The future of Jerusalem is on the table. Conventional wisdom has been to leave
the Jerusalem issue until the end of negotiations.
Jerusalem is a center
piece of any agreement, yet it is also the power-keg of dynamite that can blow
any potential peace agreement into pieces.
Both parties claim Jerusalem
as their national capital. Israel asserts that Jerusalem is the cradle of Jewish
civilization, the holiest city for Jews and the focal point for Jewish
Jews all over the world turn towards Jerusalem in prayer and
inside of Jerusalem face the Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old
The first direction of Muslim prayer was Jerusalem, but later
changed to Mecca. It is from Jerusalem where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to
heaven to receive the Quran. Jerusalem is mentioned twice in the Quran as al
Aqsa – the distant mosque and Beit al Maqdas (the holy house), in reference to
the Holy Temple.
Jerusalem is the third most holy city in the world for
Muslims and according to their tradition, the obligation of Haj (pilgrimage) is
not complete until after Mecca and Medina the pilgrim completes the journey with
a visit to Jerusalem.
The positions between the parties in Jerusalem are
diametrically opposed and seem to be unbridgeable. The official policy of the
Israeli government is that Jerusalem is and will always be the eternal undivided
capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
never be divided again, as it was for almost 19 years between 1949 at the end of
Israel’s war of independence and the Palestinian Naqba (the catastrophe) and the
June 1967 war. In March 1949, King Abdullah I of Jordan annexed east Jerusalem
and the West Bank of the Jordan River to the Hashemite kingdom and walls and
barbed wire fences divided Jerusalem right through the middle of the city,
cutting off the Old City of Jerusalem and the Jewish holy places from Israel and
the Jewish world.
After the lightning speed six-day victory in 1967 the
Jewish state tour down the walls and fences and reunited the city vowing that it
would never be divided again. Israel then annexed all of east Jerusalem and
expanded its borders in the east, placing the entire city under Israel’s
sovereignty and law.
Like the Jordanian annexation in 1949, Israel’s
annexation was rejected by the international community and view in contravention
to International law. The Palestinians’ position is that all of east Jerusalem,
the territory occupied by Israel in 1967, must become the capital of the State
This position officially includes more than 250,000
Israelis who now live in that area in neighborhoods built by Israel since 1967
on what formerly Palestinians consider to be their land.
position is that the entire Old City of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter
and the Jewish holy places, should be under Palestinian sovereignty in a peace
Jerusalem is the most segregated city in the world. Israelis
and Palestinian essentially dwell in separate parts of the
Recognizing this, in December 2000, US president Bill Clinton
offered his own parameters for the Jerusalem issue. Clinton suggested, “What is
Jewish to Israel, what is Arab to Palestine.”
The places where Jews live
would be under Israeli sovereignty and the places where Arabs live would be
under Palestinian sovereignty. This is doable and for the most part, could even
be acceptable, because even after more than 45 years of “unity” under Israeli
control, the most underdeveloped areas of Jerusalem are the Palestinian
neighborhoods which Israel does not really care about and where the residents
boycott municipal elections choosing not to play a role in the decision making
regarding their own communities as long as they are under Israeli
The most difficult issue in Jerusalem is the less than
one-square kilometer of the Old City inside the Ottoman walls.
four quarters in the Old City: Armenian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish.
could be possible to adopt the Clinton parameters to the Old City as well so
that the Jewish Quarter would be under Israeli sovereignty and based on
demography, the other three quarters would be under Palestinian
It could also be possible to adopt the kind of proposal
prime minister Ehud Olmert offered in 2008 in which an international body
composed of Israel, Palestine, the US, Jordan and Saudi Arabic would govern the
Old City on behalf of its residents.
Another similar proposal was made by
a group of Jerusalem experts working with the University of Windsor in Canada in
which an international management company would administer the Old
If the Old City is the heart of the conflict of the Jerusalem
issue, then the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif is the heart of hearts. It is on
this spot that Jews believe their Holy Temple was located and its remains are
below the Mosques which are now there.
It is here where Jews believe that
Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice and where Muslims believe that Ibrahim did the
same for his eldest son Ismail.
For Jews, it is here that the Holy Temple
will be rebuilt by God in the days when the Messiah comes. Interestingly, it is
Jewish religious law (Halacha) which may actually provide the formula for the
The overwhelming majority of rabbis, ultra-orthodox as
well as the Israeli state-sponsored official rabbinate, forbid Jews from
ascending the Temple Mount. They claim that it is not known where the exact
location of the Holy of Holies is – the place where the High Priest of the
Temple would enter in the final moments of the Yom Kippur prayers to ask
forgiveness to God, literally face-to-face with divinity.
In order not to
desecrate that holy ground, Jews are ordered not to enter the entire Temple
Mount until the Messiah comes.
Muslims, officially, according to Islamic
religious law (Sharia) have no problem with Jews ascending the Mount and even
praying in the Mosques there. In the current political context it could not
happen though, because it would be a political nuclear bomb. But after there is
peace, it could transpire.
So the political solution for the Temple
Mount/Haram al Sharif is to formalize the current status quo whereby the Muslims
(the Palestinians) control the Temple Mount on top and Israel controls the
Western Wall below where Jews now pray as close to the Mount as possible. Both
parties would agree to limit their sovereignty and control by not tunneling,
constructing, digging or damaging in anyway the entire compound without mutual
If after the Messiah comes, God should desire to change the
arrangement, everything would be possible.
For the time being, the
makings of an agreement are possible.
So now, we are left with two main
questions: How can the city of Jerusalem be divided on the basis of demography
and still function; and when should the issue be negotiated? The only way that
Jerusalem can survive as an urban space where real people live and work is for
it to remain physically united and open. Jerusalem will die if it is torn to
pieces with walls and barbed wire fences. The pre-condition for Jerusalem to be
undivided physically and open is for there to be real personal security within
But this is a precondition for all aspects of
Real security in Jerusalem will have to
include three main components: (1) Each side’s security and police forces will
have to take full responsibility for security and law and order within the
territory under its own domain.
(2) There will be a need for very robust
and active cooperation, including joint forces between the Israeli and
Palestinian security and police forces in Jerusalem.
(3) Lastly, there
must be a significant third party monitoring component ensuring that both
parties are fully implementing their obligations as well as assisting in
building the trust necessary for the joint missions and providing a real-time,
on-the-ground dispute resolution mechanism.
Finally, when should
Jerusalem be negotiated – at the end or in the beginning of the negotiations?
Going against conventional wisdom, I have always advocated putting Jerusalem on
the table up front. Borders cannot be negotiated without arriving to Jerusalem.
Land swaps are meaningless without dealing with the delineation of borders of
sovereignty in Jerusalem.
Security arrangements have little validity
without confronting security in Jerusalem where the most terror attacks took
place during the second intifada. National symbols and holy places cannot be
dealt with anywhere in the area without dealing with Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the
microcosm of the entire conflict and the most sensitive issue on the
If the issues in conflict in Jerusalem can be resolved in
negotiations, all other aspects of the negotiations will be easier. If Jerusalem
cannot be resolved, there can be no Israeli-Palestinian peace.
aspects of the Jerusalem issue have been negotiated in the past and since there
have been so many workable proposals designed for Jerusalem by Israeli and
Palestinian experts who have worked together on finding them, it is more
possible to reach an agreement on Jerusalem than most people believe.
solutions as described above enable both sides to have their national capitals
in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will remain an open city united for all to come and
visit while clearly designating separate sovereignties on maps and on the
ground. Jerusalem’s holy places will be open with free access to all and each
community will retain its control over its most sacred spaces while enabling
dreams and future aspirations to remain within the realm of prayer.
in Jerusalem is the key to Israeli-Palestinian peace. That key is on the table
and waiting to be used.
The writer is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel
Palestine Center for Research and Information, initiator and negotiator of the
secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book,
Gilad: the Secret Back Channel, has just been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan
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