The task of saving Jerusalem from occupation is too large for the leadership alone.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has stated that no pact is possible with the Palestinians on the question of Jerusalem. However, without some Israeli concessions to the Palestinians in regard to their political rights in Jerusalem, there will be no Middle East peace.
While it is not clear whether or not a Labor party government would have made the kind of concessions on Jerusalem which would have facilitated peace, it is quite clear that this present Likud government will definitely not make those concessions. The Israeli government is already advancing anti-peace plans for Israeli building in Ras Al-Amoud, Silwan, A-Tur, and on Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim).
Mr. Netanyahu voices what he calls the Israeli consensus on Jerusalem which, he claims, brought him to power. This consensus, defined as supposedly the Israeli policy, is as follows: All of Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal, undivided capital; all of Jerusalem must remain under Israeli sovereignty forever.
For years I have maintained that this is not really the consensus of Israeli opinion on Jerusalem, but is in fact a rather narrow view of what should be the future of this city. If Israelis were given legitimacy to voice their true opinions on Jerusalem, it would become quite clear that large sectors of the public recognize that Jerusalem is a very divided city. If Israelis were encouraged to speak out, then perhaps Israeli leaders, such as Mr. Netanyahu, would understand that true peace is preferable to the myth of a united Jerusalem under unilateral Israeli control.
During the last election campaign, both the Likud and Labor competed in convincing the public which was more loyal to the myth. Meretz didn’t come out any better, refusing to adopt a clear platform on Jerusalem, which expressed what the majority of Meretz voters really believe – that Jerusalem must be shared. It is time for Israeli leaders in the peace camp to shape public opinion and to help Israelis understand that, eventually, Jerusalem can continue to be the capital of Israel and at the same time the capital of Palestine, without in any way harming Israel’s interests in the city. In fact, the opposite is quite true: as the capital of Israel and Palestine, Jerusalem will finally be recognized by the world as the legitimate seat of Israel’s government.
A Shared Jerusalem
Israelis and Palestinians must act together, speak out together, meet together, demonstrate together, lobby together for a united, shared Jerusalem under the flag: “United Jerusalem, One City, Two Capitals.” This campaign should be waged by masses, not by elite groups. Just as the Israeli streets were plastered with bumper stickers about the Golan, so must we show our strength with this slogan — United Jerusalem, One City, Two Capitals. While I believe that the Israeli public is not unified in support of one Jerusalem for Israel only, a large part of the Israeli public’s voice is not being, and has not been heard, on the Israeli or international arena. The challenge before us, in the peace camp, is to have those other voices heard. Many Israelis have long recognized that there are two Jerusalems, not one. Many of us have been struggling academically and politically to create a formula which would guarantee that the two Jerusalems, Israeli Jerusalem and Palestinian Jerusalem, become a unified Jerusalem, shared, governed and cherished in a spirit which would recognize the political and national rights of both sides in the city. We must get people to understand that Jerusalem will never be a unified city unless it can be shared. Jerusalem is a city of two peoples both of which claim national, historic and religious rights to it. Real sharing can only be achieved by recognizing the political reality which has existed here since 1967, which is that there are really two Jerusalems — one Palestinian and one Israeli. Jerusalem can stay physically united. Infrastructures, economic development and some elements of planning can be conducted jointly, while other municipal affairs can be separate.
In our struggle to achieve a United Jerusalem of One City and Two Capitals, we must understand what roles we have to play. It is not acceptable that the issue of Jerusalem be determined solely by the Israeli political system. However, the blame and the responsibility for the current situation cannot be placed at the Israeli doorstep only. If we are going to have intellectual integrity, it is important to critique the Palestinian position as well. In my view, for too long Palestinians have allowed Israel to make unilateral decisions in Jerusalem. For too long Palestinians have depended only on counter strategies to Israel’s, rather than on shaping a well-planned and developed Palestinian strategy for guaranteeing that Jerusalem will also be a Palestinian and not only an Israeli capital.
Against Palestinian Passivity
It is true that occupation is demoralizing and disempowering, yet the overall test of the Palestinians’ will is in their ability to ensure that Jerusalem become a shared capital and that Palestinian rights be fulfilled in Jerusalem. The Palestinian political leadership, nationally or in Jerusalem, has failed to create and implement a coherent strategy for ensuring their rights in the city. There are many steps that Palestinians can take, even though they have already mistakenly agreed within the Oslo agreements to limit their activities in the city. There are many things that the Palestinians in general, and the Palestinians of Jerusalem in particular, can do to ensure that they will not be usurped of any more of their rights in their city. It is however, first and foremost, the Palestinians of Jerusalem who must conduct the struggle to lead Jerusalem into an era of peace. Together, with significant parts of the Israeli public in Jerusalem and beyond, a partnership for “Our Shared Jerusalem” should be launched. Active participation of the masses is the key. It was the Palestinian masses that created the Intifada which changed history. It is now the task of the masses to bring peace to Jerusalem. There is no time for passivity. It is a luxury to rely solely upon the leadership to determine a course of action. The leadership, both Israeli and Palestinian, has failed until now to take adequate action to guarantee a peaceful Jerusalem in the future.
The future of Jerusalem is larger than the leadership, and the task of saving Jerusalem is too large for the leadership to take on alone. The Palestinian struggle for Jerusalem must emanate from the Palestinian neighborhoods and villages of Jerusalem. It must come from those who fear that their land will be expropriated next. It must come from those who have the threat of house demolition hanging over their roofs. It must come from all of their neighbors because the threat doesn’t end at their neighbors’ walls. It must come from all of those who believe that peace must emerge and that it will eventually prevail.
Palestinians in Jerusalem have been too passive for too long. Too many Palestinians in Jerusalem stayed away from the polls on Palestinian election day. This cannot be ignored. They were expressing their fear and apprehension of their unclear future. They feared losing the economic benefits which they have gained by holding Israeli identity cards. They feared being under the sole control of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). They feared being placed under the inhuman conditions of constant and continued closure, like their brothers and sisters in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, by not participating in the Palestinian elections, they weakened the Palestinian position in Jerusalem.
For three decades Palestinians have also stayed away from the polls of Israeli municipal elections in Jerusalem. They feared that their participation would be interpreted as acquiescence to Israeli sovereignty in the city, which they view as illegal, illegitimate and immoral. In not participating in that political process they have essentially, once again, weakened their position in Jerusalem. Political participation is a key to any political struggle. If Palestinians in Jerusalem do not participate in the Palestinian political process and they do not participate in the Israeli political process, they are being passive observers while their fate is determined by others.
A Platform for Sovereignty
The political voice of Palestinian Jerusalemites must be heard loud and clear in the chambers of the Palestinian council. The political voices of Palestinian Jerusalemites must also be heard in the chambers and committees of the Israeli Jerusalem municipality, and through the creation of truly democratic political bodies, established and elected in every neighborhood and village of East Jerusalem.
Palestinian Jerusalemites must adopt and engage their elected representatives in the Palestinian council as their representatives, even if the majority of them didn’t bother to vote. These representatives must be supported; they must be called upon to take up the struggle of Jerusalem.
For the first time in the history of this conflict, there are Palestinians who were elected from the district of Jerusalem to a democratically elected Palestinian representative council. The legitimacy and moral rights of these people to act on behalf of Palestinian interests should not be underestimated or compromised. Their right and duty to act on behalf of Jerusalem is more legitimate and more powerful than the head of any traditional aristocratic Jerusalem family who was not elected by anyone.
Palestinian Jerusalemites must take up the challenge of getting elected to the Israeli Jerusalem municipality. They do not have to compromise their opposition to Israeli sovereignty in the city to do that. In fact, they can run under the title of “Two Jerusalems” or “Palestinian Jerusalem” or any other appropriate title. They can adopt a platform which calls for Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem. They can stand under a flag of United Jerusalem, One City, Two Capitals. Palestinians in Jerusalem must vote en masse for their party. Ten Palestinian representatives in the Jerusalem municipality will change the face of the council forever. It is true that they will not be part of a ruling coalition in the municipality, but they will hold key seats in important committees, such as the budget committee and the planning committee. They will have the power and legitimacy to turn every city council meeting into an international forum debating the future of Jerusalem. While the political future of Jerusalem will not be determined in the municipal council, the fact that at least one-third of the council will be composed of Palestinian Jerusalemites can have a deep impact on the political consciousness of the entire city, on the peoples of Israel and Palestine and in the world at large. Political boycott in Jerusalem has played itself out. There is nothing to be gained and a lot to be lost by not playing the political game. The Palestinian opposition to political participation has cost too much and it must change.
Palestinian Jerusalemites in every village and neighborhood in Jerusalem must enlist in the struggle by creating locally based, democratically organized and elected representatives and bodies, so that they can play an active role in preventing further Israeli expansion, and in order to determine for themselves the nature and character of their own Jerusalem. No one can stop local committees and councils from organizing and holding elections. Once elected, there is a moral legitimacy inherent within the democratic process which grants power and strength and, with that, political will to lead a struggle.
Before It Is Too Late
The Palestinian political leadership must also take real action to ensure that, once Jerusalem does come to the negotiating table, there will remain something to negotiate. Palestinians have not fully exploited every avenue of existing mechanisms for building and planning Palestinian-owned land in Jerusalem. They have not organized campaigns against Israeli plans. They have not filibustered the local or regional planning boards with objections to new Israeli building schemes. They have not engaged in their own planning” and building schemes. To a very large extent the future of Jerusalem is being determined every day on the ground and in small rooms by planners in Israel. The Palestinians have not effectively engaged in this process and, by not doing so, they have removed themselves from some very significant opportunities to protect their Jerusalem.
Large quantities of vacant land suitable for housing are available in most of the villages, but under existing patterns of land ownership and building, this vacant land cannot be used. It is necessary to chart legal and administrative schemes to solve this problem. A collation of solutions that have worked elsewhere should be made now for analysis and organized decision-making. It should be further remembered that undeveloped land is an easier target for expropriation than developed land. The PNA, with the help of money from the Arab and Muslim world, must provide financial resources to enable communities to plan, construct and develop. It is time that an effective East Jerusalem development company be established which could take on this task. This should not be an arm of the PNA, which could limit its actions. It could be a venture of representatives of neighborhood resident groups, together with private sector companies which have interests in development.
Many more constructive suggestions have been proposed and can be presented to the leadership and to others who are interested. The key, though, is action. Each passing year leaves us with less and less to negotiate until, eventually, it will perhaps be too late.
This Israeli government is moving swiftly away from real peace. It is moving without hesitation to turn our hopes for true peace into anecdotes of forgotten history. Declarations can be impressive, but new neighborhoods are more impressive. Unilateral Israeli actions are a formidable force to confront, but, together, we can be more powerful. Perhaps they have strength and power which should not be underestimated, but we have the force of truth. The battle for Jerusalem which was declared by Arafat is a battle for peace. It is a battle which must be waged together, sometimes with very different tasks for the different forces, but we must concentrate our efforts together to ensure that, in the end, we will win a United Jerusalem, One City, Two Capitals
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.
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