What is Donald Trump's vision of Jerusalem?

Here are a few facts about this so-called “open and democratic” city of Jerusalem.

‘SO, WHY are east Jerusalem Palestinians determined to remain in the city?’ (photo credit: REUTERS)
‘SO, WHY are east Jerusalem Palestinians determined to remain in the city?’
(photo credit: REUTERS)
"In truth, Jerusalem is liberated. Jerusalem is a safe, open, democratic city,” President Donald Trump stated when presenting his “peace plan” in the White House, a few moments after declaring that Jerusalem in its entirety would remain under Israeli sovereignty. Without a doubt, this description of the city was one of the high points of absurdity that Trump concocted with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Here are a few facts about this so-called “open and democratic” city of Jerusalem.
Currently, Jerusalem’s 340,000 Palestinian residents are disenfranchised in the Israeli democratic process, manifest in their lack of voting rights in national elections, and it’s doubtful they will ever receive these rights in the future. Throughout the decades, Israel has done everything possible to reduce the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.
As these residents continued to cling to their city in spite of the severe restrictions on building, the systematic neglect of their neighborhoods, the persistent discrimination, and the constant threat to their residency status, Israel built the separation barrier, fragmenting the Palestinian space of Jerusalem by leaving eight east Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the barrier. In this manner, Israel guaranteed itself a fictitious and more advantageous demographic prior to proposing the notion of a “democratic Jerusalem.”
An acute housing crisis, prompted by discriminatory restrictions on building, has forced approximately a third of the residents of east Jerusalem to move to the neighborhoods that were intentionally left outside the separation barrier, due to being able to build there with little interference. As a result of longstanding municipal neglect of the neighborhoods beyond the barrier, ghettos of poverty and distress have sprung up within east Jerusalem, but separated from the rest of it by the barrier.
The approximately 140,000 residents of these neighborhoods were aware of the trap that had been laid for them, yet had no choice but to fall into it. That’s how it is when one’s life is turned upside down and hangs on a thread: The survival of today is the black hole of tomorrow.
On January 28, 2020, their nightmare became a reality.
In one breath, Trump granted Israel exclusive control over Jerusalem, designated the separation barrier a demographic border, and consigned the neighborhoods beyond the barrier to a no less fictitious reality – both geographically and politically – of a fragmented capital comprised of these neighborhoods and the area of Abu Dis.
It appears that Trump has no understanding of the east Jerusalem dynamic. We are likely to witness a mass return of families from the neighborhoods beyond the barrier to their first-degree relatives residing in the neighborhoods within it. The doors of small, cramped homes will be thrust open to take in the returnees, while the neglected and congested neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, which already lack adequate infrastructure, will be populated with an ever-increasing number of residents.
STAIRWELLS AND entryways will be converted into residential alcoves and classrooms, while tin sheds and huts will block courtyards and dilapidated roads. The authorities will come and demolish these structures, and the residents will gather together their small change and yet build again. The few who can afford to do so will move into Israeli Jewish neighborhoods, paying any price asked of them.
This is how the “unified” and “democratic” capital of Israel will look as it sits on the brink of a humanitarian crisis on both sides of the separation barrier. Within the city, and within a distance of only one barrier from it, will live large, impoverished populations – oppressed and desperate. It is not hard to imagine how life in Jerusalem as a whole will look.
So, why are east Jerusalem Palestinians determined to remain in the city? No, it’s not for the “upgraded” living standards that come from residing within Israel’s orbit, but rather because Jerusalem represents more than part of a “deal” for them. It has a far deeper meaning.
Just as it is for Israeli Jews, Jerusalem is their home, their identity, and their destiny. That is the beauty of this city, yet also the source of the protracted conflict surrounding it. Its populations share a deep mutual affinity and attachment to this city and are willing to cleave to it with tenacious and unrelenting devotion.
While perhaps Trump has visited Jerusalem once or twice, he is far from understanding it. This is a city where you must tread gently, with infinite sensitivity, reverence and a bowed head. This is a city upon which no one – yes, no one – has a monopoly.
If Trump had even an ounce of respect for this city – for its rich and diverse heritage, for its holiness which cannot be appropriated, and for the subtlety of the ingenuity of its populations which continue to endure – he would understand that you cannot trade with Jerusalem, neither with its holy places nor with its spheres of everyday life, and most certainly not with its populations, for short-term political gains.
Offering Palestinians an expanded version of the Abu Dis plan as a substitute for Al Quds is the height of cynicism. It is a conjured-up Israeli construct that has been recycled so many times it is already a hackneyed concept. Indeed, Israeli efforts to invent a “Palestinian Jerusalem” outside of Jerusalem, have yet to cease. It goes without saying that the Palestinians have never been willing to buy into this notion, nor will it ever constitute a viable resolution on the city.
Trump’s plan will ultimately bring disaster to all of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will only become an open, secure and democratic city when we recognize it for what it is: the home and the capital of two peoples.
The writer is executive director of Ir Amim.