Even This Far-reaching Peace Initiative Is No Longer Sure That Jerusalem Can Be Divided

A document prepared in parallel to the plan released by the Trump administration questions whether a division of the city is still relevant

Nir Hasson
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Jerusalem, as seen from Abu Dis, the town earmarked for the Palestinian capital in Trump's Mideast plan, January 2, 2019.
Jerusalem, as seen from Abu Dis, the town earmarked for the Palestinian capital in Trump's Mideast plan, January 2, 2019.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS
Nir Hasson

As U.S. President Donald Trump launched his Middle East peace plan last month, which almost totally ignored Palestinian demands, the authors of the Geneva Initiative were reconsidering their recommendations. The 2003 plan also called the Geneva Accord, proposed that Jerusalem be divided in accordance with the pre-1967 borders, with adjustments.

But now, in a document prepared in parallel to the plan released by the Trump administration, questions have been raised as to whether a division of the city is still relevant. The new document proposes a two-state solution, with Jerusalem remaining an open city, but offer no solution to the security problems that this option entails.

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The Geneva Initiative was signed by unofficial Israeli and Palestinian teams headed by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, respectively. The guiding principle was a physical division into two states, Israel and Palestine, with Jerusalem divided into two cities by means of a boundary, and crossings in the heart of the city. The city boundary would be based on the 1967 lines, with annexation of the Israel neighborhoods built beyond the Green Line. There was no reference to Har Homa, which was built after the Oslo Accords in an area designated for the Palestinians.

Since then, despite the fact that Israeli politicians have ignored it, many people consider the Geneva Initiative the most realistic plan for a future agreement. As opposed to the Trump initiative, which is a general proposal with an unclear map, the Geneva Accord has thousands of pages of detailed solutions for issues that include borders, security, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem.

About a year ago Geneva Initiative proponents decided their solution for Jerusalem required reexamination. Prof. Menachem Klein, an expert on the city who served as a consultant on negotiations with the Palestinians and is one of the authors of the Geneva Accord, and Lior Lahres, a researcher with a focus on Jerusalem, wrote a paper detailing the problems of dividing the city and the possibility of an open-city solution.

Palestinian men prays near the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City January 31, 2020.
Palestinian men prays near the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City January 31, 2020. Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Originally Jerusalem was to be divided by a border fence, with crossings for workers and tourists. The Old City would be an open city. The reasons for reconsideration: expansion of the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem; infrastructure that crosses the city; the construction of the separation barrier that has caused Palestinians in the city to work, study and use goods and services in West Jerusalem, and the economic interdependence of the two parts.

The new document proposes expanding the open city context to all of Jerusalem. Both Israel and the new Palestinian state would have sovereignty in the city. The Palestinian capital would be in East Jerusalem, with no border between the two cities. Jerusalem would continue the function as a single city, with close cooperation between the two sides. This would require a new legal system.

The open city solution has always been the official Palestinian approach, but Israel always rejected it for security reasons. The problem is that it requires isolating Jerusalem from the rest of the country to prevent the free movement of people and goods between the two states. The authors propose examining technological solutions to monitor such movement even without physical barriers.

The security experts supporting the Geneva Initiative oppose the new proposal for Jerusalem for security reasons. In an open city, Israel would have to rely on the Palestinians to carry out inspections at the entrance to Jerusalem from the Palestinian territories, and Israelis and Palestinians would be forced to accept a situation in which the capital is cut off from the rest of the country.

According to Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer who specializes in Jerusalem’s geopolitics, the open city idea is unfeasible: “An attack by extremist factors on both sides during an agreement is not a possibility, it’s a certainty. We must have a physical border between us.”

“The Palestinians can live in an open city, says Geneva Initiative director Gadi Baltiansky. “The problem is with the Israelis, who want a clear physical boundary between the two cities and states. Perhaps the consensual solution is in the middle, between dichotomous division and the open city.”

Klein believes the Israelis are much more ready for an open city. “There’s far more acceptance of the presence of Arabs and Arabic in Jerusalem and outside. There’s recognition that this space is shared and not exclusive. The test is how to create not a binational city, but two open cities with easy passage, two prosperous cities that aren’t mutually hostile.”

The golden shrine of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old city as seen from the village of Abu Dis in the outskirts of Jerusalem in 2004.
The golden shrine of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old city as seen from the village of Abu Dis in the outskirts of Jerusalem in 2004.Credit: ENRIC MARTI,AP

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