'Saving Jerusalem'

The controversial plan to separate the city’s Jews and Arabs – and some reactions.

Haim Ramon (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Haim Ramon
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A few weeks ago, a new political initiative for the future of Jerusalem was presented. The Movement to Save Jewish Jerusalem was launched, proposing a plan of separation between Jews and Arabs in order to ensure the city’s Jewish majority.
From the time it debuted, the plan raised opposition and even anger among both right- and left-wingers in Jerusalem.
The irony is that the movement is headed by leading members of what is usually considered the peace camp – Haim Ramon, a former Labor minister who gained the support of Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog.
Most of the objections centered on the caustic rhetoric used by Ramon, who declared at the French Hill community center that “the Arab neighborhoods are like a tumor that has to be removed from the heart of the city.” The detractors were also perturbed by the fact that a number of movement members don’t live in Jerusalem and therefore are ignorant of the facts and the commonalities in the lives of Jews and Arabs in the city.
The plan claims that the majority of the Israeli public, mainly the Jewish public, supports disengaging from the Palestinian Arab neighborhoods and villages annexed in 1967. In order to express and represent the opinion of this public and correct what the plan regards as the 1967 historic mistake, the Movement to Save Jewish Jerusalem was established.
To realize and carry out this goal, the movement proposes a national plan based on the following steps: • Most of the Arab neighborhoods and villages annexed to Jerusalem in 1967 will be excluded from the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.
• A continuous security barrier will immediately be set up between the Arab villages and Jerusalem, separating the Palestinian villages from the Jewish neighborhoods. This fence will be completely connected to the existing security barrier between Israel and the settlement blocs and the rest of Judea and Samaria.
• The IDF and other security forces will enter and operate in the villages that have been separated from Jerusalem the way they are currently operating in villages and areas of the West Bank.
• Full sovereignty and municipal unity and uniformity will be in force in all of Jewish Jerusalem, including Jewish neighborhoods built after the Six Day War.
Jerusalem will also include the Old City, the Holy Basin and the original Jerusalem neighborhoods surrounding them.
• About 200,000 Palestinians will be excluded from the boundaries of Jerusalem.
Jews will constitute more than 80 percent of the city’s total population, and the percentage of Palestinians will be reduced to less than 20% instead of the current nearly 40%.
• The validity of Israeli resident cards issued to those 200,000 Palestinians will expire. The heavy economic burden on the capital and Israel will be lifted, as the inclusion of these villages in Jerusalem has imposed on the Israeli taxpayer state and municipal taxes (in Jerusalem) totaling some NIS 2 billion to NIS 3b. per year, or about NIS 75b. (in 2015 figures) since 1967.
While In Jerusalem spoke to various city council representatives (some of them related to national political parties) and among both right- and left-wing activists, not one person would go on record in backing the plan. This was either because of the complicated facts on the ground (where would this separation logistically occur?), or because the plan could cause real problems for the economy and functioning of the city (more than 45,000 Palestinians from the east side work on the west side).
The bottom line was that it was difficult to find support for the plan among those Jerusalemites we surveyed. What could be found, on the other hand, was a perception and offense that the movement’s members do not live and share in the city’s life – and yet deign to decide its future.
Some reactions to the plan:
Eran Tzidkiyahu, a PhD candidate at the Sorbonne (Paris) and research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking in the city: This initiative will not bring us security or peace or stability. To understand what it will look like if the plan is implemented, we should look at the present situation in the neighborhoods beyond the security barrier – it’s total chaos.
The Palestinian Authority will not take charge of these neighborhoods if we step out of them according to this plan; thus they will immediately become fertile ground for the most extreme fundamentalist and terrorist groups.
In such a vacuum, the education system will be ripe to fall into the hands of Salafists – as already happens today in the neighborhoods under Jerusalem’s jurisprudence but beyond the barrier, since the Israeli (and municipal) authorities have stepped out of them.
Besides the great injustice that underlies this plan, what does it say about Jerusalem? Let’s remember: The Left has tried several times to divide the city (with Ehud Barak’s and Ehud Olmert’s proposals); they presented maps. The PA never did the same, yet always talked about an open city.
Moreover, what kind of language is this? It is a typical racist, fascist and rude expression of hatred and incitement, and it does not create a place for true dialogue. I am not surprised that the majority of the people involved in this plan are not Jerusalemites. For me, it is no more than [a ploy] to bring a failing politician back to the stage.
Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir, director of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center on Mount Zion: I have said this time and again: This is not a solution to the conflict, not even an interim plan. This is a tactical proposal which proposes that now, of all times, a separation will be imposed on some 200,000 residents from the Old City, from east Jerusalem to the city center, and will deprive them of their social rights, which they are entitled to according to the State of Israel’s laws.
It means that these people will not have access to the city to shop or to work. Think of it. It’s like telling the residents of the Gush Dan region that, as of now, they are not allowed to cross Route 4 toward the west and that they should shop and work within their own area.
The immediate meaning of this is a total collapse of the economic situation of these people, and it will of course lead to a worsening of the security situation.
In these neighborhoods, terrorism and criminality will prevail. It will be like putting Gaza within spitting distance of the Knesset.
It has nothing to do with the issues of future negotiations, peace agreements...
or what the Palestinians want in the long run. It is a stupid proposal aimed at harming Jerusalem, both the east and west parts, and it is not surprising that these movement members are not from here.
Obviously, they don’t understand a thing about what is going on in this city.
Terrorism it will certainly not prevent.
On the contrary, it will enhance it. On top of all this, it is an immoral act perpetrated by [arrogant] people.
Yehudit Oppenheimer, executive director of Ir Amim: Jerusalem is the present home and future capital of two peoples, and secure and stable conditions in Jerusalem are possible only on the basis of the recognition that both the Israeli and the Palestinian people have political claim to the city and that both communities in the city will be able to pursue their daily lives and their public and political life in an independent and sovereign manner.
Any arrangement in Jerusalem will be reached only through negotiations between the national leadership of both sides and will be based on this recognition and on solutions that are acceptable to both sides. The lack of diplomatic progress and upsurge in violence have led to the recent promotion of various proposals outlining unilateral Israeli steps involving separation of Palestinian neighborhoods from Jerusalem as a substitute for an agreement or as an interim strategy. The implementation of these proposals, however, is vulnerable to systemic, legal, territorial, demographic and international problems.
Moreover, the proposals themselves are detached from any understanding of the fabric of daily life in Jerusalem and seek to impose radical changes on its residents without any consideration of the current reality. Such proposals would only serve to increase tensions, escalate violence and further complicate the feasibility of an agreed-upon solution in the future.
The disconnection of additional Palestinian neighborhoods from the municipal domain will turn them into enclaves of poverty and profound neglect, as the neighborhoods of east Jerusalem disconnected from the city by the security barrier already demonstrate. Such steps will disconnect tens of thousands of Palestinian residents from their historic home and source of identity while dismantling physical, social and economic infrastructures and segregating them into ghettos. Not only would such conditions spell disaster for those affected, destroying communities and undermining their residents’ physical and existential security inside and outside the city, but they would also seriously impair the prospects and opening conditions for any future negotiations.
The viability of such initiatives will be highly dependent on the cooperation and recognition of the PA, the Arab world and the international community, without which such initiatives cannot be successful.
In addition, the failure of such initiatives will exacerbate emergent problems.
Meir Kraus, CEO of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies: The plan is not only immoral in itself, but it uses the current racist wave sweeping though Israeli society for the promotion of the plan – and that is simply dangerous.
In practice, separation in Jerusalem means the withdrawal of Israeli sovereignty over some Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, a step that will change the current municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.
It would constitute a fundamental change for the city and its residents, particularly its Palestinian residents.
Israel must take into account the different considerations in the urban and geographic, human, legal and security areas.
Besides the Old City and the surrounding neighborhoods in east Jerusalem that are unlikely to be candidates for separation, the physical urban structures, the current residential segregation between Israelis and Palestinians, and the location of some of the Palestinian neighborhoods enable their separation from the city geographically and with regard to infrastructure. In these neighborhoods, separation may be carried out in stages. But as a result, the standard of living for east Jerusalem Palestinians is likely to decline and the fabric of their lives to be substantially affected.
If Jerusalem were to undertake this process, Israel would have to find ways to assist east Jerusalem Palestinians and minimize the potential negative consequences on their lives. The state would also have to continue providing basic services such as water, electricity and sewage to the separated Palestinian neighborhoods until another entity would assume this responsibility.
The plan would also result in the loss of Israeli residency status for residents of the Palestinian neighborhoods designated for separation. However, the legal residency status and the related rights to which Palestinian east Jerusalem residents are privy cannot be revoked overnight. To protect the rights of east Jerusalemites and allow them to make arrangements for their future, an interim period may be instituted, during which their social rights and rights to work in Israel will gradually be phased out.
Separation would mean a change in the legal status of the territory of the designated Palestinian neighborhood; the new status of this area would most likely be defined as Area B or C. Redesignating the municipal boundaries of the capital and transferring authority to another entity would require the passing of a basic law approved by the majority of MKs (61).
In addition, lifting the application of Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration from east Jerusalem neighborhoods would require approval by 61 MKs, as well as by a referendum (or approval by 80 MKs without a referendum).
In the case of unilateral separation, international law would likely continue to view the separated neighborhoods as occupied territory and would hold Israel responsible for what occurs. After 50 years during which we’ve disconnected these neighborhoods and residents from their original background, we can’t drop them just like that and disregard them and their needs. It would be absolutely immoral.