Thwarting Any Chance of a Solution in Jerusalem

There can be no two-state solution without a compromise in Jerusalem. The latest moves to expand Israel’s presence in the eastern part of the city will make such a compromise impossible.

Lior Amihai
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Settlers moved into this Silwan house overnight Sunday.
Settlers moved into this Silwan house overnight Sunday.Credit: Emil Salman
Lior Amihai

After the Six-Day War, Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem and another approximately 29 Palestinian villages around it. Other countries and the Palestinians never recognized this annexation and the demand to establish the capital of the Palestinian state in East Jerusalem still stands. And so it is clear that a two-state solution cannot come about without a compromise over Jerusalem.

Such a compromise was proposed at the time by U.S. President Bill Clinton. According to this compromise, the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem will be recognized as part of the capital of the Israeli state, while the Palestinian neighborhoods will be part of the Palestinian capital. Clinton’s proposal contains many advantages, as well as difficulties. On the one hand it makes it possible for 99.9 percent of the city’s residents to remain in their homes, without having to change their way of life. After all, for all intents and purposes Jerusalem is a divided city. There is complete separation between the populations. Transportation and education is separate, Jews do not visit Palestinian neighborhoods and vice versa. On the other hand, the fact that in the eastern part of the city 11 large neighborhoods were built with a population of some 200,000 Jews, makes it difficult to divide the city according to the Clinton proposal, because it would transform the city into a kind of interrupted matrix by borders and crossing points.

Moreover, the Palestinians will have to accept the Jewish neighborhoods as facts, even though they were built contrary to international law and will remain dividers in the heart of their capital. The Clinton plan therefore requires not only an Israeli compromise but a major Palestinian one as well.

The latest news – of advancement of a plan to build a neighborhood at Givat Hamatos and of settlers moving into buildings in Silwan – attest to another major obstacle to efforts to resolve the problem of Jerusalem. The Clinton plan related to the situation in the city at the time, attempting to find a solution that would avoid the evacuation of Israelis, despite the difficulties it would create with regard to finding a way to divide the city. The establishment of a new Jewish neighborhood at Givat Hamatos will become another obstacle in the division of the city. Givat Hamatos is next to Beit Safafa. The Jewish neighborhood will cut off the Palestinian neighborhood from the rest of the Palestinian neighborhoods in the city and will rule out any possibility of Beit Safafa’s development. Givat Hamatos, together with Gilo and Har Homa, will also bring about Israeli contiguity in southern Jerusalem, creating a physical barrier between Palestinian Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. While the government of Israel claims that Bethlehem can be linked to East Jerusalem, the Palestinians argue that contiguity in terms of transportation is not enough. They need territorial contiguity to be able to develop their state, particularly in Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. The prime minister’s claim that Givat Hamatos will be built for both Israelis and Palestinians is sorrowfully ridiculous. Since 1967 successive Israeli governments have not built even one neighborhood for Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents. The 11 neighborhoods built in East Jerusalem are all Jewish ones.

Indeed, since the construction of the separation wall the number of Palestinians from East Jerusalem seeking apartments within Jerusalem has grown. One of the main reasons for this is the transformation of the Palestinian suburbs of Jerusalem, such as Abu Dis, Azzariyeh and Anata into dangerous places for residents of East Jerusalem. These areas are outside Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, and because the inhabitants of East Jerusalem are not considered citizens, the law allows their residency permit to be taken away if there is proof that they have not lived within the city limits for a certain amount of time.

Thus, the penetration of settlers into Silwan is not just another act that will make a solution in Jerusalem more difficult. As opposed to Jewish neighborhoods that were built and that penetrated the Palestinian area of East Jerusalem, the entry of settlers into Silwan is penetration of the Palestinian neighborhoods themselves. In fact, the settlers of Silwan are trying to make Silwan Jewish to prevent it from becoming part of the Palestinian state, and are thus actually torpedoing the Clinton plan. Their violent entry, accompanied by armed private security guards and police, with the intention of damaging the character of the village and the fabric of its life, only underscores this aspiration. Since the settlers entered Silwan, there has also been disproportionate development of Jewish tourism, such as the archaeological excavations under the homes of Palestinians who are also under permanent threat of removal from their homes.

The claim that the settlers have a right to live in Silwan because they bought apartments there legally is a mockery. The law might work in their favor, but that is the distorted nature of the whole story. Everything works in their favor, not only the law. Their move to the Palestinian neighborhood would not have been possible if not for direct support by the government, the municipality, the police, planning and construction policy, tourism policy, the transfer of funds and the way the police work.

The Clinton plan proposes no easy compromise for one of the most difficult issues of the conflict. But it’s a compromise that prevents the evacuation of people and allows both populations to maintain their lifestyles for the most part. Attempts by the right wing to advance construction at Givat Hamatos and to settle in Palestinian neighborhoods is first and foremost an attempt to thwart any possibility of a solution in Jerusalem and thus also a two-state solution.

The writer is a member of the Peace Now settlement-monitoring team.

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