Political Options for Jerusalem’s Future

A report from Jerusalem

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.

Dan Lieberman publishes commentaries on foreign policy, economics, and politics at substack.com.  He is author of the non-fiction books A Third Party Can Succeed in America, Not until They Were Gone, Think Tanks of DC, The Artistry of a Dog, and a novel: The Victory (under a pen name, David L. McWellan). Read other articles by Dan.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. greybeard said on June 8th, 2009 at 1:51pm #

    The very “success” of creating “facts on the ground” also guarantees the eventual (and obvious) solution: One state for two peoples. Yes, it would deprive the Zionists of their sacred cow, but it would also deprive the Palestinians of ethnically-based nationhood. The two-state solution is dead (with integrated road, electrical and water systems), and apartheid is already the law–color-coded in license plates!!. But the reason a “two state solution” is now the subject on everyone’s mind is, the unthinkable alternative–apartheid, which is already in place and on the verge of falling apart.
    Israel will continue to deceive itself and (attempt to deceive) the world, but before any real working settlement is achieved, the Zionists must deal with the incipient civil war on their doorstep–the settlers are truly “crazy” in that they are willing to precipitate civil war for “their cause”. And Zionist leadership encourages them, precisely because their resistance appears to make Zionism all that much stronger. But in fact, this policy which preceded Sharon is merely sowing the seeds of the collapse of Zionism, and (unfortunately) the shedding of a fair amount of blood–both Jewish and Arab. Because the religious Zionists’ goal (i.e., the “Whole Land of Israel”) is truly a plan for disaster, a secular Armageddon. And be sure, American Jewish support will evaporate when Americans refuse to die in their Crusade.

  2. bozh said on June 8th, 2009 at 2:11pm #

    so, it does seem, that if j’lem is not divided, all the other ‘offers’ by US/isr wld be just a part of century-old warprocess; or to be more accurate, a century of land theft.

    it also seems that muslim world wld not ever accept israel’s takeover of e. j’lem.
    obama had stated that ‘j’lem will not be divided! Did he or, rather, US change its mind about the division?
    If not, then what’s up? Another charade!? Or even entrapment? With the usual explanation how palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss and opportunity?
    while omitting the fact that each time palestinians miss a golden opportunity, palestina get’s smaller and vilence increases against them.
    so, ‘jews’ do think that goyim are that stupid? Or are ‘jews’ intentionally stupid?
    still, whatever happens, palestinians wld remain unless US gives ‘jews’ permit for pal’n ‘voluntary’ exodus to a desert s’mwhere?

  3. Barry99 said on June 8th, 2009 at 3:50pm #

    I’d like to think there could be a one-state solution. That, however, will not come before a two-state solution is put into effect. Israeli Jews will never consent to living in a democratic state with gentiles – let alone Arab Muslims. Israel’s plan is to take as much valuable land (and the water beneath it) as possible until all that is left is densely populated Arab cities/towns and barren land. This will be Palestine – the state. Surrounded by Israel, with Israel in control of its air and sea space – and the ingress and egress of goods and people – it will be impoverished, corrupt and fragile – to the point of total failure. At that time, Israel will bite off any more available real estate and make a deal with Jordan and Egypt to take the rest. End of Palestine. Of course, this will not resolve the political problem. There will be more Palestinians than ever – far more than there are Jews. And they will make up much of the Israeli low-level workforce. And Israel will continue to manipulate this majority in a manner similar (but with 21st century technology) to that of Apartheid South Africa. It’s not pretty, but I think it has a fair probability of turning out this way. At least until late in this century.

  4. sid wright said on June 9th, 2009 at 3:42pm #

    i don’t know why obama is so keen for a 2 state solution when it’s not a practical option.
    the arab states have to get involved eventually

  5. Barry99 said on June 10th, 2009 at 1:58pm #

    Sid – The Arab states have an offer on the table since 2002 for full recognition of Israel. Israel rejects because it would mean giving up the land it illegally occupies. The offer is now so long standing that it is dying a slow death.

    Did you think Obama or any US prez would come out for a one-state solution?