The Jerusalem Paradox

"The Palestinian Struggle for Jerusalem" by Moshe Amirav, The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 80 pages, NIS 30

Dr. Moshe Amirav has come a long way from the days when he was a Likud activist in Jerusalem and held talks with Palestinians on the possibility of coming to a diplomatic agreement, to his tenure as deputy mayor of Jerusalem on behalf of Meretz. But all along his political path, he has invested effort in solving the question of Jerusalem, and has contributed quite a bit to the principles that have in recent years been leading toward an agreed-upon solution.

In the booklet Amirav recently published, he does not offer a new proposal for this serious dispute, but rather deals with a scientific attempt to describe what he presents as a Palestinian achievement: stressing the issue of Jerusalem and even assuming control of it. He tries to explain this Palestinian attempt by a political science approach that relates to the ability of players to turn circumstances into problems and redefine them. He argues that the Palestine Liberation Organization succeeded in making Jerusalem, and especially the Temple Mount, into a key issue on the international agenda and having done this, also succeeded in becoming the exclusive Arab party making a claim on East Jerusalem, with Israel having to come to terms with this.

According to his presentation of history, Jerusalem played a secondary role in the Arab- Israeli conflict. The pragmatic branch of Zionism gave it up as far back as 1937. When the Peele Commission proposed its solution, it resigned itself to the internationalization of Jerusalem as per the Partition Plan and accepted the division of Jerusalem in the War of Independence. Jordan made East Jerusalem into a less important city than the capital, Amman, and after 1967, the Palestinians' struggle was for a Palestinian state and not necessarily Jerusalem. Only later did the PLO quarrel with Jordan over Jerusalem, and following the Arab League's decision on the PLO's exclusive right to represent the Palestinians, Jerusalem became a central issue. When the international community relinquished the internationalization of Jerusalem and after Jordan gave up its demand for sovereignty over the West Bank in 1988, the PLO remained the sole claimant to Jerusalem vis-a-vis Israel.

A dream, shelved

The Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem, whose number today reaches 290,000, have for the most part not become Israeli citizens. They have taken Israeli identity cards, enjoy National Security Institute stipends, pay state and city taxes, have grown from 25 percent of the population of the city in 1967 to 33 percent today, and will be about 40 percent in 2020. Israel, for its part, has increased the area of East Jerusalem from about seven square kilometers to about 70 square kilometers by adding 28 villages to it and has thereby enlarged the number of its Palestinian inhabitants while the Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem have preferred to move to satellite cities like Maaleh Adumim or Givat Ze'ev.

East Jerusalem has never become a part of Jerusalem, and this was manifested especially in the first intifada, during the course of which there was a strike of three years' duration and the dream of a united city was shelved entirely.

The paradox of Jerusalem is that the building of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem has increased the number of Arab inhabitants of the city, who have returned to it with its economic flourishing, whereas the difficulties that have been piled on the Palestinians in building houses on their land have led to a severe housing shortage and hostility, and have distanced the chance of Jewish-Arab cooperation in the city that Israel so wanted to see unified, but has never been unified.

The Palestinians, led by the late Faisal Husseini, established institutions in Jerusalem in the 1990s. The Orient House, which was opened while Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister, functioned as an alternative foreign ministry and city hall, and later Jibril Rajoub's security forces filled the vacuum that had been left behind by the Palestinian police who resigned from the Israel Police, ensuring law and order in neighborhoods that were desperately in need of them.

Talks that were held in the unofficial track prepared the Palestinians for the permanent status talks on Jerusalem, and when negotiations started during Ehud Barak's tenure as prime minister, they were better-prepared than the Israelis and stood up for themselves, demanding a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, sovereignty on the Temple Mount and a recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and alternative land in exchange for the area that Israel would annex.

These demands were not answered at Camp David and led to the collapse of the summit, whereas the Clinton plan answered their demands to a large extent and therefore the Palestinians did not reject it outright.

According to Amirav, the Palestinian stance on the issue of the Temple Mount grew tougher and opposition was expressed to its internationalization because Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat realized that a small and impoverished Palestinian state would not interest the world, whereas sovereignty over a Muslim holy place would keep it and its people at the center of things.

Everyone wins

The facts that Amirav presents in his book are important and interesting, but it is doubtful that the model he employs is what explains how things developed on the way to the Palestinian monopoly on the Arab claim to East Jerusalem. The problem of Jerusalem was indeed central to the Zionist movement, and the willingness to internationalize the city was the result of there being no alternative, in the hope that in the future, circumstances would change. It is no accident that for years the Labor Party preferred the Palestinian-Jordanian framework to a Palestinian state; one of the reasons for this was the realization that a Palestinian state would want to see East Jerusalem as its capital, whereas Jordan has a capital on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

The real story is the way the PLO has replaced Jordan as the side that is claiming the West Bank as its own, and this has occurred primarily because the population of the West Bank (and the Gaza Strip) is Palestinian, and it has preferred a Palestinian leadership to a Jordanian leadership that neglected it between 1948 and 1967. Due to the preference of the local population along with international activity and the use of violence that increased international awareness of the PLO, the Arab world preferred this organization to Jordan as the representative of the Palestinians in 1974, and as having naturally become the claimant to the West Bank after Jordan relinquished it in 1988.

Those who read Amirav's book might think that had Israel behaved differently, it could have achieved more in the matter of Jerusalem than it had been offered in the Clinton plan. I permit myself to disagree with this. Jerusalem is the unrecognized capital of Israel to this day. Only a few countries recognize West Jerusalem as our legal capital, and there is no foreign country that recognizes our sovereignty in the eastern part of the city. A situation in which Jerusalem wins recognition as the capital of Israel, including its western part, the Israeli neighborhoods that have been erected in East Jerusalem, the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, will be a huge achievement for Israel and the realization of its true interest.

The Palestinian achievement does not come at Israel's expense. This is a situation in which everyone wins, while Israel is released from governing 220,000 Palestinians who do not want it, in its capital. Paradoxically, the Palestinian struggle for Jerusalem leads to the true conjunction of the interests of the two peoples.

Yossi Beilin was a formulator of the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan for solving the problem of Jerusalem.