All Writings
August 25, 2006

Jerusalem’s Final Status

Jerusalem evokes profound emotional and political trepidation because, unlike any other city, Jerusalem is an aberration of time and place. What makes Jerusalem unique is not only its long and turbulent history but its continued existence in defiance of history's harsh verdicts. No other city has left such an indelible mark on the people that have passed through its gates. In that sense, Jerusalem has long since established an enduring status: a source of biblical truth and symbol of social justice, holy focus of three great religions, city of freedom and hope.

Wherever the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations may lead, Jerusalem's final status cannot simply satisfy the political, religious and territorial claims of Israelis and Palestinians: it must live up to Jerusalem's millennial vocation. The solution must account for and, at the same time, transcend political realism. It must be sensitive to the needs of current inhabitants while also revering the past and respecting present religious and cultural diversity. It must address not only the aspirations of its dwellers, but of the hundreds of millions of people of all persuasions who have never set foot in Jerusalem, but feel a deep affinity for its ideals. The solution, finally, must be comprehensive yet creatively tailored to the unique character of a city that has never bowed to conformity. The conflict over Jerusalem extends beyond territory, time and human experience. In the simplest terms, it is a conflict between two peoples with deep roots in the same space. It has evolved into a multi- dimensional problem involving seemingly irreconcilable religious, demographic and political realities. Ultimately, it is a conflict between Israeli and Palestinian nationalism and Jerusalem stands at the center. There is a clear and growing consensus among Israelis and Palestinians on a number of key issues relating to the future status of Jerusalem. Most Israelis and Palestinians rule out, though for different reasons, a redivision of the city. Both sides also agree that freedom of worship must be guaranteed and that the free movement of people and goods between east and west Jerusalem must not be hampered. Finally, both sides share the belief that a strong financial base requires the fully integrated economy of a "united" Jerusalem. While agreement on these issues is fundamental, the rift between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the larger question of sovereignty and .ultimate control over the eastern part of the city remains wide open. And it is here where national dispositions– historical and psychological– leave very little room for mutual accommodation, grinding any reasonable discourse to a halt.

But the Israelis and the Palestinians know that they must accommodate each other. For nearly three and a half decades (1967-2000), Jerusalem has served as a microcosm for Israeli and Palestinian cooperation. Even at the peak of the Palestinian uprising known as the Intifadah, this cooperation prevailed. Jerusalem must take the lead now. Within its walls, the largest concentration of Jews and Palestinians live side by side, and each population is determined to stay in place. Jerusalem is the only city that can prove the validity of Israeli-Palestinian co-existence.

No one should question Jewish historic claim and affinity to Jerusalem which dates back to the Canaanite period (3000-1200 BCE). The capture of the old city in 1967 was widely seen by the Israelis as nothing less than the renewal of God's covenant with the Jews. East Jerusalem represents their past and present, a source of religious and cultural continuity without which Israel's very existence could unravel. The hope of returning to Jerusalem has sustained the Jews throughout their dispersion, and centuries of exile have been unable to extinguish it.

However, the Israelis must also recognize Palestinian's right to east Jerusalem based on an Arab-Muslim historical claim dating back to the conquest of the city by the Caliph Omar and the defeat of the Byzantines in 637. For the Palestinians, their political claim to the city is rooted in Islamic tradition: Jerusalem was identified as the mystical destination of Muhammad's night journey to visit God's presence, and both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa mosque, Islam's third holiest shrines, are situated there.

Unlike any other place in Israel and the territories, Jerusalem has the largest interdispersed population­ nearly 450,000 Jews and 190,000 Arabs. More than one third of Jerusalem's Jewish population lives in the east side. This interdispersal of Israeli and Palestinian populations has made the redivision of the city inconceivable. No Israeli government could remove even a few Jews from Jerusalem and stay in power. East and west Jerusalem have now been fully integrated in all aspects of day-to-day life with the social integrity of the city's separate ethnic quarters intact.