Gershon Baskin believes that Jerusalem, with two sovereigns, will be an open city demonstrating the human ability for creativity, ingenuity and the spirit of understanding, compassion and true sanctity.
Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The connection of the Jewish people to its holy city is undisputable. Every place you dig, you touch Jewish roots. Our prayers and scriptures are filled with yearnings for Jerusalem, and reinforce our historic and religious links to the city. We turn to Jerusalem in prayer three times a day and recall it during our most important rites of passage.
Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, could have no other capital. I, who immigrated to Israel more than three decades ago – an Israeli by choice, as I call myself – have brought three children into the world in Jerusalem. I would choose to live in no other city. Jerusalem is my home.
I love to drive by the Old City. I love to wander through its narrow streets and alleys, with its quarters reminding us of the centrality of this place to civilizations gone by. We recognize that the three monotheistic religions view Jerusalem as a sacred city. Billions of people around the world have Jerusalem in their consciousness, and many have physical symbols of this awareness in their homes, churches, mosques and, of course, synagogues.
Jerusalem is also the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides claim national rights in and to the city.Between 1948 and 1967 the city was physically divided by barbed wire and walls. The Jordanian annexation of east Jerusalem was illegal by international law and was not recognized by the international community. In June 1967 the physical boundaries were removed, but the city remained deeply divided, as it is today. Israel annexed east Jerusalem and declared the city its united and eternal capital. The annexation was illegal by international law and was not recognized by the international community. There is not one country which recognizes even west Jerusalem as the capital. Not one country has its embassy in Jerusalem.
From 1948 until 1967, Jews were denied the right to go to their most holy places in the Old City. Since the Oslo process began in 1993, Palestinians have been denied free access to their holy places in Jerusalem, as the city has been separated from the rest of the West Bank.
AFTER 1967 Israel enlarged the land area of Jerusalem and began a massive settlement-building drive, surrounding all the Palestinian neighborhoods of the expanded city. A ring of Jewish settlements from Ramot in the north to Gilo in the south surrounds east Jerusalem. A road network was created that links the Jewish neighborhoods to each other and to west Jerusalem, leaving the Palestinian neighborhoods as disconnected islands. Israeli-Jewish Jerusalem experienced rapid development and modernization, while Palestinian Jerusalem has regressed into underdeveloped, depressed urban slums interspersed with spots of unplanned independent growth launched by private initiatives. There has been no urban planning and development-oriented growth for Palestinians in Jerusalem since 1967.
When an Israeli Jerusalemite and a Palestinian Jerusalemite describe their city, it is as if they are speaking about two different urban spaces. We all share common symbols such as the Old City or the Temple Mount, but we give them different names, and those symbols carry very different connotations. Jerusalem is the most segregated city in the world. There are no common places; every building is either Israeli or Palestinian, and Israelis and Palestinians do not live in the same space.
Palestinians have never recognized Israel’s rights to east Jerusalem; they have never participated in the democratic process offered to them by the system we all inherited from the British, which enables noncitizen residents of a municipality to participate in municipal elections and run for office. Palestinians have boycotted those elections for 43 years.
AFTER THE first intifada and through the beginning of the Oslo process, Palestinians saw the development of their national institutions in Jerusalem, Orient House being the most significant. With the Oslo process, however, Jerusalem was cut off from the Palestinians as their economic and political center through the Law for the Implementation of the Oslo Agreement. Since Jerusalem is defined as a “permanent-status issue” to be negotiated, the Palestinians unsuspectingly agreed that their Palestinian Authority would not be able to function in east Jerusalem.
The law passed to enable the government to implement various aspects of the Oslo agreement was used cynically to close down Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, despite promises by Shimon Peres and despite Israeli obligations under the Road Map to reopen Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem.
The law of unintended consequences has had two significant negative impacts on Jerusalem for Israel. The removal of the direct influence of the PA has created a power vacuum. Governmental, municipal and national institutions, including the police, do not sufficiently function in Palestinian Jerusalem.
As a result, others have filled the vacuum. The most prominent are Hamas and Hizb al-Tahrir – the party of liberation, a radical Islamic group. While the PA has done a remarkable job in the past two years of shrinking the influence of political Islamic groups in the West Bank, under Israel’s (non)watch and (non)authority those groups are thriving in east Jerusalem.
Additionally, in constructing the separation wall in Jerusalem, which primarily separates Palestinians from Palestinians, more than 30,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites who left the city because of housing shortages have returned for fear that they might lose their residence rights.
TODAY, JERUSALEM is an unimportant, underdeveloped capital city of little international consequence. It is a city which falls way too short of its amazing potential. In many respects it is hardly a capital of an important country. At times it seems like a suburb of a city that doesn’t even exist.
Yet Jerusalem’s potential is bewildering. Jerusalem could be the most important place in the world in demonstrating that humanity could actually celebrate the diversity of three faiths that reside side by side and cherish it. The Muslim world will have guardianship over the Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), while Jews will have guardianship over the Western Wall. Respecting the sanctity of the entire compound, we will all agree not to dig, tunnel, construct or damage what is on top or what is beneath.
Imagine that area E-1 – the controversial plan to develop a land bridge of Jewish homes between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, cutting the West Bank in half – became the diplomatic quarter of Jerusalem, with embassies and diplomats’ living quarters being developed. Jerusalem could be a city where some 200 nations have their embassies that serve two countries. Imagine the tens of thousands of internationals who would be making it their home. Imagine the potential of Jerusalem becoming a real city of peace, where tens of millions visit, where Jewish, Muslim and Christian pilgrims come to celebrate their faith. Imagine Jerusalem the recognized capital of the State of Israel.
This is all possible. Jerusalem will become the city of peace and the capital of the State of Israel, but only after it is also recognized as the capital of Palestine. Jerusalem’s true unity will only come through its political division. Jerusalem, with two sovereigns, will be an open city demonstrating the human ability for creativity, ingenuity and the spirit of understanding, compassion and true sanctity.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.