Gershon Baskin believes that when Jerusalem’s present and its future potential outshines its past, without losing respect and appreciation of its past, then Jerusalem will be a magnet, instead of being a burden.
Conventional wisdom has been to leave the Jerusalem issue until the end of negotiations. Jerusalem is a center piece of any agreement yet it is also the powder-keg of dynamite that can blow any potential peace agreement into pieces.
Both parties claim Jerusalem as their national capital. Israel asserts that Jerusalem is the cradle of Jewish civilization, the holiest city for Jews and the focal point for Jewish existence. Jews all over the world turn towards Jerusalem in prayer and inside of Jerusalem face the Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The first direction of Muslim prayer was Jerusalem, but later changed to Mecca. It is from Jerusalem where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven to receive the Quran. Jerusalem is mentioned twice in the Quran as al Aqsa – the distant mosque and Beit al Maqdas – the holy house, in reference to the Holy Temple. Jerusalem is the third most holy city in the world for Muslims and according to their tradition the obligation of Haj – pilgrimage – is not complete until after Mecca and Medina the pilgrim completes the journey with a visit to Jerusalem.
The positions between the parties in Jerusalem are diametrically opposed and seem to be unbridgeable. The official policy of the Israeli government is that Jerusalem is and will always be the eternal undivided capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Jerusalem will never be divided again, as it was for almost 19 years between 1949 at the end of Israel’s war of independence and the Palestinian Naqba (the catastrophe) and the June 1967 war. In March 1949 King Abdallah I of Jordan annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank of the Jordan river to the Hashemite Kingdom and walls and barbed wire fences divided Jerusalem right through the middle of the city, cutting the Old City of Jerusalem and the Jewish Holy Places off from Israel and the Jewish world. After the lightning speed six days victory in 1967 the Jewish state tour down the walls and fences and reunited the city vowing that it would never be divided again. Israel then annexed all of East Jerusalem and expanded its borders in the East and placed the entire city under Israel’s sovereignty and law. Like the Jordanian annexation in 1949, Israel’s annexation was rejected by the international community and view in contravention to International law.
The Palestinians’ position is that all of East Jerusalem, the territory occupied by Israel in 1967 must become the capital of the State of Palestine. This position officially includes more than 250,000 Israelis who now live in that area in neighborhoods built by Israel since 1967 on what formerly Palestinians consider to be their land. The Palestinian position is that the entire Old City of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter and the Jewish Holy places will be under Palestinian sovereignty in a peace agreement.
There are three concentric circles of issues in Jerusalem that need to be resolved. The closer to the center, the more difficult to resolve, nonetheless, there are solutions for all of the issues of Jerusalem. The outer circle is the issue of the neighborhoods all around the city. The center circle is the Old City. The heart of the hearts is the Temple Mount/Haram Asharif.
The neighborhoods, already mentioned above are easiest to deal with because there are no really mixed neighborhoods. Every neighborhood is either Israeli or Palestinian and the borders of the neighborhoods are equally clear. It is relatively easy to assign sovereignty to all of the neighborhoods. There are a few problematic areas which could be dealt with on an issue to issue basis – such as Palestinian enclaves on the French Hill and Gilo, a Muslim cemetery on Mount Zion, Beit Safafa where half of the neighborhood are Israeli citizens (although Palestinian) and the other half are Palestinians without citizenship. There are also the special cases of Israeli settlements that have been built inside of Palestinian neighborhoods – such as Ras al Amoud and Nof Zion. Har Homa is also problematic because it was built after Oslo and the Palestinians have not yet accepted that it will be included in the annexed areas by Israel (part of the 4-5% annexation), but today Har Homa is already too large to reverse. Palestine will be sovereign over all of the Palestinian neighborhoods and Israel will be sovereign over all of the Israeli neighborhoods. This is perhaps unprecedented in the world, but Jerusalem is unique and requires unique solutions.
Municipal government in the city could be either through completely separate municipalities with coordination between them, or even one municipal council representing both cities. Other models have been examined from other parts of the world including Brussels and even New York City with its borough system of government. The municipal governance issues are the easiest to resolve in Jerusalem and like the Brussels model, it would be recommended to adopt that principle of trial and error – nothing is etched in stone. The purpose of municipal government is to serve the day to day life needs of the people within the municipality. In Jerusalem there must be coordination between both sides on issues of infrastructure, transportation, sewage, waster control and treatment, water and electricity supply, and of course on issues of economic development – tourism, antiquities, physical development, zoning, planning, etc.
The Old City of Jerusalem is certainly the heart of the city and the center of the focal point of conflict between Israel and Palestine. This area, less that one square kilometer is a powder keg of nuclear proportions in terms of it volatility and potential for disaster. There are four quarters in the Old City: Armenian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. It could be possible to adopt the Clinton parameters to the Old City as well so that the Jewish Quarter would be under Israeli sovereignty and based on demography, the other three quarters would be under Palestinian sovereignty. It could also be possible to adopt the kind of proposal the Prime Minister Olmert offered in 2008 in which an international body composed of Israel, Palestine, the United States, Jordan and Saudi Arabic would govern the Old City on behalf of its residents. Another similar proposal was made by a group of Jerusalem experts working with the University of Windsor in Canada in which an international management company would administer the Old City.
In the center of the heart, the heart of hearts, is of course, the Temple Mount/Haram a-sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) – 145,000 square meters of Holy space. This, the most holy place for Jews in the world and the third most holy place for Muslims and Palestinians see themselves as the protectors of al Aqsa – mentioned in the Quran and referred to as the distant mosque. For Muslims, the entire mount, and not only the buildings on the mount are al Aqsa, the place where they believe that the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven to receive the revelation of the holy Quran. Moshe Dayan understood very well the potentially volatility of the site when he ordered that an Israeli flag raised on the Dome of the Rock be immediately removed. Israel then understood that if it attempted to change the status quo there it could bring about an explosion throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world. In those days, we were all very fortunate because the overwhelming majority of mainstream Rabbis, including the official chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel determined that since we did not know the exact location of the Holy of Holies, Jews should not ascend to the Temple Mount at all. According to Jewish tradition, when the Messiah comes, the Temple will be rebuilt and then Jews could once again pray on the Temple Mount.
In recent years, some Jews combining deep religious beliefs combined with extreme nationalism have decided that Jews should retake the Mount even before the Messiah comes, perhaps as a way of speeding up his coming. The demand of Jews to be allowed to pray there is understandable both from the position of religious importance and as an assertion of the rights of free access to all holy places. If there was no conflict between Israel and Palestine it could even be possible to imagine the day when it could happen peacefully. There is no prohibition in Islamic law – shari’ah – to people of other faiths praying on the Haram a-sharif. But in the situation of conflict where the Muslims, in Palestine and in the Muslim world, are convinced that Israel’s intentions are to remove the mosques, prevent Muslims from praying there and rebuild the Temple, the Israeli Palestinian conflict instantly becomes transformed from a political conflict into a religious war. This is the most dangerous scenario possible and too risky to support. The status quo must be maintained and if it is to be changed, it should only be done through negotiations and agreements and not imposed by force.
So the political solution for the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif is to formalize the current status quo whereby the Muslims (the Palestinians) control the Temple Mount on top and Israel controls the Western Wall below where Jews now pray as close to the Mount as possible. Both parties would agree to limit their sovereignty and control by not tunneling, constructing, digging or damaging in anyway the entire compound without mutual agreement.
If after the Messiah comes, God should desire to change the arrangement – everything would be possible. For the time being, the makings of an agreement are possible.
Can it work?
So now, we are left with two main questions – how can the city of Jerusalem be divided on the basis of demography and still function; and when should the issue be negotiated? The only way that Jerusalem can survive as an urban space where real people live and work is for it to remain physically united and open. Jerusalem will die if it is torn to pieces with walls and barbed wire fences. The pre-condition for Jerusalem to be undivided physically and open is for there to be real personal security within the city. But this is a pre-condition for all aspects of Israeli-Palestinian people. Real security in Jerusalem will have to include three main components: (1) each side’s security and police forces will have to take full responsibility for security and law and order within the territory under its own domain. (2) There will be a need for very robust and active cooperation, including joint forces between the Israeli and Palestinian security and police forces in Jerusalem. (3) And lastly there must be a significant third party monitoring component ensuring that both parties are fully implementing their obligations as well as assisting in building the trust necessary for the joint missions and providing a real-time, on –the-ground dispute resolution mechanism.
Lastly – when should Jerusalem be negotiated – at the end or in the beginning of the negotiations? Going against conventional wisdom, I have always advocated putting Jerusalem on the table up front. Borders cannot be negotiated without arriving to Jerusalem. Land swaps are meaningless without dealing with the delineation of borders of sovereignty in Jerusalem. Security arrangements have little validity without confronting security in Jerusalem where the most terror attacks took place during the second intifada. National symbols and holy places cannot be dealt with anywhere in the area without dealing with Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the microcosm of the entire conflict and the most sensitive issue on the table. If the issues in conflict in Jerusalem can be resolved in negotiations, all other aspects of the negotiations will be easier. If Jerusalem cannot be resolved, there can be no Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Since most aspects of the Jerusalem issue have been negotiated in the past and since there have been so many workable proposals designed for Jerusalem by Israeli and Palestinian experts who have worked together on finding them, it is more possible to reach an agreement on Jerusalem than most people believe. The solutions as described above enable both sides to have their national capitals in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will remain an open city united for all to come and visit while clearly designating separate sovereignties on maps and on the ground. Jerusalem’s holy places will be open with free access to all and each community will retain its control over its most sacred spaces while enabling dreams and future aspirations to remain within the realm of prayer.
Peace in Jerusalem is the key to Israeli Palestinian peace – that key is on the table and waiting to be used.
Jerusalem has the potential to become the one place in the world where civilizations do not clash, but learn to appreciate each other through dialogue, through mutual respect and through mutual and collective celebration.
Jerusalem’s uniqueness is its spiritual calling and its rich human resources. The wealth of Jerusalem comes from those who hold it dear and from those who lives are connected to it. The fostering of conflicts in the city and about the city through the empty political slogans on billboards on bus-sides cheapens Jerusalem’s value. The competition over Jerusalem’s meager land resources increase the ugliness and the rudeness of the city’s character and outer face.
Jerusalem’s history is a huge burden. That burden has been the weight that has reduced Jerusalem’s glory to a primitive tribal feud which has driven too many good people out of the city. When Jerusalem’s present and its future potential outshines its past, without losing respect and appreciation of its past, then Jerusalem will be a magnet, instead of being a burden.
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.