The security barrier leading up to Jerusalem.
(photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
It appears that there is no politician today who does not have a plan for Jerusalem. Indeed, what could be more attractive than Jerusalem? There is no need to gather data, familiarize oneself with the situation on the ground, check the feasibility and ramifications of one’s plan or have any knowledge of the city’s history. Any whim is acceptable, so long as it ensures a quick-fix solution that will preserve the city, undivided, for all eternity while removing its Palestinian residents in one stroke. It is no longer necessary to strike a pose or speak in euphemisms; the vocal right wing and the polite Zionist Union speak in the same terms.
Until recently, politicians from the Right and the Center-Left pledged allegiance to east Jerusalem’s 1967 annexation line. To shore up their claims, they cited a survey conducted by the Washing- ton Institute for Near East Policy to demonstrate that a majority of east Jerusalem residents preferred to stay under Israeli sovereignty. They brandished the survey’s findings as if any of them had ever thought to ask east Jerusalemites for their opinions or take them into account. But since then, and following 50th-year celebrations of the reunification of the city, the Right has stepped up the pace of actions intended to unilaterally and irreversibly determine the final outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to messianic Israel’s exclusive interests. As always, Jerusalem comes first, and the Zionist Union has fallen in line.
The government is currently advancing an amendment to the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, initiated by Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ze’ev Elkin. This is a dangerous move designed to lay the groundwork for removing eight Palestinian neighborhoods from the city and getting rid of one third of its Palestinian population. Instead of leading the opposition to this destructive initiative, the Zionist Union decided to take it one step further: a bill introduced by Knesset member Yoel Hasson, bearing the Orwellian name “Saving Jerusalem as a Jewish and democratic capital city,” seeks to remove from Jerusalem a larger number of neighborhoods and revoke the residency status of the east Jerusalemites living there.
The bill does not list the neighborhoods at issue, but states that the Old City, Silwan and the Mount of Olives area will remain part of Jerusalem and under Israeli sovereignty. Many other neighborhoods, housing some 200,000 Palestinians, will cease to be part of the state, according to Hasson’s proposal, and will become part of Areas B and C of the West Bank.
The difference between the right-wing and Zionist Union plans is smaller than one might think. Both advocate unilaterally uprooting Palestinian neighborhoods from Jerusalem and imprisoning them in enclaves that are completely disconnected, where residents’ living conditions will deteriorate even further. Suddenly, both the former and the latter remembered that the neighborhoods in question were not part of Jerusalem before 1967 and return to calling them by the anachronistic “villages.” This despite the fact that it was due to the pressures exerted by Israel that many residents of east Jerusalem were pushed from the city’s inner neighborhoods to its outer ones.
The Right, shackled to the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel and to the many restrictions it imposes on ceding any territories from Jerusalem, wants to square the circle by means of “municipal moves” that will uproot the neighborhoods from Jerusalem but leave them under Israeli sovereignty, imposing on them the worst of both worlds. The Zionist Union aspires to square the circle in its own way by unilaterally uprooting the neighborhoods and handing them over to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority – in other words, to ignore the PA as a party to negotiations while at the same time expecting it to take responsibility for the chaos that has been created and for the fragmentation of east Jerusalem.
Fifty years of forced integration are, for the Labor Party in its various incarnations, wholly expend- able. In this way, the Zionist Union attempts to obscure the fact that it is backing down from the basic conditions for a two-state solution, which require an agreed-up- on compromise on Jerusalem, not unilateral border revisions in its peripheral neighborhoods.
True, the Right is more ambitious. The “Greater Jerusalem” plan being promoted by the Right in the Knesset will lead to annexation of West Bank territories to Jerusalem. Once again, under the false guise of “municipal” expansion, the local authorities in the settlement blocs around Jerusalem will be annexed to the city. The Zionist Union is not a partner to this plan, but its enthusiastic support for far-reaching unilateral actions in Jerusalem, its abandonment of the binding principles of the two-state solution, and the fact that it has joined the chorus of demographic demonization that ostensibly justifies all these plans prevent it from taking up an effective opposition.
There is no need to expand upon the geopolitical and humanitarian harm of the plans being put forth by the Right and the Zionist Union. It is also difficult to ignore the harm they will cause to the city. Artificial expansion of the city’s boundaries and granting the right to vote for the city council to tens of thousands of settlers who do not live in it are precisely the kind of heavy-handed and manipulative politics causing the city’s deterioration.
No party stands to gain from further harm inflicted upon the residents of east Jerusalem within or outside the Separation Barrier. Instead of forcible solutions, absolute improvements must be made to the living conditions in east Jerusalem, and its residents must be permitted to manage their lives in the city by means of their own institutions and bodies. The living conditions in west Jerusalem must also be improved, and a positive horizon for dialogue established.
Any solution for Jerusalem, temporary or permanent, will be complex and will have to take into account the interests and ties of all the city’s residents. Jerusalem’s residents – Israelis and Palestinians – and their national leaderships should be partners to deciding the city’s political future, based on the understanding that in any political constellation, the two peoples will live side by side in Jerusalem.
The author is executive director of Ir Amim