The religious, demographic, physical, psychological and political realities
facing Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem today require that it be an
undivided – yet shared – city serving as a microcosm exemplifying coexistence.
Jerusalem not only represents the largest urban concentration of Israelis and
Palestinians coexisting alongside one another, but also the epicenter of the
conflict that divides them. The leaders on both sides must counter the
rejectionists at every level to create a solid foundation in Jerusalem for a
lasting two-state solution.
The demographic reality in east and west
Jerusalem makes division of the city impossible. While Palestinian residents are
largely concentrated in east Jerusalem, and Jewish residents in west Jerusalem,
they are interspersed throughout the city. More than 40 percent of east
Jerusalem residents are Jews, and nearly 40% of the city’s Israelis live east of
the “seam line” that divided it prior to the 1967 Six Day War.
addition to establishing this demographic mix, Israel has deliberately developed
the city in a manner that has united the eastern and western
Various municipal services, such as gas lines and
electricity, are shared across the city. Israel has understood that such
structural ties make a future division of the city impossible.
Palestinian leaders do not call for a physical division of the city, rather for
sovereignty over a Palestinian capital in its eastern portion. As such, any
solution to Jerusalem must take into account that it is physically united in
Furthermore, Jerusalem’s religious significance makes it holy
to the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. No faith
can claim sovereignty over the holy places of another. Just as the guardians of
the Dome of the Rock are and must remain Muslims, so should the caretakers of
the Western Wall be Jews.
The familiar Jewish call “next year in
Jerusalem” has lasted millennia. Islam’s veneration of Jerusalem too spans
numerous centuries. Efforts to delegitimize Judaism’s or Islam’s affinity for
the city as a holy place deny the unmitigated religious attachment of both
peoples to the city.
However, the affinity for Jerusalem on both sides
also transcends religion. Secular Israelis and Palestinians value it as more
than a place revered by the religious, but as the rightful capital of their
respective nations. To further dismiss the conflict as simply one among the
religious is to also ignore the reality that both peoples share psychological
and emotional ties to the city as the epicenter of their national
RECOGNIZING THESE realities, it is a foregone conclusion
that Jerusalem cannot and will not be divided. No Israeli politician could
survive the political upheaval which would follow an attempt to structurally
divide the city. If peace and security are assured, Israelis will support the
removal of settlers from communities outside of the major settlement blocs. They
will never support the removal of Israelis from the Jerusalem
Adding this political reality, it becomes correctly
inconceivable that the city could be divided in any physical way. This consensus
view requires one to consider an approach to ending the conflict by sharing the
sovereignty of the city to exemplify coexistence and peace.
therefore requires an institutionalization of simple realities: Jewish
neighborhoods should be under Jewish sovereignty, Palestinian neighborhoods
under Palestinian sovereignty and the holy shrines should be administered in an
independent manner by the appropriate faiths. In this way, rather than creating
contiguous land masses divided by a network of walls and tunnels – an impossible
proposition – the city would represent the quintessential representation of
cooperation and coexistence.
In a recent interview with Haaretz
Minister Ehud Barak let it be known that Israel has plans for dividing
Jerusalem. “West Jerusalem and 12 neighborhoods [in the east of the city] that
are home to 200,000 residents will be ours,” he said. “The Arab neighborhoods in
which close to a quarter million Palestinian live will be theirs. There will be
a special regime in place along with agreed upon arrangements in the Old City,
the Mount of Olives and the City of David.”
Inevitably, however, there
will be some Israelis who will continue to live in areas that would fall under
Palestinian control and some Palestinians in Israeli-controlled neighborhoods. By
their own choice they would become permanent residents in their current places
of residence but citizens of their respective countries where they can exercise
their political rights to vote and be elected.
Creating such a scenario
where the city will be politically – rather than physically – divided demands
strong and sound internal security cooperation. As long as both sides agree on
security arrangements – for example, what happens if a crime is committed in one
sovereign area and the criminal flees to the other? – then other issues can be
resolved. Joint efforts to administer necessary municipal services would be
simple to arrange.
EVEN SO, the idea of establishing a shared city
representing the potential of coexistence is met by fierce
First, there are those who want it all. They deny the
legitimate claims of the other side and work to undermine peace efforts at every
turn. They will have to be addressed in any arrangement.
are those – particularly in Israel – who want to maintain the status quo. They
do not recognize the reality that it is untenable. Without a reasonable
solution, the deep disagreements over the future of the city will continue to
serve as a tinderbox of potential violence, as the recent violent clashes in the
Silwan neighborhood demonstrate.
Third, there are those who support the
concept of physically separating the city similar to its pre-1967
But this is impossible. Finally, there are those who question
whether Israelis and Palestinians can genuinely work together to administer
municipal services and keep the peace. Under conditions of real peace and amity,
anything is possible; under conditions of hostility, little, if anything, is
possible. Political will and courageous leadership can generate vast public
support and meaningful coexistence – but it must first be tried.
than serve as a core issue of division, Jerusalem can serve as a symbol of
coexistence and peace. To achieve this, leaders on both sides must get serious
about recognizing the realities on the ground and addressing the rejectionists.
If they do, the city aptly called “Ir Shalom
” or “City of Peace” can deservedly
live up to its name.The writer is professor of international relations
at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches international negotiation
and Middle Eastern Studies.