Middle East Quarterly
The New Battle for Jerusalem
For years, the Israeli government has argued, and Washington has agreed, that the status of Jerusalem should be put off until the end of negotiations between Israel and the Arabs. This being the most contentious aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it could easily derail the entire peace process.
The Declaration of Principles (DoP), signed on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, codified this outlook, making Jerusalem one of those "issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations," scheduled to begin no later than May 1996. This clause reflects the reality that no Israeli government will even talk about changes in the status of Jerusalem until it is clear beyond doubt that the Arab states and the Palestinians fully accept Israel.
But the Palestinians have not gone along with this script. To the contrary, the new Palestinian Authority is daily testing Israel's resolve by raising issues that put the status of the Holy City into question. And the Israeli response to this challenge has been surprisingly weak. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has beat a seeming retreat, while many on the Israeli Left argue that tackling Jerusalem now will reinvigorate the Israeli-PLO dialogue. At the same time, some on the Israeli right, including Jerusalem's mayor, Ehud Olmert, argue for starting negotiations on Jerusalem now so that they will know early on where the Labor government is heading.
Before taking up the current debate over Jerusalem, we review the reasons for Jerusalem's intractability, as well as the change of circumstances that explains why, after so many decades in the background, it has now emerged as an issue of immediate controversy.
Perhaps more than any other location on earth, politics in Jerusalem has to be seen in the context of competing theological considerations that echo across the centuries and through the three major monotheistic faiths.
Judaism. Jerusalem holds a unique status in the Jewish tradition. Since King David, it has been at the center of the Jewish consciousness. Jerusalem is the "mountain of the Lord," the very core of the Jewish people through three millennia. The Mishnah (part of Jewish oral law) asserts that the divine presence (Shekhinah) has never left the Western Wall. In his daily prayers, the pious Jew thrice daily entreats the Lord to "return in mercy to Thy city, Jerusalem." Jerusalem is for Judaism not only a city encompassing holy places (as it is for Islam and Christianity); nor is it only, as for Christians, the spiritual city that is holy. Rather, it is the earthly city itself that is holy, both the land and (as the noted scholar and former chief rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook held) even the air. As with the concepts of the people of Israel and the Torah of Israel, the land of Israel is at the very essence of the Jewish belief system.
The city symbolizes both spiritual and national revival, so Israel's national anthem, "Hatikvah" ("the hope"), naturally refers to a two-thousand-year yearning from the diaspora for Zion and Jerusalem. Nor is this yearning purely spiritual. Through the centuries, Jews settled in Jerusalem to live an existence of exceptional piety. Already in medieval times, elderly Jews traveled to Jerusalem to die and be buried in its hallowed ground. By 1844, Jews constituted the largest religious group in the city; by the 1870s, they were an absolute majority, which they have remained ever since.
Christianity. Past controversies over the control of the Christian holy places were bound up more by disputes within Christianity than by interference from the Muslim rulers of Palestine or conflict with Jews. The holy places include sites believed to have been the scenes of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the churches marking the stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Church of the Ascension. In 1757, the Ottoman authorities first established a status quo to determine which Christian sects controlled which holy places. The status quo was reaffirmed in 1852, guaranteed in 1878 by the European powers at the Congress of Berlin, confirmed by the British during the Mandate period, and then again by Israel after 1967. So important is this status quo to Christians that a dispute between Roman Catholics and the Russian Orthodox over control of altars in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was the proximate cause of the Crimean War of 1854-56.
Historically, the Vatican has always supported internationalization, presumably in part as a way of protecting its interests in the Holy Places. Christian denominations are still more concerned with keeping one Christian sect from encroaching on the others' rights than with control of the city by Jews or Muslims. Historically, the Vatican has always supported internationaliztion, presumably in part as a way of protecting its interests in the holy places. Still, while the Vatican still considers Israeli "occupation" of eastern Jerusalem "unacceptable," it has apparently moved away from its historic insistence on creation of a corpus separatum to some notion of "international guarantees to safeguard the uniqueness of the city." In return for this and for opening diplomatic relations with Israel last July, the Vatican hopes to play a role in the negotiations over Jerusalem. This rapprochement has already created considerable consternation among other Christian groups, in particular the Greek Orthodox, who are the majority of Christians in Israel, and who have asserted traditional claims of religious primacy for the Christian community there.
Islam. Jerusalem is the original direction for Islamic prayer and the place from which the Prophet ascended (some say on winged mount) to heavenly spheres. XX Muslim tradition expects the events that bring on the end of the world to begin in Jerusalem. By the end of the seventh century, Jerusalem was considered the third holiest city of Islam. As Zvi Werbloswsky has pointed out, "the sanctity of Jerusalem in Islam is a fact." At the same time, Jerusalem long had a far less prominent place in Muslim theology or the region's history. Suffice to say that the Qur'an makes no mention of Jerusalem by name. (Although Muslim commentators hold that Sura 17 does refer to Jerusalem when it speaks of Muhammad's "night journey" to the "further temple.")
Nor did Jerusalem serve as a political capital for Muslims. In Saul Cohen's words, "at no time in the thirteen centuries of Islamic rule was Jerusalem part of, let alone synonymous with, a national entity." Until the rise of Palestinian nationalism in this century, the Muslim interest in Jerusalem has been largely religious not political. The Islamic world certainly has valid interests in protecting its religious establishments in Jerusalem and ensuring access to Islamic Holy Places. Indeed, Ramla and not Jerusalem served as the area's administrative capital under the Umayyids and the `Abassids. The notion of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine is of recent vintage, and the idea of Palestine as a national unit for Muslims dates back only to 1920.
Just as the Crusader conquest inspired the genre of fada'il al-Quds literature praising the spiritual glory of Jerusalem, so Zionism heightened Arab interest in Jerusalem.
Muslims and Jews have a deep historical conflict over the Temple area. The Dome of the Rock was intentionally built on the site of the Jewish Temple to claim the site for Islam. At the same time, Jewish tradition tells us to expect the rebuilding of the Temple in the messianic age--an obvious difficulty given the site's present utilization.
Israeli authorities have sought to avoid conflict by granting control over the Temple Mount area to the Supreme Muslim Council, or waqf, which usually administers the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem without interference from Israeli authorities. While some Jewish religious nationalists have demanded access to the Temple Mount, most observant Jews stay away from that area for fear of trespassing on the Holy of Holies (an area of the Temple forbidden to all but the High Priest), much easing matters in the process. Matters have been complicated, however, since Former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Chief Military Chaplain during the Six Day War concluded on the basis of his own researches that the actual site of the Holy of Holies was ----,thus allowing Jews to enter the Temple Mount area.
Muslim interest in Jerusalem is not limited to the Palestinians. King Husayn of Jordan ruled Jerusalem before 1967, and even today, despite renouncing political claims to the city, as a Hashemite (i.e., a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad) still asserts a foremost role in spiritual Jerusalem. This explains why the Jordanian government has since 1967 paid the salaries of more than one thousand Muslim officials overseeing the holy places in Jerusalem, and continues to do so today, despite Palestinian complaints. It also explains why the king dramatically sold some of his personal real estate in England in early 1994 to raise more than $8 million to pay for releafing the gold-covered roof of the Dome of the Rock. And why one Jordanian reward for ending their state of war with Israel in July 1994 came in the Israel government's recognizing the "high priority" of Jordanian "interests" in Jerusalem, a priority that was reinforced in the peace treaty signed on October 26, 1994.
Morocco's King Hassan II also claims descent from the Prophet and in addition serves as chairman of the Arab League's Jerusalem Committee. The recent Moroccan decision to establish diplomatic ties with Israel probably stems in part from the king's hope to play a continuing role in determining the future of Jerusalem's Islamic holy places.
The Saudis, guardians of Mecca and Medina, would like nothing better than to add Islamic Jerusalem to their title. Oil revenues alone ensure them a place at the table in the internal Arab debate (in July, they reportedly offered $1 billion to be funnelled through the Palestinian Authority in support of cultural and religious institutions in eastern Jerusalem). In addition, as proponents of the Wahhabi doctrine, they claim a theological primacy that inspires ambitions in Jerusalem.
Even Iran has laid down a marker. It is the only Muslim country that sponsors a yearly Jerusalem Day, each May 29. And reports exist (albeit denied) that they have written to Israel articulating their interest in the holy places.
Recently, King Hussein of Jordan has suggested that "My religious faith demands that the sovereignty of the Holy Places in Jerusalem resides with G-d and G-d alone." These suggestive allusions should not be over interpreted; but they indicate what ought in some sense to be the obvious: that there are varieties of formulations that might meet the religious, if not national, needs of the parties concerned. Peres' reported musings that the Arab and Christian Holy Places might be turned over to a multinational commission are reflective of this.
The Israeli Position
Though early Zionists understood the emotive power of Jerusalem, most of them were mesmerized by Tel Aviv and the other new settlements, which symbolized the Zionist spirit. Also, the British authorities made it clear during their three decades (1918-48) that they would never allow a Jewish state to gain complete control of Jerusalem. Consistent with this outlook, the 1937 Peel Commission, the first Palestine Royal Commission to recommend partition, explicitly proposed a special Jerusalem enclave as "a sacred trust of civilization." David Ben-Gurion and the other founders of modern Israel reluctantly accepted the internationalization of Jerusalem as the price of Jewish independence in part of Palestine, recognizing that Jerusalem would actually become a separate legal jurisdiction, or corpus separatum. At a December 1947 meeting of the Jewish Agency, delegates actually debated whether the new capital should be built in the northern Carmel forests (Golda Meir's view), Kurnab in the Negev (Ben-Gurion's favorite), or Sharona, a suburb of Tel Aviv (the agreed-upon capital).
As a practical matter, the internationalization notion died when warfare led to a partition of Jerusalem between Israel and Jordan in 1948 (though internationalization officially remains on the United Nations's books). Both states preferred this new arrangement to internationalization, which would have deprived each of its own piece of holy turf. Israel's leadership quickly staked a claim to Jerusalem through legislation but showed exceeding caution in effectuating its claims on the ground, seeking first to test international reaction. In 1949, it supported a Swedish plan for "functional internationalization" of the holy places. But later that year it moved the Israeli Knesset to Jerusalem; in 1952, it moved the President's Office (where foreign ambassadors present their credentials) to Jerusalem; only in 1953 did it transfer the Foreign Office to temporary buildings in Jerusalem. Foreign governments protested for a while, but soon adapted to the new reality. (To this day, the U.S. ambassador lives in Tel Aviv but quietly maintains a suite at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.)
The Six-Day War in June 1967 resulted for Israel in the wholly unexpected prize of a united Jerusalem, and its leaders wasted no time in taking advantage of this "miracle." On June 27, the Knesset passed three laws expanding the boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality and ordering "the application of Israeli law, jurisdiction, and administration" in East Jerusalem. (Note, however, that the Knesset did not then use the term annexation; that came only in 1980.) The old Jordanian municipality of Jerusalem ceased to exist. For almost three decades, Israelis have insisted on a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Indeed, in 1980 when it appeared that the U was going to take up the Jerusalem question seriously, Israel passed in your face legislation formally annexing the city administratively.
The Palestinian Position
Few deny that East Jerusalem stagnated during the era of Jordanian occupation, 1948-67. The Jordanian government tried to build up Amman at the expense of Jerusalem, the East Bank at the expense of the West Bank. As Mohammed Abu Shilbaya, an East Jerusalemite poet, angrily wrote, "If the Jordanians had been able to do so, they would have transferred Jerusalem's Old City Walls to Amman." In the mid-1960s, 60 percent of East Jerusalem's population was without running water. Only one family in five had a refrigerator. Sewage flowed untreated into the Kidron valley. Electricity was rationed, and some 30 percent of households had no electricity at all. Other than hotels, the largest single business enterprise employed no more than twelve people. Israeli stewardship after 1967 provided the Arab population with significant material benefits. Before 1967, East Jerusalem received water only three days a week. By 1969, water was available daily.
Israeli rule also brought political and civil freedoms. The Hashemite monarchy had closed down Jerusalem's last semi-independent newspaper just months before the Six-Day War, but under Israeli sovereignty, a range of Arab papers subsequently came into existence, some advocating extremist political positions. Indeed, the political and cultural life of eastern Jerusalem may be the freest in the Arab world.
The political and cultural life of eastern Jerusalem may be the freest in the Arab world.
Jerusalem Arabs have little appreciated these gains, however. Instead, they complain about not getting their full share of benefits from Israel. They have a point: walk across the 1967 divide and clear differences in housing stock and city services, if not the quality of life, become immediately obvious. But this results less from bias (although that too exists, disturbingly, in the different societal expectations according to religion) than from the decision by nearly all Jerusalem Arabs to boycott municipal elections, resulting in their lack of representation. Had Palestinians participated, their party would likely have emerged as the swing voting bloc in the city council, and they would have been amply and practically rewarded. The Palestinian Arab claims for a more equitable share of the city's resources would inescapably be met by the rough and tumble of the democratic political process - if they chose to join in.
Palestinian concerns do not end with issues of equity and accountability. Since 1967, Jerusalem has loomed ever larger as the capital for Palestinians and as the symbol of Palestinian nationalism, both on the practical and the emotional levels. Walid Khalidi states that Jerusalem "is the natural capital of Palestine." However recent this existential reality, it cannot be ignored. In addition, Jerusalem serves as the regional economic and transportation center for the West Bank. And the fact that the city serves precisely these same functions for the Jewish state makes the question of Jerusalem extraordinarily intractable.
The American Position
The American position on Jerusalem is ambiguous. Before the British Mandate ended, the Truman administration supported internationalization of the city as a corpus separatum, a notion opposed by Arabs and Israelis alike, then made irrelevant by the Jordanian and Israeli sectors. This did not mean that the United States accepted, let alone recognized, West Jerusalem as part of Israel; thus, the American embassy remains to this day in Tel Aviv. Not until the 1967 Six-Day War did the U.S. government as a practical matter abandon internationalization, though it remains on the books.
No American administration (or government of any other state) has accepted Israel's post-1967 boundaries. On July 14, 1967, U.N. ambassador Arthur Goldberg stated that the Israeli annexation "cannot be considered as other than interim and provisional and as not prejudging the final and permanent status of Jerusalem." Still, Lyndon Johnson's administration did not call for the restoration of Jordanian authority in eastern Jerusalem. Instead, Johnson, in an address on June 19, 1967, argued only that "there . . . must be adequate recognition of special interests of three great religions in the Holy Places of Jerusalem." Later administrations (from Nixon to Clinton) added that Jerusalem must remain a "unified" city with its final status to be negotiated as part of a comprehensive settlement.
On July 1, 1969, Richard Nixon's U.N. ambassador Charles Yost staked out a somewhat different position. He pointed out that "the United States considers that part of Jerusalem that came under the control of Israel in the June war, like other areas occupied by Israel, is occupied territory." Following this approach, Secretary of State William Rogers, while affirming that Jerusalem should be a unified city, proposed that "there should be roles for both Israel and Jordan in the civic, economic and religious life of Jerusalem." State Department policy over the next quarter century veered between the Goldberg and Yost approaches, without ever moving far from the latter.
Indeed, the Department of State attempts to enforce a strict party line on the Jerusalem issue. U.S. personnel are not allowed to do official business with Israel in eastern Jerusalem (notwithstanding the location there of the Ministries of Justice and of Housing). Executive branch officials are advised not to visit the Old City under the auspices of Israeli civilian or military authorities. Vice Presidents Mondale and Bush overrode this stricture for their own visits but this author remembers arranging Attorney General Edward Meese's trip to Israel in 1986 and spending hours with State Department officials poring over musty old maps of the 1948 conflict. We sought to ascertain whether the Hebrew University Faculty Club on Mount Scopus, the site of a possible visit, was situated in territory Israel held between 1948 and 1967 (in which case a visit would have been kosher) or in what was then called no-man's land (which would have made a visit treif).
While the U.S. government refuses to meet with Israelis in eastern Jerusalem, its consulate in eastern Jerusalem serves as the de facto American liaison with Palestinians. Revealingly, American officials do meet with Palestinian leaders there, including staff of Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority. When pressed on this issue, Dennis Ross, Secretary of State Warren Christopher's point man on the Middle East, lamely explained that while he would meet with Faysal al-Husayni in eastern Jerusalem, he would not talk with him there about Gaza-Jericho. There is rich irony here. The United States will not talk about Gaza-Jericho with Faisal Husseini at Orient House; but it will discuss the status of Jerusalem? The artificiality of this effort at line-drawing makes clear that the distinction cannot be easily sustained.
The political view toward the Jerusalem issue has differed radically from State's formalistic view. Symbolic of this divide, President Bill Clinton told Jewish supporters in a private meeting that he thinks Jerusalem should stay united under Israeli sovereignty; the State Department immediately responded with a clarification to the effect that the president "may well have expressed his own private view on those questions." U.S. policy, the State Department stressed, remained unchanged. By ever-greater margins, Congress has viewed united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, putting Congress increasingly at odds with the State Department. Indeed, on October 6, 1994, 279 House members called on the administration to support united Jerusalem as Israel's capital "and only Israel's capital."
In most cases, Congress' views have no operational bite, and State continues to maintain its line. But sometimes Congress does make a difference. In June 1994, for example, State Department officials floated the idea of setting up an Agency for International Development office for Gaza/Jericho in the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem but scotched the notion in response to congressional anger.
After languishing for decades at the margins of diplomacy, the issue of Jerusalem has recently surfaced. That's because the nearly universal rejection of Israel's position on Jerusalem had little impact on the city's de facto status but has a great impact on negotiations regarding de jure arrangements. Israel's strength lies in its control of territory and the creation of facts on the ground; the Palestinian trump card lies in the lack of international legitimacy for Israel's proclaimed boundary lines.
The nearly universal rejection of Israel's position on Jerusalem had little impact on the city's de facto status but has a great impact on negotiations regarding de jure arrangements.
Israel's strength lies in its control of territory and the creation of facts on the ground; the Palestinian trump card lies in the lack of international legitimacy for Israel's proclaimed boundary lines.
While agreeing in the DoP to put off the question of Jerusalem, then promising in June 1994 that it would not be highlighted, Arafat and his colleagues have persistently pressed the issue. They take every opportunity to remind Palestinian listeners that Jerusalem is the ultimate goal. From a Johannesburg mosque, Arafat declared a jihad for Jerusalem. A recently drafted Palestinian constitution states unequivocally in its fifth clause that "Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine." The Palestinian Authority has opened a housing office, a statistics bureau, and the offices of the nascent Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation in eastern Jerusalem. PECDAR, the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, is located at the very edge of Jerusalem, right outside the city's boundaries. Orient House, the Palestinian Authority's de facto headquarters in eastern Jerusalem, bristles with official-looking flags and bodyguards.
Faysal al-Husayni, the PLO's man in Jerusalem, is at the center of this storm. Even while Arafat was cobbling together a Palestinian Ruling Council for Gaza-Jericho, he appointed Husayni his de facto "minister" for Jerusalem. Husayni pointedly declined to join the Palestinian Ruling Council to ensure his freedom to involve himself in issues surrounding Jerusalem, using careful formulations ("I am not a minister in the Palestinian authority, just a member of the delegation in charge of Jerusalem"). Agence France Presse, July 12, 1994. In July 1994, Husayni pointedly declined Arafat's request to join the Palestinian Ruling Council, stating, "I am not a minister in the Palestinian authority, just a member of the [PLO] delegation in charge of Jerusalem." Calling himself a PLO delegate, not a Palestinian Authority representative, he can maintain extensive contacts with foreign representatives from his office in Orient House.
In June 1994, for example, al-Husayni briefed a group of six Turkish parliamentarians at Orient House. In July, he coordinated the foreign diplomatic corps' participation in Arafat's initial visit to Gaza. In August, he received Canadian Public Works minister David Dingwall to discuss housing needs in Gaza and how Canada can provide financial assistance. In September, he met with Egyptian foreign minister `Amr Musa and discussed peace process issues. When the Israeli authorities complain about these activities, al-Husayni offers lawyer-like distinctions, suggesting that he will "conduct activities that are part of the peace process in Jerusalem" and matters "related only to the interim agreement" elsewhere. He thus forces the Israeli government into inconsistent line drawing over what is an academic or cultural enterprise (clearly legal), what is related to the peace process (arguably legal), and what is self-governing activity (presumably illegal).
The Equivocal Israeli Response
In the face of these challenges, Prime Minister Rabin continues to restate the Jewish claim that "united Jerusalem is our capital, the capital of the Jewish people and will remain this way forever." He says he will demand that all Palestinian self-rule activities be moved to Jericho, threatening that if the Palestinians won't do it themselves, "we will help them." Foreign Minister Shimon Peres frequently points out that the issue of Jerusalem is "closed politically but open religiously." These statements reflect Israeli public opinion, which agrees almost unanimously that Jerusalem must remain united and serve as Israel's capital. A 1994 survey concluded that a mere 14 percent of Israelis are willing to have the status of Jerusalem even raised at peace talks (which their government has already agreed will be the case). And there is, unusually, little difference in sentiment between secular and religious on this issue.
In the same spirit, the Rabin government has continued to approve construction of large-scale housing units for Jews in Arab neighborhoods, such as Jebel Mukaber; a tourist complex in Sheik Jarrah; and construction of a new yeshiva on the Mount of Olives. Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's ambassador to Washington, points to such construction as evidence supporting the government's commitment to a united Israeli Jerusalem.
This evidence notwithstanding, there is reason to doubt whether Rabin and Peres will prove willing or able to sustain their commitments. Indeed, the government position has already cracked. Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, often a harbinger of future government positions, stated in July 1994, "I'm not saying Israel is ready to compromise on Jerusalem now, but I think that since we are ready to go a long way with the Palestinians for many other issues, we can solve the problem of Jerusalem too. The "now" in the first clause is clearly the operative word in this passage.
Their stated position on Jerusalem notwithstanding, there is reason to doubt whether Rabin and Peres will prove willing or able to sustain their commitments.
The Israeli government adopted a remarkably relaxed position regarding references to Jerusalem in Security Council Resolution 904 (condemning the Hebron massacre). While it certainly wanted the United States to oppose language referring to Jerusalem as one of "the territories occupied by Israel," it opposed a U.S. veto (fearing that this would keep Arafat away from the Gaza-Jericho negotiating table). When it seemed possible that a Senate letter cosponsored by Senators Connie Mack (Republican of Florida) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Democrat of New York) and cosigned by eighty other senators urging a veto might successfully pressure President Clinton into vetoing the resolution, the Rabin government informed Washington that it would not object to a U.S. abstention. More than that, in the words of Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman, the Israelis sought "to restrain American Jewish opposition" to the U.N. resolution.
Despite the PLO's many infractions of the DoP, the Israeli government chooses punctiliously to follow every jot and tittle of that agreement. It recognizes Arafat's right to claim Jerusalem before formal discussions begin in the final status negotiations; it allows varieties of Palestinian self-expression in Jerusalem that fall just short of governing; and it accepts Arafat's right as a matter of principle to pray in the Holy City as might any pilgrim, discounting the political ramifications of such a visit. And it went further, cancelling Likud-era efforts to settle small pockets of Jews in the Muslim Quarter of walled Jerusalem.
A mysterious letter from Peres to Norwegian foreign minister Johan Jorgen Holst raised even more questions. Behind closed doors, Arafat told an audience in a Johannesburg mosque on May 10, 1994, about a secret letter he had received from the Israeli authorities agreeing that the city's future would come up for negotiation "directly after the signing" of the autonomy accord reached in Cairo six days earlier. The letter also, Arafat claimed, gave the PLO responsibility for all Christian and Muslim holy places. Rabin immediately denied such a letter existed but later backtracked when Peres had to admit that he had sent just such a letter to Holst, in which he stated that "all Palestinian institutions of East Jerusalem, including the economic, social, educational and cultural, and the holy Christian and Muslim places are performing an essential task for the Palestinian people." The Israeli government, Peres pledged, "will not hamper their activity; on the contrary, the fulfillment of this important mission is to be encouraged."
Peres dismissed the vociferous criticism of his integrity that followed, pointing out that his letter was not to Arafat but to the Norwegians, and that in it he never said that the Palestinian governing authority would operate from Jerusalem but referred only to the Palestinian institutions that existed at the date of the letter. He said that the letter was demanded by the Palestinians before they signed the Cairo agreement on May 4, 1994. This got him in further trouble, for his letter was dated October 11, 1993, almost a month after the September 13 handshake, making it difficult to interpret the letter as a last-minute concession to save the talks from collapse. And why, he was asked, if the Israeli government intends to keep Jerusalem united, does the letter three times refer to "East Jerusalem"?
It could be that Peres wrote his letter to reassure the Palestinians that the DoP would not cause their existing theaters, literary societies, and other cultural institutions in eastern Jerusalem to be moved to Jericho. But no one seriously suggested such a measure; and so the letter must fairly be interpreted instead as a recognition that the Rabin government did not want to tackle head on the issue of Orient House, and what it represents for Palestinian nationalism. And, indeed, its failing to do so encouraged the Palestinians to begin creating more "economic, social, educational and cultural" institutions, testing the limits of Israeli resolve. With each passing day, these entities more and more take on aspects of governing. The failure to face up to the activities of Faysal al-Husayni and the challenge of his Orient House diplomacy will erode the state of Israel's negotiating position on Jerusalem in days to come.
The failure to face up to the activities of Faysal al-Husayni and the meaning of Orient House will create serious problems for the state of Israel's negotiating position on Jerusalem in days to come.
Jerusalem contains Jewish streets and Arab streets, Jewish neighborhoods and Arab neighborhoods. In poet Yehuda Amichai's words, "The City plays hide-and-seek among her names Yerushalayam, Al-Quds, Salem, Jeru." The different Jerusalems are so stippled and intertwined that they can be disentangled only in utopian vision. Indeed, the notion that Jerusalem can be easily divided up is frivolous to anyone who actually walks its metes and bounds.
For their part, Israel's leaders must accept that it cannot determine the religious issues related to the holy places on their own, nor even in partnership only with the Palestinians. The Vatican and the other Christian denominations, as well as the Islamic Conference and interested Arab countries, generally should be invited to enter into discussions on the future control of the holy places. Make no mistake about it: the involvement of all these parties will in some sense compromise Israeli sovereignty, and appropriately so. For example, the Jerusalem Municipality recently decided to develop a tourist plaza near the Gihon Spring in the City of David section of Silwan, a project that eventually will require expropriation of waqf (mortmain) land near the Temple Mount. Were a religious commission for the holy places in existence, the municipality's freedom of action would to some extent be limited.
In contrast, political issues of sovereignty should be limited to the parties concerned, Israel and the Palestinians, and, consonant with the DoP, taken up in the final status talks. Such a bilateral framework reflects political, military, and demographic realities. On the last point: Jews outnumber all the others in municipal Jerusalem's population of over 550,000. They constitute the overwhelming majority of the 230,000 living on land that was Israel's before 1967. Of the other 320,000, a majority here too are Jewish, in part because the post-1967 boundaries of Jerusalem include areas that serve as a buffer zone to protect Jewish areas from an invasion force of Arab armies and to "create facts" by encircling Jerusalem with a collar of Jewish districts. These new districts within the city's municipal boundaries include Ramot in the northwest (with 38,000 inhabitants), Gilo in the southwest (with 30,000), and Neve Yaacov and Pisgat Ze'ev in the north (over 29,000). The near suburb of Maaleh Adumim (with nearly 20,000 inhabitants) lies a few miles from the city's boundaries and protects its eastern approaches. Israeli building projects in eastern Jerusalem and nearby suburbs have permanently altered the demographic landscape. Michael Romann and Alex Weingrad rightly conclude that "the previously clear-cut continuous dividing lines segregating Jewish from Arab zones can no longer be said to exist. . . . The distinction between East and West Jerusalem no longer coincides with the Arab-Jewish divide." Even Palestinian commentators concede that these developments cannot be erased. They demand land in West Jerusalem to build Arab apartment blocks as compensation for the building of Jewish residential neighborhoods in the old Arab sectors.
At the same time, the Israeli government cannot ignore Palestinian concerns regarding the functional centrality of Jerusalem to the regional geography of the West Bank. Arab Jerusalem is central to the West Bank economy and is likely to remain so. It is also the transportation, cultural, and political center of the West Bank. Cutting off Jerusalem from the West Bank creates real problems for Palestinians. Thus, it is inescapable that any border between Jerusalem and a Palestinian entity must take this regional centrality into account.
It is inescapable that any border between Jerusalem and a Palestinian entity will be relatively porous.
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations need to be based on the practical reality that Jerusalem can serve as the capital of only one state.
Within the framework of a unified city as the capital of Israel, the Israeli government has expressed a willingness to meet these kind of concerns. As far back as July 1968, members of the Foreign Ministry contemplated that any settlement on Jerusalem will contain steps which will satisfy the need of the Muslims for status, such as extraterritorial standing and the right to raise flags. Some years later Walter Eytan, former head of the Foreign Office, urged his government to "make a unilateral, unsolicited offer to give the Haram es-Sharif to an Arab sovereign as his wholly sovereign territory." Other symbolic connections to Jerusalem might be envisioned. Manhattan real estate comes to mind, where skyscrapers often occupy space on cross-streets yet claim a Fifth Avenue address. Further, some form of what Jerusalem's former mayor Teddy Kollek calls "scattered functional authority" (or what others call a borough system) may be feasible in meeting Palestinian economic and cultural requirements. Such an approach would devolve authority for specific government functions--education, libraries, and housing--to local neighborhoods, ensuring that eastern Jerusalem receives its fair share of government programs with due sensitivity to the needs of the Arab population.
There is a qualitative difference, however, between proposals to increase Palestinian involvement in the political process and proposals to share sovereignty in Jerusalem. Talk of a borough system can be viewed as a way to devolve authority to neighborhoods or it can be seen as the beginning of shared sovereignty. The former should be encouraged, while the latter must be opposed. Simply put, all efforts at shared sovereignty inescapably lead to divided sovereignty. The effort after World War II to share sovereignty between Yugoslavia and U-British military zones in Trieste proved to be unworkable, and the territory was split between Italy and Yugoslavia. Chandigarh in India remains the joint capital of two states, Haryana and the Punjab, because protracted violence has prevented the 1986 Punjab Accord from being carried out, under which Chandigarh would be part of the Punjab while Haryana would maintain only its state offices there. Therefore, any negotiations on the future of Jerusalem must be based on the practical reality that Jerusalem can serve as the capital of one state only. Here Israeli differences with the Palestinians are most starkly evident. British military zones in Trieste proved to be unworkable, and the territory was split between Italy and Yugoslavia. Chandigarh in India remains the joint capital of two states, Haryana and the Punjab, because protracted violence has prevented the 1986 Punjab Accord from being carried out, under which Chandigarh would be part of the Punjab while Haryana would maintain only its state offices there. Therefore, any negotiations on the future of Jerusalem must be based on the practical reality that Jerusalem can serve as the capital of one state only. Here Israeli differences with the Palestinians are most starkly evident.
Negotiations on the future of Jerusalem must be based on the practical reality that Jerusalem can serve as the capital of one state only. Here Israeli differences with the Palestinians are most starkly evident.
Palestinians like Sari Nusseibeh (and their Jewish interlocutors) generally seek to split the city into Jewish and Palestinian sectors. To reach that result, Hannah Sinora (and a former Likud parliamentarian, Moshe Amirav) would enlarge the city to reach parity between Jews and Arabs, and then split it to give each a sovereign share. Ibrahim Matar would allow Israel to keep sovereignty over western Jerusalem but demand the dismantling of all "illegal" Jewish construction built in eastern Jerusalem after June 1967, as well as secure compensation for all Palestinian property in western Jerusalem.
More sophisticated devotees of partition recognize that even Israeli doves (as well as their Western acolytes) will instinctively recoil at proposals to split the Holy City. Thus, they seek a less controversial linguistic phrase and have begun to talk the language of dual or shared sovereignty, or in the words of Hebrew University philosophy professor Avishai Margalit, "one city that could be the home of two capitals." Faysal al-Husayni has recently given primacy to this location, stating:
We do not want to see the city divided. It is now divided. Part of it is under occupation and the other part sanctions this occupation. . . . We are seeking a comprehensive solution that will keep Jerusalem open, with free movement and without borders; but at the same time it will contain two capitals.
Husayni has moved away (at least rhetorically) from earlier Palestinian demands to the entire city or, failing that, to divide it in two.
But even with the best will in the world, dual sovereignty simply won't work, in part for reasons of public administration. Shared sovereignty does not mean shared authority. Rather, as Teddy Kollek insightfully points out, it ends up meaning "Two competing authorities and ultimately two sets of laws, two rates of customs and taxation, two police forces? These are an invitation to a boundary and a boundary is an invitation to a wall." In the end, because dual sovereignty is no more than a mirage, demands for such solutions will ineluctably collapse, in practice, into some variant of a divided city. And very likely a return to a walled city as well.
Shared sovereignty in Jerusalem means no authority.
A city cannot be run by consensus. Divided centers of power are possible, as for example, in present-day Jerusalem, where Labor, Likud, and religious interests each control portions of the vote. That's democratic pluralism. Power can also be devolved downward to better empower local populations (as, for example, with neighborhood autonomy or boroughs). What is not possible is divided authority where all sides must be in agreement for political decisions to occur. It also won't work from the perspective of political theory, for the shared sovereignty position corrodes the concept of the nation-state. To say that Jerusalem has two sovereigns is another way of saying that it has none. If both a Palestinian entity and Israel share sovereignty over Jerusalem, it becomes a city without borders.
The existence of borders in one of the central indicia of statehood. Without borders, there is no control over commerce, taxation, or aspects of a national economy. Further, if Jerusalem has no border or perimeter control, it cannot protect against ingress or egress of persons or criminals (including terrorists). As even the American Friends Service Committee (no friends of Israel) has recognized, under such solutions, "anyone entering Jerusalem from either country would be free to cross Jerusalem to the other country." Put more bluntly, a porous Jerusalem permits the Palestinians to accomplish the right of return without bothering with negotiations.
A porous Jerusalem permits the Palestinians to accomplish the right of return without bothering with negotiations.
Thus, the cosmopolitan notion of no borders defeats the essence of the nation-state, a place where one political community can exercise its vision of "the pursuit of happiness." Political integration may yet reduce the importance of states and borders in the European Community (although the checkered experience of the Maastricht Treaty in national referenda belies this optimism). But it is simply naïve optimism to assume that it will happen in the Middle East.
Shared sovereignty in Jerusalem, then, is nothing more than a replay in one city of the binational state idea fostered by utopians like Judah Magnes before 1948. It marks a defeat for the Zionist impulses that lay behind the creation of a Jewish state. However subtle the diplomatic dance, when the music ends, the inescapable reality remain--there cannot be two sovereignties in one city.
Shared sovereignty marks a defeat for Zionism, for the notion of a Jewish state.
The PLO, however, appears not interested in pragmatic formulations. It shows no interest, for example, in the Arab villages on Jerusalem's periphery, like Sufat or Sur Bahir. Rather, it lays claim to the Old City, close-in Arab communities such as Sheik Jarrah, and such bustling Jewish suburbs as French Hill, Gilo, and Ramot. Its interest in neighborhood autonomy is less to promote local autonomy through a borough system than as a straw for "shared sovereignty," with all the consequences that entails.
Talk of sharing sovereignty in Jerusalem is a euphemistic way of proposing a divided city.
In contemplating this problem, it must be remembered that the concept of sovereignty is a bundle of legal rights; and that the Ottoman administrative structure for centuries provided significant religious and cultural autonomy through the millet system. In the nineteenth century, citizens of Western countries enjoyed many communal privileges under the capitulation agreements. Given this history, innovative approaches that meet both Israeli needs and Arab sensibilities may yet be developed. As long as the lodestar is a united city that remains Israel's capital, much may be possible.
For example, Shimon Shamir has urged a "metropolitan roof municipality" under a Jewish mayor with significant authority devolved onto neighborhoods or boroughs. Ehud Olmert has supported such decentralization "provided it does not result in a divided city." Ruth Lapidoth has presented the possibility of the distribution of authority on a personal rather than a substantive basis, presumably drawing upon the millet or capitulation models. Others have suggested a kind of Vatican model, allowing the Palestinian Authority's parliament to meet within Israeli precincts.
Indeed, the Labor government has already agreed that eastern Jerusalem residents may vote in any Palestinian elections, maintaining their link to whatever Palestinian entity will evolve from the peace process.
The initialling of a peace treaty with Jordan and the nascent opening of diplomatic relations with Morocco and Tunisia makes clear that the Arab states will not allow their own national interests to be held hostage to progress on the "Palestinian track." While the Gaza-Jericho accord may have been necessary to thrust negotiations forward, these countries (and perhaps Syria as well) will apparently conclude their deal with Israel with only minimal regard to Palestinian considerations. The Palestinians travel alone--both as to their ambitions toward political self-determination and their political (as opposed to religious) claims to Jerusalem.
The extent to which final status negotiations move in the directions suggested above or go further to treat any of the sixty proposals already put forward in regard to the status of Jerusalem will depend in large measure on the confidence level on the Israeli "street" toward Arab and, specifically, Palestinians intentions at the time. What is certain, however, is that shared sovereignty solutions are unlikely to prevail.
The U.S. government should jettison its out-of-date position that western as well as eastern Jerusalem is on the negotiating table.
By ignoring the over forty-five years in which western Jerusalem has been Israeli territory, the State Department raises unrealistic Palestinian expectations as to what they can expect from the United States during final status talks. Instead of focusing discussion on the relevant question--how Palestinians can participate meaningfully in a united city under Israeli sovereignty--the State Department's ostrich-like attitude fosters visions of shared (or divided) sovereignty in Jerusalem, which cannot but fail given present political and demographic realities.
Washington can best assist the final status negotiations by jettisoning it outdated position that the sovereignty of Jerusalem is on the negotiating table and open for dissection. As a principle of American diplomacy, that view can only undercut those who seek the peace of Jerusalem in our day.
It must be remembered, however, that the concept of sovereignty is a western import into the Middle East, where for centuries the Ottoman administrative structure provided significant religious minorities with religious and cultural autonomy through the millet system. In the 19th century, numerous special communal privileges were retained by citizens of western countries under various capitulation agreements. For centuries, the Mammeluke Emirs ruled Egypt under the nominal suzerainty of the Sublime Porte. Indeed, until the centralizing efforts of the Young Turks in the last years of the Empire, in much of the Ottoman lands the Sultan ruled largely through his yearly claim of tribute. For the rest of the year, the local Governor held sway.
Marshall J. Breger is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation and a scholar-in-residence at the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America. He served as a special assistant to President Reagan and his liaison to the American Jewish Community. He has taught at the Texas Law School, New York Law School, and the Bar-Ilan Law School in Ramat Gan, Israel.
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