The Jewish public knows

An agreement on the future of Jerusalem must benefit all its residents.

Jerusalem Arabs 248.88  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem Arabs 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The streets of Jerusalem are adorned with posters declaring: "Celebrating 60 Years for Israel, and 40 years of United Jerusalem." Leaving aside the inaccuracy of the arithmetic (it is now 41 years since Israel's decision to enlarge the Jerusalem municipal boundary to include 70 sq. kilometers of land to the east, north and south of west Jerusalem), there is doubt regarding the nature of the "unification." A recent opinion poll of a representative sample of Israeli Jews conducted by Dahlia Scheindlin and the New Wave Institute and funded by Ir Amim found that 78% of the public sees Jerusalem as being divided today between Arabs and Jews. And well they should. Forty-one years after annexing the land known as east Jerusalem, every Jerusalemite knows immediately whether he or she is standing in an Israeli or a Palestinian neighborhood. Israeli neighborhoods of Jerusalem are served by paved roads, sewage and water lines, regular garbage collection, schools, city parks, and building regulations that allow for orderly development of the city. Palestinian neighborhoods, on the other hand, suffer from a lack of sewage lines, a shortage of 1,500 classrooms (roughly 50 schools), virtually no park areas, and a still-to-be-approved town plan that will allow residents to build homes legally on their own land. Although both populations pay city taxes, Palestinians, who make up about 35% of Jerusalem's population, benefit from only about 10% of the municipal budget for services. In addition, despite the rhetoric of politicians gearing up for upcoming mayoral or national elections, most of the Israeli public also realizes that there will be no resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without an accord that allows both peoples to have a capital in the area now known as Jerusalem. In fact, according to the same poll, 65% of the Israeli public accepts an agreement that puts the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem under Palestinian control, as long as Jewish holy sites and neighborhoods remain part of the Israeli capital. Most striking, perhaps, is the sense that, while Israeli Jews feel very close to Jerusalem, most feel little kinship toward east Jerusalem. "I don't feel I belong there," said a focus group participant in Tel Aviv. "The city is already divided without us even feeling it," said another in Kiryat Bialik. In other words, a majority of the Israeli Jewish public knows instinctively what our political leaders deny - that it is in the Israeli interest to reach a resolution on the issue of Jerusalem. Furthermore, the outlines of such a resolution are clear and accepted in the eyes of most Israelis. RECENTLY, our city played host to President George W. Bush, who reiterated his declarations from the Annapolis Conference - to help us reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians by the end of 2008, including on the issue of Jerusalem. In light of such an intention, by one of Israel's best friends, one would expect to see steps being taken on the ground to build the trust necessary to allow our political leaderships - fragile and fraught as they both may be - to begin negotiating. Yet, over the past six months, since Annapolis, the facts on the ground in Jerusalem are aggravating, rather than easing, the tension between Palestinians and Israelis - sometimes with violent and tragic consequences. Over the past six months, plans have been advanced to construct about 500 housing units in Jewish enclaves in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods (e.g., Ras al Amud, Sheikh Jarrah). Almost 10,000 new housing units for Jews are now being planned in the open areas of east Jerusalem. Numerous events of civil society organizations, acting to strengthen the fabric of civic life in east Jerusalem, have been closed down by the police - on the grounds that these events are linked to the Palestinian Authority, with which Israel is carrying out negotiations. Finally, demolition of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem continues apace. The current, uncertain interim period in which we are living in Jerusalem is not a "no-man's land" in time. Once the issue of negotiations has been raised, expectations and fears are raised as well. Interested extreme parties are jockeying to create unilateral facts on the ground that will prevent a peaceful resolution in the city. If the Israeli government - the only government in charge in east Jerusalem - does not manage the current situation in order to halt these harmful unilateral acts, the inevitable result will be an erosion of trust, an increase in despair and fundamentalism, and perhaps violent confrontation. In short, we may maintain a large "reunited" Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty; but the Jerusalem that will result will not be the kind of city in which we would like to live. For our children to be able to live in Jerusalem as a stable, sustainable capital of Israel, a Jerusalem that will draw - not reject - people, we must begin to change the course of things. We must begin now to develop the systems that will allow both peoples - Palestinian and Israeli - to share the city equitably. We must assure that our governments reach an agreement on the future of Jerusalem - along the lines that the public already understands - in a way that will answer the needs of the peoples who live in it and share it. The writer is a resident of Jerusalem and associate director of Ir Amim, an Israeli nonprofit organization dedicated to an equitable and stable Jerusalem, with an agreed political future.