Israel’s latest strategy for complicating the peace process is to delay discussions of Jerusalem’s future. Steering debate to other agendas enables Israel to establish more “facts on Jerusalem ground,” which consists of annexing lands, constructing bypass roads and housing and preparing for the decisive moment that will allow expansion of the Maale Adumim settlement and the development of the E1 corridor. From a Palestinian perspective, the extensive E1 corridor will join settlements in a ring that separates East Jerusalem from the West Bank. This corridor will divide the northern and southern West Bank and will impede direct transit between Palestine Bethlehem, which is south of E1 and Palestine Ramallah, which is north of E1. Construction of the E1 corridor, portions of which are owned by Palestinians, could prevent the formation of a viable Palestinian state.
The serious aspect of the Israeli maneuver has not gone unnoticed by the Jerusalem activists who support a peace process that has legs and will arrive at a destination. A panel of Jerusalemites expressed their convictions in a meeting organized by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information at the Ambassador hotel in East Jerusalem on May 20, 2009.
Dr. Gershon Baskin, CEO and founder of the IPCRI, chaired the meeting. Meron Benvenisti, well known iconoclastic political commentator and a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Rami Nasrallah, Director of the International Peace and Cooperation Center, and Sarah Kreimer, Associate Director of Ir Amim, constituted the panel. The incendiary content ignited many surprising and explosive statements.
Dr. Baskin started the proceedings with a controversial remark: “Jerusalem is the most segregated city in the world. Common spaces of Jews and Moslems don’t exist and each Jerusalem space has a distinct identity. Even Catholic institutions, which are physically close, remain socially apart.”
According to Baskin, the hospitals of Notre Dame and St. Louis, which are next to one another, emphasize the separation. Notre dame caters to Palestinian Catholics and St. Louis accepts Israeli Catholics. From these observations, Dr. Baskin concluded: “It is easy to draw lines of separation.” The Palestinians and Israelis can manage legal sovereignty without promoting physical separation.
Meron Benvenisti, an early and consistent critic of Israel’s policies, politely contradicted some of Baskin’s well known assertions. The former deputy mayor expressed displeasure with what he called a ‘peace industry.’ “The peace process is only a psychological process, established to give hope but no concrete results. Meanwhile Israel has expanded Jerusalem’s boundaries to assure the city cannot be easily divided. As a matter of fact, there is now no concept of what is Jerusalem.” A bombshell: many Palestinians, especially those who don’t relish losing their Israel residency, don’t want East Jerusalem to be detached form Israel. These individuals are major supporters of a united Jerusalem. Benvenisti also questioned the importance of sovereignty. He claimed the division is only sociological and that no demographic threat to Israel exists. Why? The Israelis are well united against the ‘other,’ and the Palestinians, although increasing in numbers, remain fragmented and constrained.
Despite his less than positive attitude, Meron Benvenisti proposed a significant plan: “The Palestinians should establish a ‘shadow government.’ They should take advantage of their legal and social arrangements to form a quasi government that provides services and needs for the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem.” How that would be done, from where the finances would arrive, and how to gain acceptance from an Israeli government that sends its police to deter Palestinian cultural expression, were not adequately explained.
Rami Nasrallah sees the conflict in more specific terms. “The Palestinians are struggling daily with survival. The Middle class and ‘elite’ have tired of the struggle and are fleeing to other places. This phenomenon reduces East Jerusalem to a city of the impoverished. Previously the undeclared capital of Palestine that contained one-third of the Palestinian economy, East Jerusalem has been severely crippled since the Oslo,’peace accords.’ Those spurious accords, by which East Jerusalem lost its autonomy, is the reason for the economic decline.” He added that Israel’s present thrust is to have the Holy Basin become the center of Judaism. Nasarallah’s statement coincides with many Israeli published statements that characterize ancient Israel as the center of the world and Jerusalem as the center of ancient Israel. He foresees only a shift from a harsh occupation to a harsher occupation.
The peace center director noted that Israel wants to avoid a bi-national state, which means either expulsion of Palestinians or acceptance of two independent states. His observation that Israel has not been able to obtain a Jewish character of Jerusalem might be correct. Central Jerusalem, close to and within the Holy Basin, reveals more identifiable Christian institutions and buildings than those of Jewish identity, and, except for the Haram al-sharif/Temple Mount complex, than those of the Muslim faith. He fears the conflict is shifting form a national conflict to a religious war.
So what to do? Rami Nasrallah’s suggestion is to create a ‘city of Bridges.’ Jerusalem needs two strong governments for two capitals. The city can be politically divided, enable cross-border cooperation and become an ‘open city.’ One problem: His admirable suggestion substantially contradicts Israel’s stated policies.
Sarah Kreimer, whose organization Ir Amim provides educational resources that realistically describe Israel’s settlement policies around Jerusalem but does not provide realistic solutions for halting the settlements, presented a legal position: “The Israelis and Palestinians should have an amicable divorce.” Her statement was later contradicted by Baskin, who noted that before a divorce there must have been a marriage and love.
The Ir Amim director contradicted her innocent statement with innocent remarks:
“The Israeli government is using divide and conquer techniques. It is trying to make the Old City more Jewish and capture it by using the usual ‘facts on the ground’ that will entwine the Palestinians. She suggested that Israel develop a transparent and inclusive process. The Palestinian institutions that were closed after 2001 should be reopened. Sarah Kreimer noted that her suggestions “were opposite to what is being done.” The unanswered question: Why would the present Israeli leaders change previous arrangements and modify anything to accommodate her suggestions?
Gershon Baskin, never short on words, very decisive and specific, added his own highly charged comments:
“The Palestinians didn’t realize that by signing the Oslo agreement they were agreeing to close many cultural centers. Israel claimed that the closings respected the Oslo agreements. Now, Israel claims that reopening requires a law from the peace agreement. As for the Holy Basin, the issue of who controls the Holy Basin only arose from the ‘peace agreements.’ And the constructions related to City of David and the ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives are only excuses for expansion.”
Baskin summarized his views, which coincided with a later article by him in the Jerusalem Post.
“There is a change in Washington, which means the quartet will be used as the primary mechanism for resolving the conflict. The issue of Palestinian statehood has already been decided by the international community. Its directives will unfold over the years. The Security Council has stated it will replace Resolution 242 as a reference point. The Council has also decided on the size of the Palestinian state and that its borders be based on the 1967 demarcation line. Israel will no longer be able to annex territory, which includes land in a Jerusalem that will be the capital of two states.”
An interesting discussion that leads to this writer’s personal conclusions.
The significance of arriving at a just and agreeably acceptable solution to the status of Jerusalem in any peace accords cannot be underestimated. Jerusalem, the City of Peace, has always proved the ‘not theory’ of political discourse. Jerusalem has not been the City of Peace. The present trajectory of events has the debate on the future of Jerusalem serving to expand a constrained conflict to a wider Holy War. The present trajectory of events have the construction of a new Jerusalem leading to the destruction of the historical Jerusalem.