The government plan to strengthen Israel’s control over East Jerusalem, approved Sunday by the cabinet, did not emerge from a vacuum. It’s the product of a right-wing perspective that’s shared by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who also holds the Jerusalem Affairs portfolio. The essence of this approach is breaking down the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the status of Jerusalem into components including economics, education and infrastructure.
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It’s no coincidence that both Barkat and Bennett came to politics from the world of business, from which they apparently brought the notion that if you can’t beat them, you can buy them. They believe that the best way to take Jerusalem off the diplomatic agenda is to add funding and improve the economy in the eastern part of the city.
“The premise underlying the civilian elements in this plan is the existence of a close link between the scope and level of violence by East Jerusalem residents, and the standard of living in the eastern neighborhoods,” according to the announcement released by the Prime Minister’s Bureau.
Bennett sees the scheme as a pilot for implementation of his diplomatic proposals, which would ultimately have Israel annex and undertake a similar plan in Area C in the West Bank (which is under full Israeli civil and security control), and thus nullify the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state.
But the government plan also reflects a growing desire on the part of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents to integrate into the State of Israel. Everyone who deals with East Jerusalem talks about how the “young generation of al-Quds” differs greatly in its approach to Israel from that of their parents.
This process is expressed in increased demands for Israeli matriculation certificates and for full citizenship, in the rising number of Palestinians enrolled in Israeli academic institutions, and in the growing cooperation between the East Jerusalemites and the Jerusalem Municipality and state authorities. This trend can also be seen in the capital’s entertainment and shopping centers, where there are more Palestinians than at any time in the history of the united city.
These changes are also reflected in public opinion polls showing that in the event of an Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, more East Jerusalemites would prefer to remain on the Israeli side of the border than to become citizens of the new state of Palestine.
There are many reasons for these developments, most important of which is the completion of the separation barrier that has cut off East Jerusalem from its natural social and economic backyard – the villages and cities of the West Bank. The many years of occupation and the despair surrounding the negotiation process has resulted in an entire generation growing up in East Jerusalem, for whom the united city is all they know. These people seek to improve their lives here and now, rather than wait for diplomatic redemption.
Still, one should not forget that these processes are being accompanied by contrasting and even totally opposite developments – the strengthening of nationalism and of religious movements in East Jerusalem. Thus, alongside normalization, there is mounting sentiment opposed to it.
There has also been a spike in violence in East Jerusalem in recent months. After two years of relative quiet, the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian talks and tension surrounding the status of the Temple Mount has led to a wave of violence. There were 390 instances of stone-throwing at Israelis in East Jerusalem during March and April alone. The main flash points are around the Temple Mount, in the Issawiya neighborhood, and around the Jewish enclaves located in Palestinian neighborhoods.
The mounting violence is the declared rationale behind the need to launch the new plan. That prompted Jerusalem city councillor Laura Wharton to ask Sunday: “So, they’re saying that if there hadn’t been any violent incidents the municipality wouldn’t be taking care of these residents?”
This violence is also the background for the second phase of the plan, which may be the more significant one, which does not demand the creation of any new committees or cooperation from Palestinian institutions: Nearly a third of the budget allotted to the scheme, 94.5 million shekels ($27.6 million) out of the 300 million shekels, is designated for “increasing personal security” in East Jerusalem.
What’s meant by this – and let there be no doubt about it – is the personal security of the Jews in East Jerusalem, primarily the settlers living in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods. The Housing and Construction Ministry already underwrites security expenses in these enclaves, some of which are comprised of only a few families, to the tune of 65 million shekels a year. No one is planning to boost personal security for the Palestinians, especially those who live in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier, which are basically regions of anarchy.