Palestinian workers prepare golden crescent to set it on top of a mosque's minaret in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya March 17, 2017. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On the eve of fiftieth anniversary of the expansion of Jerusalem’s eastern border, mistakenly called “reunification,” it is worth talking about a possible solution for the divided city. The solution will be imperfect and temporary, yet will improve the lives of residents of both east and west Jerusalem, will allow for building of responsible leadership in the east of the city, and will cause no damage in the short term – no small thing.
East Jerusalem, while remaining under Israeli sovereignty, needs an independent municipality. This move is inevitable, even if one believes that Jerusalem should remain undivided.
It is inevitable because Jerusalem is already divided. Gaps in language, national identity, resource allocation and perceptions of urban space make the east and the west of the city separate in every aspect except that of arbitrarily defined administrative borders. Hardly any Arabic speakers live in west Jerusalem. In fact, the number of people crossing from east to west of the city is smaller than that of Arabic Nazareth residents who move to or work in the mostly Jewish Upper Nazareth.
Those who do cross the east-west divide mostly live in Jewish settlements financed by NGOs like Elad or Ateret Cohanim.
Significantly, east Jerusalemites’ persistent and widespread boycott of municipal elections is the best indicator of the deep rift between the two parts of the city. While participation in municipal elections would certainly benefit the residents of the city’s east, their absence from the voting booths speaks for itself.
This is not about establishing east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. No territory will be given up by sovereign Israel, and the rights of residents of east Jerusalem in the State of Israel and their civil status will not be impaired. This is solely about entrusting east Jerusalem residents with their own fate, and turning control over municipal services over to people who will directly benefit from them.
The proposed municipal division will reduce the economic gap between two parts of the city. In addition, east Jerusalem will receive Interior Ministry funds, as any municipal authority with problematic socioeconomic status does. Right-wingers need not worry – even Likud member Gideon Sa’ar said in the past that he would accept such a solution. Thus, the proposal should be acceptable to supporters of the one-state solution.
Most importantly, creation of an east Jerusalem municipality will nurture responsible local leadership. Current leadership is closely linked to the failure of east Jerusalem residents to participate in the municipal democratic process, and to low standards of living in the east of the city. This will change once residents are in charge of their fate, at least on the municipal level. Without constructing additional walls or changing the status quo regarding holy places, my proposal will provide a solution to the most urgent problems of the daily life. It will improve the quality of life of the residents of the city’s east and will increase security both for them and for west Jerusalem residents.
Urban planning experts have entertained the idea of municipal division for a number of years. As opposed to quite a few east Jerusalem residents, the Palestinian leadership has no interest in it for fear of it being Israel’s final proposal. Allegedly, they are holding out for a comprehensive peace agreement.
While I want to see a final, complete and successful peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, this cannot be had because the leaders of the two nations do nothing to promote it. In the meantime, interim solutions should be found. The establishment of the municipality of east Jerusalem can and will allow greater welfare and security for the residents of Jerusalem as a whole and can even be agreed upon by the Israeli Left, the Israeli Right and those who suffer the most from the current situation: the residents of east Jerusalem.
The writer is an author, political activist, employment consultant and CEO of Ovdim, a non-profit that helps Israelis navigate the labor market.