August 01, 2011 Edition 22 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
Can Jerusalem still be the capital of two states?
Only by prioritizing the issues  - Yossi Alpher
The gap between the two sides on these "existential" questions with their clash of historical-religious narratives is unbridgeable.

Sabotage or arrogance?  - Ghassan Khatib
The illegal changes that the Israeli occupier is undertaking have far-reaching consequences.

Holding on by our fingernails  - Daniel Seidemann
If the current pace and trajectory of developments on the ground continue, within two or three years this will no longer be possible.

Israel's settler mentality continues to prevail over Jerusalem  - Mousa Qous
The city is too culturally and religiously significant to so many to be denied to any.

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Only by prioritizing the issues
 Yossi Alpher
It is not too late to create a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem alongside Israel's capital--unless this arrangement has to be part of a comprehensive, end-of-claims settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. In that case it is, and probably always has been, impossible.

Some 18 years of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, including two periods of intensive final status negotiations, in 2000 and 2008, have generated a number of lessons that we ignore at our peril. The relevant one for this discussion concerns the distinction between East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital and the disposition of the Jerusalem "Holy Basin": the sites sacred to three religions that link the Old City via the City of David/Silwan with the Mount of Olives.

Despite ongoing Israeli settlement inside and around East Jerusalem, a Palestinian capital can still be carved out there. Two Israeli prime ministers not previously known for their dovish politics, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, offered the Palestine Liberation Organization provisions for a capital in East Jerusalem and for attaching the city's Arab neighborhoods to a Palestinian state created from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. So did US President Bill Clinton, toward the end of his term. Even some right-wing Israeli political leaders like Avigdor Lieberman have acknowledged the possibility of a Palestinian capital in geographic East Jerusalem. At the end of the day, few Israeli Jews really want the 250,000 Palestinian Arab residents of Jerusalem to remain part of Israel.

Not that the two sides have ever formally agreed on the geographic parameters of a Jerusalem divided into two capitals. But this issue appears to be far more resolvable than the disposition of the Holy Basin, and particularly the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in the heart of Jerusalem. Here we encounter a clash between a Jewish narrative of 3,000 years and an Arab-Muslim narrative of 1,500 years. Proposals to make God the sovereign (the late King Hussein of Jordan), to divide sovereignty horizontally between layers of the Mount (Clinton) and to deliver the entire Holy Basin to a five-nation international consortium with a Muslim Arab majority (Olmert) have all failed. The Palestinian leadership appears to insist on nothing short of blanket acceptance of full Palestinian sovereignty that ignores or obliterates Israeli-Jewish history on the Mount.

In recent years, this deadlock has been compounded by Israeli archeological digs and development of sites near the Mount and in the City of David, or Silwan. In Palestinian eyes, these projects are geared to uncover and display the remains of biblical Jerusalem at the expense of layer upon layer of non-Hebrew Jerusalem culture, including a millennium and a half of Arab and Muslim civilization. They also threaten to dislodge the current Palestinian Arab residents of Silwan.

As long as the Oslo rules of final-status negotiations prevail, and all final-status issues have to be resolved before any agreement can be reached, these Holy Basin issues, like the refugee/right of return issue, will hold up a deal. The gap between the two sides on these "existential" questions with their total clash of historical-religious narratives is, for the foreseeable future, unbridgeable.

Herein lies the positive aspect of the current Palestinian initiative to ask the United Nations for recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital. In turning to the international community, the PLO is acknowledging the need and displaying the capacity to prioritize territorial and sovereignty issues over the existential deal-breakers of right of return and the disposition of holy places.

This could put us on the road to a resolution of the territorial and security questions that currently divide us. By creating a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem before trying to resolve the Holy Basin issue, it could render the rest of the conflict much more manageable.

Only in this way can Jerusalem still be the capital of two states.-Published 1/8/2011 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Sabotage or arrogance?
 Ghassan Khatib
The illegal changes that the Israeli occupier is undertaking in East Jerusalem have far-reaching consequences, not only for the day-to-day life of the Palestinian people, but also for the possibility of peace between the two sides.

It is debatable whether Israel "realizes" that a Palestinian state without East Jerusalem as its capitol is no solution for Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. Either its right-wing power structure knows this and is intent on sabotaging the two-state solution, or it is arrogant and thinks that Palestinians will be forced to accept whatever they get in the long run.

In recent years, Israel has undertaken dramatic steps to transform the eastern part of the city, confiscating land, building illegal settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods, demolishing Palestinian homes, and carrying out illegal administrative changes.

Just this week, the Knesset passed the first reading of a bill that would privatize Israel's national parks, a back-handed move to legitimize a settlement organization's control over the City of David archeological park in Silwan. The presence of the settlers in this neighborhood has made Palestinians' lives a living hell, as tunnels are dug under their homes, houses are threatened with demolition, children are arrested in disproportionate numbers and armed guards patrol the streets. Ultimately, 88 Palestinian homes will likely be demolished in Silwan to make way for this park and the accompanying Jewish settlers.

Once again, we see that Israel is hardly concerned about further blocking negotiations with Palestinians, who have repeatedly stated their opposition to talks as long as settlement construction continues.

These short-sighted policies are catering to Israeli society's continuing political drift rightward. They are also, however, eliminating the possibilities for an end to the conflict. Israel is taking advantage of the recent relatively weak international reaction to its violations (remember when international protests stalled the building of Har Homa settlement at Jabal Abu Gneim?) to carry out policies that are the settlers' dream.

Nor can we ignore the negative effects of these Israeli policies on the day-to-day life and standard of living of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Despite the difficult conditions facing the Palestinian Authority, social and economic indicators show that the rest of the West Bank's towns and cities (which are under Palestinian Authority administration) have fared far better than Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Fewer children drop out of school, fewer people are addicted to drugs, and poverty is often lower in cities under Palestinian Authority control.

If these Israeli practices--all of which work to further separate East Jerusalem socially and economically from the rest of the Palestinian territories--continue, then East Jerusalem might be changed to an extent that it cannot be the capital of the future Palestinian state. There will be no two-state solution with Jerusalem outside of the equation. What Israel must understand and--more importantly what the international community must also understand--is that Israel's objectives of "Judaizing" the city, changing its character and severing it from the rest of the West Bank, will spell the death knell of the two-state solution. So far, Israel is facing very little resistance.

Immediate international intervention is needed to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law and signed agreements. This is the only way to rescue the future of peace. Making statements that East Jerusalem should be the capital of the Palestinian state is simply not good enough. These pronouncements must be translated into messages of the kind that Israel appears to understand; otherwise, they will have no effect and it will all be too late.-Published 1/8/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Holding on by our fingernails
 Daniel Seidemann
No two-state solution is possible unless an agreement can be implemented that satisfies both Israeli and Palestinian requirements in Jerusalem. Today, such an agreement in Jerusalem is still possible, but barely.

When Israelis and Palestinians convened at Camp David in 2000, dealing with the "radioactive" issue of Jerusalem was an exercise in diplomatic quantum physics: the parties were confronted with a complex and highly sensitive issue for which they were unprepared. A decade later, after several rounds of negotiations and another intifada, the principles required for a permanent status agreement on Jerusalem are now familiar to all involved. They are:
  • a political division of the city, whereby large Israeli settlement neighborhoods in East Jerusalem (with the possible exception of Har Homa) are incorporated into Israel within the framework of an agreed land swap, and the Palestinian neighborhoods become part of the state of Palestine;
  • a special regime or special arrangements for the Old City and its surroundings--without prejudice to the question of territorial sovereignty--with robust international participation that guarantees the religious, historical and cultural integrity of the Old City and its holy sites, as well as universal access and freedom of worship based on the established religious status quo;
  • universal recognition of Jewish, Christian and Muslim attachments to Jerusalem and its holy sites, and of Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel and al-Quds as the capital of Palestine.
Two basic geographic and demographic conditions must be met in order to satisfy these principles. First, there must be a clear political boundary/border in the city that creates two contiguous and viable cities, Yerushalayim and al-Quds, each fully under the sovereignty of and integrated into its respective state. Second, this boundary/border must result in a clear division of the populations. Under a permanent status agreement, it is highly unlikely that any Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem will be required to live under Israeli sovereignty, nor will any Palestinian built-up area likely remain on the Israeli side of the border, and vice versa.

At Camp David in 2000, the demographic and geographic realities on the ground, as imposed by Israeli settlement neighborhoods and enclaves in East Jerusalem created since 1967, made the delineation of a border that met these requirements daunting, albeit possible.

Can such a border still be delineated today in Jerusalem? The answer is: yes, but just barely, because of three developments over the past decade.

First, Har Homa is a large settlement neighborhood with more than 12,000 residents. Its location makes a border in the southern part of Jerusalem harder to delineate. While this is a significant complication, it is indeed still possible to devise a border that attaches Har Homa to Israel without completely undermining the geographical integrity and contiguity of Palestinian East Jerusalem. But politically this will be a hard sell. Har Homa did not exist in 2000, and this settlement is viewed by the Palestinians as the quintessential post-Camp David unilateral act. As such, the Palestinians will likely insist it not be included in the land swap--a position likely to be rejected by even a moderate Israeli leadership.

Second, a decade ago there were approximately 1,400 settlers residing inside existing Palestinian neighborhoods like the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and Silwan. Today, there are more than 2,000. This number includes settlers living in a large enclave in Ras al-Amud that did not exist in 2000 and in the rapidly growing flashpoint in Sheikh Jarrah, where in 2000 there was only a symbolic settler presence. Under any peace agreement, these settlers will almost certainly be extracted--a requirement that will increase the already high Israeli domestic political price of an agreement. Put bluntly, while the removal of settlements in these highly sensitive sites in Jerusalem may well give rise to violent resistance on the part of some settlers, the political cost in the removal of 2,000 settlers is still not significantly higher than the cost of removing the 1,400 who were there a decade ago. But in places like Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and Mount of Olives, this calculus has been changing in recent years, and for the worse.

Third, settler-related activities in and around the Old City--archeology, national parks, tunnels--have transformed the perception of the conflict among Israelis and Palestinians alike from a national conflict that is amenable to territorial compromise into a religious and symbolic conflict that is not. The discourse in both Israel and Palestine is less predisposed to a political agreement than in the past.

There can be no question: implementing a two-state solution in Jerusalem will be more difficult today than it was a decade ago, and its implementation gets more difficult with each passing day. But as of today, such a solution is not impossible.

However, if the current pace and trajectory of developments on the ground continue, within two or three years this will no longer be the case. Within this timeframe, settlements will so Balkanize the geography and demography of Jerusalem that the delineation of a viable political border will no longer be possible. Likewise, if settlement-related policies in and around the Old City continue to radicalize the conflict and transform it into a religious "kulturkampf", any proposal for a Jerusalem agreement will fail to generate broad support in either Israel or Palestine.

Today, we are holding on by our fingernails to the two-state solution in Jerusalem; consequently, we are holding on by our fingernails to the two-state solution itself.

Exacting responsible policies from the parties--at the very least, a de facto settlement freeze in East Jerusalem and refraining from inflammatory actions in and around the Old City--is not "elective surgery", but rather a life-saving procedure if the very possibility of the two-state solution is to survive.-Published 1/8/2011

Daniel Seidemann is a lawyer specializing in East Jerusalem issues.

Israel's settler mentality continues to prevail over Jerusalem
 Mousa Qous
No doubt Jerusalem could be the key to peace in the Middle East, if Israel--the occupying power--cedes East Jerusalem to enable the Palestinians to establish the capital of their future state.

Instead, the opposite is taking place. To consolidate its grip over Jerusalem, the Israeli government continues with its settlement activities in the middle of Arab Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. These create new facts on the ground that make any future withdrawal almost impossible.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem immediately after its occupation in 1967 and in 1980 its government approved the Basic Law where Article 1 stipulates that, "Jerusalem, eternal and indivisible, is the capital of the state of Israel."

However, UN Security Council resolutions 242, 252, 253, 245, 267, 298, and UN General Assembly resolutions 2253 and 2254, for example, do not recognize the unilateral Israeli annexation of the city and consider it null and void.

This has not deterred Israel in the least. The Jerusalem municipality's Master Plan for 2000 aims to "secure an absolute Jewish majority in the city by creating a framework to proceed with the development of the city of Jerusalem as a capital for the Jewish state and a seat for its government," and "to achieve a long term goal which reflects the future vision for the city as conceived by the city's fathers."

According to Amir Cheshin, advisor on Arab affairs to the late Israeli mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek, "Since 1967, Israel's leaders adopted two basic principles in their rule over East Jerusalem. The first was to rapidly increase the Jewish population in East Jerusalem. The second was to hinder growth of the Arab population and to force Arab residents to make their homes elsewhere."

Even if current international efforts succeed in urging the Palestinians and Israelis to resume direct talks (if only to avoid the Palestinian UN bid for statehood in September), these talks will go nowhere if they keep the issue of Jerusalem unresolved or postponed. And no Palestinian is ready to accept a state without its capital, Jerusalem.

As a Palestinian native of Jerusalem who has been living in the city for the past 49 years, I believe Jerusalem, which is the spiritual capital of the three monotheistic religions, can in fact be the capital of both peoples. The city is too culturally and religiously significant to so many to be denied to any. However, the Israeli government first needs to rescind its policies of displacement that target Palestinians.

Another benefit of ending the occupation is that new and normal relations could be established and creative solutions could be found to guarantee the peaceful coexistence of both people in their shared city. Palestinians cannot be asked to give further concessions or accept newly-established Israeli facts on the ground after the painful concession they offered by declaring their state on only 22 percent of historical Palestine.

Unfortunately, it seems the current Israeli government is unconcerned with making peace in the region. Its ongoing settlement encroachment on Palestinian land continues to pressure Palestinians in both Jerusalem and other areas of Palestine. As long as this mentality of occupation and settlement expansion continues to prevail, it will inevitably result in more clashes between both sides, pushing peace even farther away. -Published 1/8/2011 ©

Mousa Qous is an editor at al-Quds newspaper and a researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights.