Jerusalem is, once again, in the eye of the Palestinian-Israeli storm. Israel's reluctance to allow Palestinian residents to vote in the city in the forthcoming elections (when they did so scarcely a year ago in the presidential ballot) is indicative of profound changes in the contours of this troubled metropolis.
In recent months Israel has launched a series of measures that further divide and isolate its 250,000 Palestinian inhabitants while simultaneously redrawing its boundaries. These moves threaten to foreclose the possibility of any future peace settlement. Ironically, they also undermine the essence of Israel's being.
The Israeli and Palestinian sections of Jerusalem are more separated and distinct today than at any time since 1967. A tour of east Jerusalem highlights its human divisions: Israelis rarely venture into its crowded streets. Palestinians no longer shop in the malls of west Jerusalem. Even in the Old City, an unsteady and inequitable coexistence prevails.
As if to cement the de-facto bifurcation of the city, internal roadblocks prohibit Palestinian movement from the outskirts to the center, while Israelis have difficulty reaching the Palestinian areas in its northern and eastern limits. Residents of Neveh Ya'acov, Pisgat Ze'ev and Har Homa use bypass roads to avoid any contact with their neighbors in Beit Hanina, Abu Dis, Isawiya and Shuafat. A visit to the checkpoint at E-Ram, well within the city limits, reveals this new frontier.
The myth of a united Jerusalem under Israeli rule is defied daily by its monumental internal walls.
As the divisions within the city grow, its frontiers are consciously being altered. During the past year the construction of the wall between Jerusalem and the West Bank has proceeded apace (with periodic pauses as the High Court considers petitions from Palestinian residents separated from their work, their schools, their friends and their families). In its effort to exclude Palestinian sections from the boundaries of Jerusalem and incorporate Jewish areas within its jurisdiction, Israel has effectively isolated the Palestinian residents of the city from their natural hinterland.
THIS ENCLOSURE affects every aspect of Palestinian life. Access to Palestinian medical, economic, cultural and religious institutions is barred. Husbands, wives and children find themselves on different sides of the emerging barrier. It is hardly surprising that in this climate of increased hardship and daily humiliation political frustration abounds. The newly constructed Kalandiya checkpoint, designed along the lines of the Erez crossing, is a border in every sense of the term.
This separation of Jerusalem from the West Bank is counterproductive from an Israeli perspective. The Palestinian Jerusalemites locked in the city are the fastest-growing segment of its population. They are bereft of basic civil rights. Israel can neither alter the demographic composition of the city nor ignore its political implications. The insistence on consolidating Israel's hold on the city, in large part in order to preclude the establishment a Palestinian capital alongside the Israeli one, seriously compromises the wellbeing of all its inhabitants. Jerusalem is, and will continue to be, the center of Israeli and Palestinian life.
The measures employed to divide Jerusalem and forcibly dissociate it from the West Bank are being compounded by repeated pressures to expand the link between the city and the Jewish settlements to its east (most notably Ma'aleh Adumim). The just-released Zionist Council of Israel's report on Jerusalem, recommending the immediate initiation of construction in the E1 segment, is the latest in a series of steps aimed at splitting the West Bank into two non-contiguous enclaves. The continuous expansion of the settlements in this area has the same purpose in mind.
The consequences of these plans are obvious. If they are carried out, they will eliminate the possibility of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. The international community has repeatedly warned Israel to desist from any such steps. They will prolong the conflict, ultimately threatening Israel's very survival.
That the confusing and frequently contradictory Israeli policies in and around Jerusalem have a patently negative impact on the Palestinians is clear. What is less apparent is that these steps may be self-defeating for Israel as well. A divided, isolated Jerusalem with no outlets to all its surroundings constitutes a security hazard of the highest order. It also endangers Israel's legitimate rights in the city.
Jerusalem, purportedly the embodiment of the values of pluralism and tolerance, is fast becoming the prime locus of immense friction. This does not have to happen. A different approach, consistent with the vision of Jerusalem as an open and shared city, can be set in motion.
The first gestures in this direction are clear. Israel must stop any further unilateral changes in the city immediately. It can foster some sanity and goodwill by facilitating the Palestinian elections in the city (where Hamas barely has a foothold). Once these and the Israeli elections are completed, a real effort must be made by both sides to reach a political understanding which will reflect the political aspirations of all the city's inhabitants.
Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live together in a Jerusalem at peace with itself and its surroundings.