A VIEW from a-Tur of Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, with Abu Dis, beyond the security barrier, in the distance..
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Last week saw a reemergence in the Israeli press of unilateral separation plans for Jerusalem.
According to one report, Likud MK Anat Berko presented a proposal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for withdrawing Israeli municipal responsibility from a series of east Jerusalem neighborhoods, and revoking the permanent residency status of their inhabitants. Another plan was reportedly discussed by Israel’s National Security Council, calling for Kafr Aqab and the Shuafat refugee camp, which are located beyond the Separation Barrier, to be detached from the city.
Some regard these plans as having the potential to serve as a basis for dividing Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians in the future. In practice, however, unilaterally severing neighborhoods from east Jerusalem is both inhumane and impractical, and it stands to thwart any progress toward a political resolution on the city, rather than promoting it. Jerusalem cannot be divided unilaterally, and any attempt to do so without addressing the importance of the Historic Basin for Palestinians is doomed to failure. Unilateral steps play into the hands of those who oppose an agreed-upon solution by creating significant facts on the ground that radically change the opening conditions for future negotiations.
The idea of unilaterally handing over east Jerusalem neighborhoods to the Palestinian Authority is also untenable; the PA cannot be expected to assume responsibility for decision- making from which it has been deliberately excluded.
At least one of the proposed plans addresses the neighborhoods beyond the Separation Barrier, where roughly one third of the Palestinian population (300,000-plus) of east Jerusalem now lives. Many of the residents of these neighborhoods have been driven to migrate there due to manifold pressures exerted by Israeli policy, and cutting them off from the city now would complete the process of crushing and fragmenting the Jerusalemite Palestinian collective.
East Jerusalem constitutes a distinct urban domain with a clear functional and historical identity, focused around the Historic Basin, and the residents beyond the Barrier have strong family, community and economic ties to the city – which if severed could spell disaster for the affected communities. Unilateral plans that fail to address the Historic Basin – the heart of the conflict between the two sides – do nothing to improve chances of an agreement, and in the meantime serve only to exacerbate the injury to Palestinian space and to the Palestinian residents of the city.
In order to progress toward a sustainable resolution on the city, the Israeli government must invest resources and take steps to protect the physical and communal integrity of east Jerusalem. That is the only just way to respond to decades of neglect and to pave the way for negotiations which must be premised on the principle that Jerusalem is not only the present home of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples but also the future home in which both of their capitals will be based – Israel’s in west Jerusalem and Palestine’s in east Jerusalem.
The author is social media coordinator at Ir Amim, Israel’s longest-standing NGO focused on Jerusalem within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.