The political leadership of Israel speaks of a consensus on the future status of Jerusalem.
This supposed consensus, defined as the Israeli policy, is as follows:
All of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty forever.
I maintain that this is not really the consensus of Israeli opinion on Jerusalem but is in fact a rather narrow view of what the future of this city should be. The true consensus, as opposed to this mythical consensus, can be stated as follows:
All Israelis believe and desire that:
1. Jerusalem must never return to the status it had prior to June 1967. Jerusalem should never be physically divided. It must remain an open city with free access for all.
2. Personal security and security of property must be guaranteed for all, in every part of the city. No one should have to fear getting a knife in the back in any part of the city and no one should have to fear getting their car torched or other property damaged in any part of the city.
3. The new Jewish neighborhoods built in East Jerusalem after 1967 must remain under Israeli sovereignty.
4. The Jewish holy places must remain under Israeli control. (This does not include the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount).
Why do I think this is the true consensus? To begin with, if Israelis (and even would be capable of completing the task. Moreover, if Israelis were asked to name the 18 neighborhoods of Arab East Jerusalem, almost none of them would be able to do so. If you asked Israelis how many of them have visited in those Arab neighborhoods, the answer would be almost none. If you asked how would be interested in visiting those Arab neighborhoods, the answer would be the same.
Since 1967, the Jerusalem municipality has invested next to nothing in Arab neighborhoods.
Again, ask Israelis if their country has any real need (other than perhaps security) for controlling those neighborhoods. The answer of most people, I am certain, would be no.
Arab parts of East Jerusalem. Rather, most Israelis are concerned about the ability of Israel to maintain its capital in Jerusalem, to have security, to have an open Old City with Jewish control of Jewish holy places. The status of the Arab sections of Jerusalem is really of little interest to all but a tiny minority of Israelis.
I believe that one of the primary tasks which must be undertaken on the Israeli side in order to prepare Jerusalem for negotiations is to break down the myth of consensus. This can be done in several ways.
First, people must begin to speak out on this issue. Secondly, public opinion polls should be carried out, asking the public the kinds of questions listed above. These polls, as IPCRI has already shown in a poll that it conducted last year, will continue to prove the hypotheses listed above. The results of the polls should be widely published because they will, in the end, help pave the road for negotiations over Jerusalem.
Final status talks on Jerusalem will be very difficult. The Israeli election campaign inflates the symbolic value of Jerusalem to the Israeli public, making it very difficult for any Israeli government to then support far-reaching compromises. The Israeli elections create new hurdles for Israeli politicians to confront following the elections. The new government will have a difficult time coming back to the public for support of a plan that will grant Palestinians any real significant control over East Jerusalem. Both candidates, Shimon Peres and Bibi Netanyahu, promise that Jerusalem will not be divided and that Israel will have sovereignty over the entirety of the city. Labor party statements which in the past spoke about Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel now add that only Israel will have its capital there.
There is reason to hope that changes will take place after the negotiations get started. On 18 May 1996 Teddy Kollek said that Jerusalem could be shared, with some kind of joint administration. While Kollek is no longer mayor of Jerusalem, he has a great deal of support from many Israelis and potentially could be used by Israeli leaders to advocate compromises which may otherwise be unacceptable.
It seems that the Israelis will offer the Palestinians a deal that allows them to establish their capital outside of the municipal boundaries and have some kind of administrative link with other parts of Jerusalem that are within the municipal boundaries. Perhaps boundaries could be redefined so that villages such as Umm Tuba and Sur Baher could be located within the Palestinian sovereign domain. If the areas of Abu Dis, Azzariya, and A-Ram (all outide municipal boundaries, in Area B) are linked with other Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, such as Beit Hanina, Sur Baher, and Jabel Mukaber, and additional land area is given, such as the empty land area between Issaweyah and Ma`aleh Adumim, this could perhaps form the basis of a Palestinian capital.
It seems very unlikely that Israel will agree to give up sovereignty over the downtown area of East Jerusalem or over the Old City. It also seems very unlikely that Israel will make any concessions regarding the status of the Israeli neighborhoods (settlements in Palestinian terms) which have been built in East Jerusalem. Nonetheless, it appears to me that Israel will be able to make compromises regarding substantive and effective administrative control by Palestinians over most of the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel is also unlikely to demand a change in the status quo governing the holy places despite extreme pressure from within to allow for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Therefore, Palestinians will continue to control the Haram.
I find it unlikely that Israel will really encourage any form of joint rule in Jerusalem. Instead, Israel is more likely to favor separate municipal structures whereby Palestinians would provide services to many (if not most) of the Palestinian neighborhoods. This is possible without necessarily demanding any change in sovereignty. Yet there are also possible compromises which could be made on issues of sovereignty.
Israeli refusal to grant Palestinians any form of sovereignty in Jerusalem has a lot to do with Israeli fears of a redivided Jerusalem and the possibility that sovereignty infers the right to launch an offensive army. Once again, it is worthwhile to mention that the two sides should deal with the issue of sovereignty and sovereign rights must be limited by the rights that exist on the other side. No side should have the right to take any kind of unilateral action that will have a direct adverse effect on the rights of the other side. This is the only way that sovereignty can be divided and shared without dividing the city.
Both sides must be contractually committed to guaranteeing the continued openness of the city.
Cooperation which is imbedded in legal agreements which are binding on both sides is probably the only way to guarantee the unity of the city while leaving each side the right and a great deal of freedom to develop and administer its own part of the city.
I believe that it is possible and probably wise to find a solution which will grant Palestinian Jerusalemites the continuation of benefits that they currently receive as holders of Israeli identity cards. If compromise on sovereignty is unlikely with regard to some parts of Palestinian Jerusalem, then perhaps those neighborhoods which would remain under Israeli sovereignty could be administered by a Palestinian municipal council while the residents would continue to receive the same rights that they have today. This kind of mixed and complex solution allows for Palestinian municipal government in areas technically under Israeli sovereignty, with the residents enjoying rights and benefits from both sides. While this suggestion seems unlikely to be accepted by the Palestinians today, it is my impression on the basis of conversations with many Palestinians that this is a real possibility and should be pursued further.
Creative solutions will have to be found which go beyond what is currently considered acceptable. I believe that the main challenge for Israel in the future negotiations will be to translate political concessions into strategic gains. For Israel, the single most important concern is security. For the Palestinians there is a need for national honor and dignity. The more the Palestinian side can feel secure with their national honor and dignity, the more security Israel will have. The yardstick for measuring these two elements cannot be the same for the two sides, but they are parallel. Israel, almost 50 years old, with a European economy and one of the strongest armies in the world does not have the same needs as do the Palestinians who are only now approaching national status.
A primary need for Israel is to prevent terrorism. The Palestinians will only truly be partners in the fight against terrorism when that fight merges with their own national interests. Real security will exist not when a Palestinian general receives orders from Israeli general, but when the Palestinians are independent players on a level and balanced playing field, providing them the political will to fight the enemies of peace. Both sides must learn that the joint and mutual interests are superior to the narrow and individual ones. Therefore, in order to achieve real peace, Palestinian must end up with a real piece of Jerusalem under their control. It is possible to achieve this while also guaranteeing that the city will not be divided.
Finally, time is of the essence. The longer the negotiations take, the greater the possibilities for the opposition on both sides to derail them.
Both sides will compromise in the end. The Israeli sides holds almost all of the assets which will be negotiated. An agreement which will force the Palestinians to give in on their most vital interests will not be an agreement that will receive public support.
These negotiations are going to be much more complex and difficult than any of the previous negotiations and therefore it is urgently important that several key principles are well understood by both sides:
Palestinians must achieve independence in the final status agreement in order to be a full and equal partner.
The final status talks must produce results which are final and not more interim measures.
The final agreement must have as a goal the creation of good neighborly relations based on openness and cooperation and not closure and separation.
Israel must be interested in the development of the Palestinian economy.
Jerusalem can only be a city of peace if both sides feel that they have a fair share in the future of the city.
No exclusivity of ownership can exist over the city. Jerusalem can be one city and two capitals. Jerusalem will never be a unified city unless it can be shared. The possibility for sharing Jerusalem will only be realized once the two sides and their leaders cut down on the rhetoric which polarizes and instead begin to help the public, on both sides, understand the true character of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city of two peoples who both claim national, historic and religious rights to it. Real sharing can only be achieved by recognizing the political reality that has existed here since 1967. Since the overwhelming majority of Israelis really care only about the Jewish parts of Jerusalem, let us concentrate on them and recognize that the Palestinians today are willing to accept rule solely over their parts of the city. Jerusalem can stay physically united. Infrastructures, economic development and some elements of planning can be conducted jointly. Let Israel rule over Israeli Jerusalem and let Palestine rule over Palestinian Jerusalem and Jerusalem will become one city living in peace.
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.