United Jerusalem – A Catalyst for Peace
As Israel this month celebrates the 25th anniversary of a united Jerusalem, the Bush administration should look anew at the Jerusalem "experiment" and its impact on Israeli-Palestinian relations, and utilize it as a catalyst for a breakthrough in the peace negotiations.
When the Israeli forces captured the old city of Jerusalem in June 1967, which was followed by its immediate unification with the Western sector, very few people could contemplate that a new era had begun in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For years the conventional wisdom about the future of Jerusalem was that no solution could be found to the complex problem of the city unless an agreement on all other issues between Israel and the Arab states had been reached. That judgment, however, does not take into account 25 years of Israeli and Palestinian-Arab coexistence in Jerusalem.
Given the years of mutual animosity, hatred, and distrust, the degree of Jewish-Arab interaction in Jerusalem, strongly promoted by the veteran Mayor Teddy Kollek, is of significant importance. The restorations, renovations, and economic development that took place during this period have dramatically changed the Israeli and Palestinian outlook about each other regarding their future socioeconomic and political relations. Even at the height of the intifadah and the violent incidents in Jerusalem itself that took the lives of numerous Israelis and Palestinians, it is remarkable how well the united city functioned – a factor that attests not only to future possibilities but also to the inevitability of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.
Although the Palestinians insist that East Jerusalem must eventually be returned to Arab rule, no serious observer of the issue advocates the division of Jerusalem again. United Jerusalem has provided over the years a microcosm of Jewish-Arab relations that has worked even under severe tension, and it could provide a working model for the West Bank and Gaza. Viewed from this perspective, united Jerusalem has in fact posted the greatest gain in Israeli-Palestinian relations. It is on this positive development that the Bush administration should promote future Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
A number of proposals were made recently for a permanent solution to the status of Jerusalem. None of them – representing the right, left, and the center – advocate a reversal of what has been established in Jerusalem over 25 years. Adnan Abu Odeh, the chief of the royal Hashemite court of Jordan, proposed in the spring 1992 issue of Foreign Affairs that the holy places of Jews, Arabs, and Christians be governed jointly by highest representatives of the three religions. East Jerusalem and west Jerusalem should be ruled by Palestinians and Israelis, respectively. The city, however, would remain united and open allowing total and complete freedom of movement to all people.
Oshe Amirav, a member of the Jerusalem city council, proposes to create a metropolis of some 20 cities out of Jerusalem, each with its own municipal government. The entire area will be under the jurisdiction of a greater Jerusalem council. The council will be comprised of Israelis and Palestinians, with representatives from each city and a rotating chairperson. Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem for the last 27 years, proposes a modified borough system which would give the Palestinians total and complete administrative autonomy over their religious and cultural affairs with no Israeli interference. Under such an arrangement, the Palestinians will be represented on the city council and take an active role in the city's affairs. Under any of the formulas Jerusalem will remain united.
President Bush ought to recognize this reality of a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This recognition, however, should in no way infringe upon Arabs' and Christians' religious, cultural, and civic rights to run their own affairs as they see fit. Such a move could alleviate the most highly charged emotional issues that made the Jerusalem question seem intractable.
For the Israelis, the recognition of their right will bestow upon their country the legitimacy they seek and which a united Jerusalem as their capital symbolizes. The US's recognition could be made conditional upon Israeli concessions on other fronts, including the establishment of an independent Palestinian authority to run their religious affairs fashioned after such proposed solutions as the model that the Vatican in Rome provides. The final political status will then be left to future negotiations. Meanwhile, however, Jerusalem – "the city of peace" – may provide after so many centuries of displacement, destruction, and despair the foundation for a lasting Arab-Israeli peace.