All Writings
June 22, 1994

Can Issue Of Jerusalem’s Status Be Resolved?

The 27th anniversary of Jerusalem's unification is being celebrated this month in Israel only a few weeks after the Palestinian self-rule agreement went into effect. Perhaps more than at any other time in the past 25 years the Israelis are concerned about the status of Jerusalem a few years down the line.

While in South Africa, Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat called for jihad (holy war) to liberate Jerusalem, and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin responded by reaffirming Jerusalem's sovereignty as the eternal capital of Israel. Whether Mr. Arafat meant peaceful or violent struggle, the "battle" lines over the future status of the city have been drawn. Arafat's strategy was designed to rally Palestinian support, project East Jerusalem to the international community as an occupied territory, force a debate of the issue in Israel, and link future negotiations over Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank to the final status of Jerusalem.

Successive Israeli governments have held firmly to the position that the future status of Jerusalem was not negotiable. Undeterred by Israeli firmness, the PLO raised the question of Jerusalem at every turn. Finally, the Rabin government agreed to negotiate the status of the city within two years of the time self-rule becomes operative. The questions are: To what extent will Israel accommodate the Palestinians? And will the PLO accept any solution that falls short of making East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state?

For the Israelis, East Jerusalem represents their past and present, the source of their religious and cultural heritage. "Without Jerusalem, the majority of Israelis believe," said David Hartman, one of Israel's leading theologians, "there will be no future." The hope of returning to Jerusalem has been the main source of strength for Jews throughout their dispersion. Israeli religious leaders insist that long before Jerusalem was identified as the mystical destination of Muhammad's night journey to visit God's presence, it was consecrated by the people of Israel. In East Jerusalem "there stand the Jews' holiest shrines, the Temple Mount and Western Wall, which no Israeli," said Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, "could contemplate ever returning to Arab rule." The Palestinians' claim to East Jerusalem seems as unequivocal as the Israelis'. They have been living in that part of the city, albeit under foreign rule, for centuries. They too have very strong cultural and religious attachments. Both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa mosque, though third in importance after the holy shrines in Mecca and Medina, defy Israel's exclusive religious claim to Jerusalem. The Palestinians view Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state. Over the years, the PLO was relentless in driving political wedges into Jerusalem's unity to assert what they consider Palestinians' inviolable rights to the city. "The cement wall and the barbed-wire fences should never be returned," said Mr. Siniora, a prominent Palestinian leader, "but the present political situation, under which the Palestinians are denied their basic rights, must also not be allowed to continue." Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have legitimate claims that must be reconciled with inescapable realities: First, unlike any other place in Israel and the territories, Jeru-salem has the largest interspersed population – nearly 400,000 Jews and 150,000 Arabs. More than one-third of Jerusalems's Jewish population lives in areas of the capital beyond the green line. The Israeli consensus clearly indicates that no Israeli government could remove a single Jew from Jerusalem and stay in power for one day.

Second, while preserving the integrity of the separate characteristics of each ethnic quarter in the city, East and West Jerusalem have been fully integrated in every aspect of day-to-day life. All municipal services, infrastructure, and internal security have been joined into one system. No Israeli or Palestinian of any authority with whom I spoke wants to see such a system dismembered. Third, Jerusalem was divided only once in its long history, during the 19-year span of Jordanian rule. In the past 27 years, successive Israeli governments have systematically removed any physical barriers or symbolism that divided the city. Concurrently, Israel, with full Palestinian participation, has encouraged socioeconomic interdependence between east and west that cannot be severed without destroying the city's economic base.

Many proposals have been made during the years to resolve the conflict over Jerusalem. Some have included the internationalization of Jerusalem, which has been rendered irrelevant in today's political reality. Another idea was fashioned after the Vatican. It called for the creation of a Palestinian enclave within united Jerusalem in which the Palestinians would run their affairs as they see fit.

Although many past proposals have positive elements, they have all failed because they do not offer a solution based on a just compromise that meets both sides' psychological and emotional needs. It is understandable that the Rabin government would want to defer dealing with such a highly emotional issue until self-rule has been given a chance to work. Not much will change, however, in two or even five years – certainly not the Israeli or the Palestinian claims or the conditions on the ground. Moreover, if a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on their ability to live together, united Jerusalem has provided a microcosm of Jewish-Arab relations where coexistence has worked even at the height of the intifadah (uprising).

Considering the historical backgrounds, the realities on the ground, and the national aspirations of both peoples, a solution for the future of Jerusalem may have to be fashioned along these lines:
* Jerusalem will remain united, never to be divided again, as Israel's capital.
* Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem will remain unchanged. However, a newly negotiated political line delineating the Palestinian section will be drawn, in which the Palestinians will have extraterritorial rights.
* The Palestinians will establish their own authority, collect taxes, elect and be elected, and run their religious and cultural affairs as they see fit with irrevocable guarantees of freedom of movement into Israel and the West Bank.
* Israelis and Palestinians will keep their nationalities regardless of place of residence in greater Jerusalem; the demographic composition would have no bearing on their separate authorities.
* The Palestinians will have the right to establish their self-rule authority in Jerusalem and make it the formal seat of their national government should a Palestinian state be established with Israel's consent.
* Israel will relinquish its authority to expropriate any land or exercise arbitrary power in the territory under Palestinian political jurisdiction.
* A joint authority of an equal number of Jewish and Arab representatives with a rotating chairman will be established to deal with matters of jurisdiction and long-term city planning. A joint police force will deal with any violent conflict that may result from cohabitation.

In the end, both Israelis and the Palestinians can have almost, but not quite, 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, Palestinians will have to create new conditions that will enable them to exercise their political independence along the road that goes through Jerusalem.