The limits of annexation: Consider Jerusalem's exprience since 1967

Middle Israel: 75% of Jerusalem's Arabs live under the poverty line as opposed to 29% of its Jews.

Israeli youth celebrate 'March of Flags' on Jerusalem Day, near the Damascus Gate, June 2, 2019  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israeli youth celebrate 'March of Flags' on Jerusalem Day, near the Damascus Gate, June 2, 2019
With pilgrims jamming Judea’s already overcrowded capital, King Agrippa set out to double Jerusalem’s area by expanding it northward, within one new wall and 90 lean turrets.
Jerusalem’s last Jewish king was testing the limits of his sway in Rome, where he had a special relationship with his high school buddy Emperor Claudius. The test failed. The Romans stopped in its tracks the project whose relics are still visible in various places between Safra Square and the American Colony Hotel.
That was nearly 2,000 years ago. In spring 1967 something of this precedent reappeared, as Israel annexed east Jerusalem, and while at it multiplied east Jerusalem’s area from 6.4 square kilometers to 70 that contained 28 odd villages.
Israel’s grand Jerusalem, at 100, was 50 times larger than the expanded city Agrippa had in mind. Unlike his project’s fate, Israel’s met no effective foreign resistance. Then again, Agrippa’s Jerusalem was almost exclusively Jewish.
Israel’s was an entirely different case.
ISRAELI JERUSALEM gulped overnight 70,000 Jordanian citizens, in what its leaders hoped would become an island of Arab-Jewish harmony.
Jerusalem’s Arabs were given Israeli ID’s, permanent-resident status, and also the right to obtain Israeli citizenship. At the same time, Israel reclaimed Jewish property in the city’s east, from the Hebrew University buildings on Mount Scopus to synagogues in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, before launching a massive migratory movement and development drive.
What began with the 700 apartments that became Ramat Eshkol swelled into 220,000 Jews, more than all of pre-1967 Jerusalem’s Jewish population of 200,000. With a total of 558,000 as of January 2019, Jerusalem’s Jewish population now exceeds Tel Aviv’s by more than 100,000.
In this regard, then, the annexation project has been a success. Yet the city’s Arab population also swelled, from 70,000 to 349,600, thus producing a microcosm of what annexation is about, in all its aspects: legally, internationally, economically, socially and politically.
The bottom line of this retrospect is that socially it has been a tragedy.
Jerusalem’s Jews and Arabs remain apart. Their children go to different schools, they seldom live in the same buildings, and they hardly ever visit each other’s homes, other than as artisans and their hirers. Economic gaps do little to improve this estrangement, with 75% of the city’s Arabs living under the poverty line as opposed to 29% of its Jews.
Politically, the original hopes that Jerusalem’s Arabs would join the municipal game were dashed. Hardly any Arabs voted in the 11 municipal elections held since annexation, and none ran for mayor. Journalist Hanna Siniora’s exceptional bid in 1987 was nipped in the bud after threats on his life made him withdraw his candidacy.
The Arab absence from the political process resulted in a severe budgeting gap, since politicians were reluctant to spend where they could collect no votes. The result was fewer sidewalks, playgrounds, theaters, libraries, buses and cops.
Worse, more than 170 Jerusalemite Arabs were involved in terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada. That is why Israel’s security barrier ended up slicing the very reunited Jerusalem its leaders had once cemented.
The barrier then further deepened the gaps, as Arab quarters stranded beyond it were altogether ignored by police, sanitation, welfare and construction authorities, resulting in a celebration of lawlessness and angry streets.
THE SOCIAL abyss that yawns between Jerusalem’s Jews and Arabs, and the physical barrier that now lays bare its de facto re-separation, happened despite Israel’s ambitious annexation project. The American Embassy’s migration, much as Middle Israelis welcomed it, did nothing to bridge the gaps between the city’s disjointed populations.
The Likud’s leaders have themselves effectively conceded this, when Benjamin Netanyahu’s confidant Ze’ev Elkin, in his capacity at the time as minister for Jerusalem affairs, proposed in 2018 a plan to remove four Arab areas from Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries: Walaja, outside Gilo, Kafr Akab and parts of Shuafat, north of French Hill; and some of Jebl Mukaber, near Armon Hanatziv.
Elkin, now the new minister for higher education and water, wanted these townships’ 150,000 Arabs to elect their own mayors and councils, and to authorize them to raise local taxes and manage issues like education, planning, water, sewage, electricity and police.
If adopted, the scheme would do politically what the wall did physically: it would compromise Jerusalem’s unification, and in fact might result in Palestinian Authority rule.
The plan was shelved after Elkin ran for mayor and lost to Moshe Lion. However, Lion shares its sense of alarm. That is why he halted house demolitions in Isawiya, at the foothills of Mount Scopus, in order to dialogue with its leaders about a master plan, and that is why he visited in the hospital nine-year-old Malek Issa, who lost an eye by a policeman’s sponge bullet.
Obviously, Jerusalem’s Arab parts need a lot more than such gestures. The government knows this, and two years ago launched a NIS 2 billion program for upgrading Arab neighborhoods’ schools, sewage system, roads, playgrounds, public transport and social services.
Time will tell how much change this program will deliver. Time is not needed, however, to assert that this belated budgeting is itself proof that annexation means little if, down in the field, populations are left disenfranchised while social wounds fester and hostility reigns.
Now Netanyahu thinks he can do more annexation, the way Menachem Begin did it on the Golan Heights, conveniently forgetting that on the Golan there were no Palestinians.
The Jordan Valley, though in itself sparsely populated, is part of the West Bank, much the way Arab and Jewish Jerusalem are parts of one urban continuum. Unilateral annexation, as Netanyahu’s own protégé tacitly conceded in his plan, didn’t work well in Jerusalem. Its prospects in the West Bank are no better; probably worse.
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019) is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.