind of "functional sovereignty," without changing the political status of the city. In addition, the Palestinians would be represented on the city council and take an active role in the city's affairs. The problem is that Kollek's proposal rules out the creation of a Palestinian state and would permanently assign the Palestinians to a subordinate position in the city government. Most Palestinians rejected Kollek's proposal because it did not meet the political aspiration of the Arabs residing in Jerusalem.

Other proposals have included the internationalization of Jerusalem, an option clearly irrelevant to today's political realities. As early as 1948, when Israel and Jordan began to consolidate their respective holds over the west and the east sides of the city, there was vehement Israeli opposition to the idea of an international regime. On August 2, 1948, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion issued a proclamation declaring that West Jerusalem was subject to Israeli law, thereby rejecting the U.N. claim that Jerusalem was an international city. Israeli control over that part of the city became a fait accompli. Today the Israeli government takes the same position even more strongly in connection with East Jerusalem. The international community has gradually come to the realization that the solution to Jerusalem rests with the Israelis and the Palestinians, not with the international community.

Another idea offered as a solution was fashioned after the Vatican model. It called for the creation of a Palestinian enclave within a united Jerusalem in which the Palestinians, with total freedom of movement, would run their affairs as they saw fit. Although the PLO seems to favor a solution close to the Vatican's, Israel rejects the "Vatican-model option" out of hand on the grounds that two capitals cannot be established in the same city. Further, the Israelis maintain that the Muslims' holy shrines already form such an enclave and that it has been well-administered by the Jordanians during the past 27 years.

Moshe Amirav advances a proposal based on a two-state solution, with Jerusalem serving as the capital of both states. Jerusalem, he says, offers a historic opportunity to integrate Jewish universalism with Palestinian nationalism. He wants to expand the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and change it into a metropolis, doubling its territory and equalizing its Jewish and Arab populations. His proposal would require the incorporation of the surrounding Jewish and Arab municipalities, including the Palestinian towns of Bethlehem and Ramallah and the Jewish towns of Admunim and Mevasseret Zion. With 450,000 residents from each community, Amirav asserts that the demographic race of the past 80 years in Jerusalem would be ended, and new economic opportunities would help balance the standards of living between the two sides.

Under Amirav's formula, the city would comprise some 20 municipalities, half of them Jewish and the other half Arab. Each would be granted some practical component of sovereignty and symbolic ones such as flags, currency and stamps. Israelis and Palestinians as well as all Christians, Muslims and Jews would retain the symbols important to them, and all elements of authority including the judicial system, education and health would be operated on an equal basis.

In recent years certain aspects of the Amirav proposal have been given some attention, especially his idea of creating an expanded metropolitan area of greater Jerusalem, thus providing enough room for the Israelis and the Palestinians to fulfill their separate national aspirations. Ramallah, the argument goes, could become the formal seat of the Palestinian authority or even the capital of a Palestinian state, but still be part of greater Jerusalem.

Israelis rejected the Amirav proposal not so much because it calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but because it promotes the idea of equalizing the Jewish and Palestinian populations. Since 1967, successive Israeli governments have made it a national objective to increase East Jerusalem's Jewish population and move it toward a clear majority. Now that this goal has been attained it would seem almost inconceivable for any Israeli government to reverse what is considered a historic achievement central to sustaining Israel's grip over East Jerusalem.

The Basis for a Solution
Israeli and Palestinian objections to these and other proposals touch on the two core issues of sovereignty over the city and the prospect of establishing a Palestinian state. Based on all the evidence, it seems that while Israel would be willing to accommodate the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, there are no indications that Israel would voluntarily, or under pressure, relinquish East Jerusalem.

It is true that Arafat's repeated statements demanding the eventual creation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital have stirred intense Israeli discussion. The focus of these discussions, however, has been on the future status of Jerusalem rather than on the prospect of creating a Palestinian state. Recent polls suggest that the majority of Israelis consider the creation of Palestinian state to be only a matter of time. In growing numbers, Israelis have become accustomed to the idea of a Palestinian state. Contrary to the view long portrayed by the right-wing Likud party, many Israelis believe that a demilitarized Palestinian state poses considerably less of a national-security threat than would a dissatisfied and restive national movement bent on self-determination, serving as a magnet for militant Palestinians. Many political leaders in and outside the government agree that the Palestinian national movement will not die from natural causes and that some type of trade-off must be made to meet modified Palestinian national goals.

Since the Gaza-Jericho agreement went into effect, day by day the Israelis have been witness to the growing embryo of a Palestinian state. All the symbols and trappings of statehood are being displayed for all Israelis and Palestinians to see. Arafat speaks of a Palestinian state on Israeli television as if it was already a fait accompli, and Israeli officials no longer react to such statements with indignation, if they react at all. In fact, they now speak of the merits of dealing with the representatives of a state who are themselves motivated by the desire to preserve the integrity of their "newly-born political entity"-a Palestinian state for which they will have had sacrificed their best youth over five decades. But on the question of East Jerusalem, Israel shows no signs of equivocation.

The Palestinian leaders also realize that if they continue to insist on the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, they will end up with neither East Jerusalem nor a state and that it is time to separate the two goals. The PLO knows that it cannot force Israel's hand. The world does not really care whether the Palestinians wind up with East Jerusalem or not. Nor can they count on the support of the Arab world. Protest as they may, the Palestinians know that Israel could maintain the present situation indefinitely. Violence against the Israelis will only result in denying the Palestinians any further hope for a Palestinian state. Moreover, if Israel perceived a threat to its national security it would even roll back any concession it had made regardless of political repercussions.

Understanding their limitations, the Palestinians should focus on statehood. They may find that the Israelis are considerably more amenable. Certainly for strategic and political reasons, the Palestinians are not expected to simply drop their claim to East Jerusalem. Behind the scenes, however, Israelis and Palestinians are talking and searching for a solution that will accommodate both sides. Shulamit Alloni and Yossi Sarid, the two leading members of the Meretz party, Rabin's main coalition partners, suggest that while Israel's political sovereignty over East Jerusalem is not negotiable, there is a wide gray area between Israel's rights and the level of political and judicial prerogatives the Palestinians could exercise in the united city.

Here is where the concept of a separate legal status for Palestinians must be explored. The Israelis recognize that the existence of over 150,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem is a fact that must be adequately addressed. The majority of these Palestinians did not opt for Israeli citizenship when it was offered to them in the early 1980s. The vast majority aspire to be a part of a Palestinian state but want to continue to live and work in Jerusalem. The Jerusalemite Palestinians must be given the opportunity to participate in the political, social and economic life of the West Bank and Gaza. In essence, this would mean Israel would have sovereignty over the land while offering the Palestinians a political life of their choosing.


Framework for a Solution

Considering all aspects of the problem, this is how a framework for a solution to the future status of Jerusalem might be fashioned: Jerusalem will remain united, the undivided capital of Israel. Municipal services including electricity, water and sewage would be maintained by a single authority. Sustaining the city's infrastructure, building roads and all city planning would also remain centralized. The unity of the city would be seen and felt by all of its residents by a guaranteed freedom of movement of people and goods between east and west at all times.

The holy sites of Jews, Muslims and Christians would be administered by their respective religious authorities, as has been the case since 1967. There would be free access to all religious and cultural institutions, and they would be free to operate without outside interference. In coordination with Jordan, the Palestinians would administer their religious affairs as they saw fit. Jerusalem would remain open to pilgrims from the outside world without undue encumbrance or bureaucratic red tape.

The Palestinians would establish their own local authority, elect officials, run for office, and operate their own schools, cultural affairs and health clinics. The Palestinian authority would be represented at city hall to ensure equitable municipal funding and fair treatment in the city's long-term planning that affects East Jerusalem. (The number of representatives, the length of their terms of service, legal and judicial authority, and political prerogatives would be determined by Israeli and Palestinian mutual consent.)

All Palestinians in Jerusalem would be given the option of being citizens of the Palestinian authority/state, voting in Palestinian-authority elections and traveling on Palestinian authority documents (as they do now on Jordanian documents). Civil emergency or grave threats to security aside, Israel would grant them irrevocable guarantees of freedom of movement into Israel and the West Bank.

Palestinians who opt to become Israeli citizens would, too, be granted the right to do so within a specified period of time. All Palestinians would maintain their chosen nationalities regardless of place of residence in greater Jerusalem. The city's permanent unity and political status would not be affected by future changes in its demographic makeup either in the eastern or western parts of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem's internal security would be centralized to improve public safety. Although a unified police force would be more effective in guarding a physically united city from criminal extremists, a joint contingent of Israeli and Palestinian police forces should be formed to deal with any violent conflict that may result from cohabitation.

A joint committee of an equal number of Jewish and Arab members with a rotating chairman would be established to deal with preserving the city's cultural diversity and guarding its special characteristics, its institutions and the integrity of its multiple ethnic groups (the role and the extent of authority of the committee will be determined by mutual agreement).

In the Bible, the two universal elements of justice and peace are consistently associated with Jerusalem. In the end both Israelis and the Palestinians can have almost all but not everything they want. Israel has created the reality of coexistence; it must now grant the Palestinians the right to live their lives with dignity. In turn, the Palestinians will have to create new conditions that will enable them to exercise their political independence. I maintain that the Israelis will eventually accept the Palestinians' aspiration for statehood in the West Bank and Gaza, provided that the PLO cooperates with Israel towards that end and accepts Israel's claim to united Jerusalem as its capital.