Analysis |

Trump’s Plan Calls for ‘Sensitivity’ in Jerusalem. Then Takes a Hammer to It

The plan is also short on details and full of contradictions about things like the status quo on the Temple Mount

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Israeli border police arrests a Palestinian ahead of a protest against Middle East peace plan, in Jerusalem, January 29, 2020.
Israeli border police arrests a Palestinian ahead of a protest against Middle East peace plan, in Jerusalem, January 29, 2020. Credit: AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

A bulldozer in a china shop. That’s how the section of U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan on Jerusalem feels. The authors of the plan talk about the need to treat the issue of Jerusalem’s holy sites with “utmost sensitivity,” but they are brutally trampling over the sensitive, complex and dangerous problems. It shows a minimal understanding of the city, does not delve into details and is rife with major contradictions.

For example, the plan declares the status quo in the holy sites will be maintained: “In particular the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif should continue uninterrupted.” But in the next paragraph it says: “People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.”

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But the most important section of the unwritten status quo on the Temple Mount is that Jews and other non-Muslims have no right to pray there. This status quo was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself, in his own voice, in 2015. So what is the significance of the status quo if everyone has the right to pray on the Temple Mount?

The authors of the American plan totally accept the view that Israel has the right to continue to keep all the holy sites. This right, according to the authors of the peace plan, who base themselves on Netanyahu here, stems not only from Israel’s ties to these holy sites but also because it is the only ruler that safeguarded the freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem. As a result, the plan concludes that Israel should continue to maintain the Holy Basin area.

The plan even includes a list of the 35 holy sites in the city, including the City of David, the Pool of Siloam and numerous churches. For the Palestinians: “Licenses shall be provided to Palestinian tour guides to operate tours in the Old City of Jerusalem as well as at sites sacred to Christianity and Islam in other areas of Jerusalem.” In return, they are supposed to give up what is considered to be a religious symbol and the most important center of their nationalism.

According to the Trump peace plan, almost all of Jerusalem will remain in Israeli hands, except for two small corners: The Shoafat refugee camp and Kafr Akeb in the north of the city. These two neighborhoods, which are within Jerusalem’s municipal borders, were cut off from the capital about 15 years ago when the separation barrier was constructed. As a result of this isolation, Israeli authorities almost completely withdrew from these neighborhoods and anarchy reigned.

As a result, huge apartment buildings were constructed there illegally, and today some 120,000 to 140,000 people live there, most of whom have Israeli residency. In other words, one out of every three Palestinians in Jerusalem lives in these two neighborhoods, which will be left outside of the city according to the plan.

The plan proposes that the Palestinians make these two ill-fated neighborhoods – along with Abu Dis in eastern Jerusalem – their capital. The plan is even surprisingly generous to the Palestinians in the way it allows them to call this capital city al-Quds, “or another name selected by the State of Palestine.” To emphasize their generosity, this phrase is even repeated three times in the document.

Residents of these neighborhoods beyond the fence were shocked by this part of the plan. For a long time, they have feared Israel was plotting to cut them off from their city. Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin even promoted such a plan. On Tuesday, residents of the Shoafat refugee camp and Kafr Akeb could be heard panicking and many were asking if they needed to start looking for apartments inside Jerusalem, or somewhere else in Israel, so as not to lose their rights.

These are Palestinians from Jerusalem, who moved to these neighborhoods because of a housing shortage in East Jerusalem. Their work, schools, health clinics, mosques and relatives are in Jerusalem. If a border is established between them and all this, it will be disastrous for them – and for us.

To calm friends of mine from there, I sent them a copy of the Basic Law on Jerusalem. The law was advanced enthusiastically by the right and it is now the strongest legal barrier to implementing the plan in Jerusalem. The Basic Law on Jerusalem is the most entrenched law in Israel’s law books. If the Israeli government does want to transfer the neighborhoods beyond the fence to the Palestinian Authority or Palestinian state, it will need to approve it with a super-majority of at least 80 Knesset members, and also through a referendum. It seems that for now, the Palestinians in the refugee camp can stay calm. Jerusalem city council member Arieh King has already attacked the plan for dividing Jerusalem.

What will happen to the 200,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem, inside the fence? The plan proposes that they choose between remaining residents of Israel, or becoming citizens of the Palestinian state. No, there is no explanation as to how it will work or who will provide them with services. Which police will serve them? For which parliament will they vote and what authority will that parliament will have over their lives? Or they can become Israeli citizens. As of today, Israel says they have the possibility of becoming citizens, but this is an empty declaration, because the process of receiving citizenship is so difficult and long that it is irrelevant for the great majority of the residents of East Jerusalem.

Nowhere is the plan’s disconnect from reality more apparent than in the section addressing a “special tourist area.” This section states that Israel will allow Palestinians to develop a special tourism zone in Atarot in the far north of Jerusalem, but is located on the Israeli side of the separation barrier – and the future border, according to Trump’s peace plan. It is completely clear that whoever wrote this section has never visited Atarot. The neighborhood is made up of an ugly and neglected industrial zone, the Qalandiya checkpoint, a waste separation facility, a huge concrete wall and an abandoned airport. Why would someone want to visit there?

We can continue analyzing the absurdities of the plan, the lacunae and contradictions – but it would be a waste of time. This proposed peace plan needs to be examined according to only one single measure: Today, two babies were born in the Hadassah University Hospital on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, one Israeli and one Palestinian. Will this peace plan guarantee them that in another 20 years the two young people will have equal rights? Will both of them have a country? Will both of them be able to influence their own lives by voting? Will they have the right of equal access to resources, space, self-determination, freedom of movement, freedom of worship and dignity?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then this is not a peace plan and it is not a solution – it is part of the problem.

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