Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 July 2003
Issue No. 645
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Isolating Jerusalem

In this third of a four-part series addressing the main points of the Mideast roadmap, Jonathan Cook focusses on Israel's demographic war over Jerusalem

History was made last month in Jerusalem's municipal elections when the city elected its first ultra-Orthodox mayor, Uri Lupolianski, backed by a majority bloc of religious representatives on the city council.

It was an outcome that reflected two of the key demographic factors that have been shaping life in the city since the war of 1967, when Israel conquered the West Bank, including the eastern half of Jerusalem, and began "unifying" the city as its capital.

The first was the decision taken by the Israeli leadership in the aftermath of the war to tighten its hold on Jerusalem, and the surrounding area, by transforming the city from a historic and religious symbol for the Jewish people into the concrete heart of the modern Jewish state, pumping the settlement project deep into the occupied West Bank.

By creating an enlarged "Jewish" Jerusalem that effectively severed the West Bank in two, Israel was also able to achieve a related goal: to make dreams of Palestinian statehood unrealisable.

The city's gradual metamorphosis has been effected over decades by encouraging Jewish migration -- particularly by the ultra-Orthodox -- to the city, including to illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. The ultra-Orthodox were seen as a powerful tool in this demographic battle against the Palestinian population, both because of their religious zealotry and their high birth rates, which closely match those of the Palestinians. To reinforce this trend, the popular Israeli discourse about Jerusalem concentrated ever more on the importance of the holy sites being in Jewish hands.

The second demographic factor has been the absence of Jerusalem's Palestinian population from policy-making in the city. Although a third of potential voters in the municipal area are Palestinian, they have no representation in the city council and their voice is silent on decisions made in their name. This impotence is at least partly self-inflicted: the Palestinian population has refused to legitimise Israel's illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, or its continuing rule over their lives, by voting in elections or taking Israeli citizenship. In last month's election only one Arab candidate stood, though he failed to win enough votes to be elected.

Moussa Elayan argued that despite repeated calls by Fatah, the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority, for an electoral boycott it was vital that Palestinians asserted control over their lives.

"I also don't recognise [Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem], but this is irrelevant," he said. "We must demand our rights. The media focusses on unimportant issues -- whether Fatah issued a declaration or not -- instead of the main problems: water, sewage, education, trash." In fact, by campaigning on issues such as discrimination in garbage collection Elayan was more than underestimating the problem faced by Palestinians in Jerusalem.

What Israel has been doing for the past 36 years -- even during the supposed peace process of Oslo -- is reshaping Jerusalem as its "eternal, undivided capital" through an insidious policy of ethnic cleansing: devising measures to encourage Palestinians to leave and Jews to settle in the area.

In this, the problem of Jerusalem is no different from that of the West Bank, and to a lesser extent the Gaza Strip. Settlement in and around Jerusalem presents in microcosm the Zionist mission of realising a Greater Israel. In the case of Jerusalem, however, Israel's room for manoeuvre, and obfuscation, is more limited.

For this reason, the status of Jerusalem stands as the biggest single obstacle to a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel. It was the immovable edifice that sank the negotiations at Camp David in July 2000, and it was the touch paper that a few months later, when Ariel Sharon made an incendiary visit to the Haram Al-Sharif in the Old City, lit the slow fuse of the Intifada.

It is therefore not surprising that the roadmap, the American-backed initiative to create a Palestinian state by 2005, keeps the issue of Jerusalem on the backburner till as late in the negotiations as possible. In fact the text of the document does not include mention of the city in any of the provisions related to the first and second phases, apart from a fleeting reference to the reopening of closed Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem on terms acceptable to Israel. Only in the third and final phase is Jerusalem mentioned as one of the key issues to be discussed at an international conference on Palestinian statehood, along with the other intractable problems of final borders, settlements and the refugees' right of return.

Jerusalem

So what are the central issues affecting Jerusalem that such a conference must address and how likely is it to be able to provide a set of solutions that have so far eluded all other attempts at peacemaking?

The central contention between Israelis and Palestinians is that both see Jerusalem as the future capital of their respective states. This might not pose a difficulty were Israel willing to return to the pre-1967 status quo, effectively a Jewish western Jerusalem and a Palestinian east Jerusalem, leaving only control over the key holy sites of the Old City and the Mount of Olives to be negotiated.

But the two sides' competing positions have been made irreconcilable because Israel refuses to sanction any kind of realistic division of the city. In fact, it has spent the last three decades making it both unclear exactly what it means by "Jerusalem" and how a physical separation between the two ethnic populations can be achieved.

Within weeks of Israel occupying the six square kilometres of East Jerusalem in early June 1967, the government hugely expanded the city's municipal jurisdiction by adding another 70 sq kms of the West Bank, territory that included the maximum amount of land with the minimum number of Palestinians -- although 28 Arab villages found themselves within the new boundaries. (The annexation was affirmed in Israeli law in 1980, when in violation of international law Jerusalem was declared the "eternal, undivided capital" of Israel.)

In the ensuing years more than a third of East Jerusalem -- nearly 6,000 acres of Palestinian land -- has been confiscated to build a ring of Jewish settlements like Gillo, the French Hill, Pisgat Zeev and Neve Yaacov to prevent both continuity between Palestinian districts and their expansion. Much of the rest of East Jerusalem has been designated "green areas", serving as land reserves for future settlement expansion. Jabal Abu Ghneim was classified as just such a green area in 1968; in 1991 it was rezoned so that the settlement of Har Homa could be built. Only 11 per cent of the land has been left in Palestinian hands.

Jerusalem's city limits were extended again in May 1988 when another 15 sq kms were appended to the western (Israeli) side, adding yet more Jews to the municipality and making Jerusalem a total of 123 sq kms (or more than twice the size of Tel Aviv).

The plans for Jerusalem did not end there, however. Israeli politicians of the right and left wanted to engineer the creation of an ever larger territorial area for Jerusalem -- to extend Jewish dominance over the centre of historic Palestine, isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, and deprive the Palestinians of the space needed for the emergence of their own state.

In 1983 the Likud government announced an expanded area for the city -- distinct from the municipal boundaries -- called "Greater Jerusalem" that stretched to Ramallah in the north, the Gush Etzion settlements between Bethlehem and Hebron in the south, to Jericho in the east and Beit Shemesh in the west.

The vision of Greater Jerusalem has determined Israeli planning priorities ever since, leading to the creation and reinforcement of an outer ring of settlements, including the fortified city settlements of Maale Adumim and Har Homa, that have been hardwired into Jerusalem through a series of costly bypass roads. Greater Jerusalem, an area of 440 sq kms, now covers some 30 per cent of the West Bank.

All this has been done to alter the demographic character of the city and its surroundings. From a non-existent Jewish population in East Jerusalem in 1967, it has been possible today to create virtual parity between the two ethnic groups, with 220,000 Palestinians and 200,000 Jews. Another 260,000 Jews live in West Jerusalem.

The demographic imperative, given voice by the 1973 Gafni committee on the development of Jerusalem, is to keep the city's ethnic balance fixed as it was in 1972: at a ratio of 74 per cent Jews to 26 per cent Arabs. On this formulation, any alteration favouring the Palestinians is perceived as catastrophic.

Given the high birth rates of the Palestinian population, Israel has struggled to maintain this ratio (currently about 32 per cent of the 680,000 residents of Jerusalem are Palestinian). It has therefore resorted to a series of bureaucratic measures to make life as unbearable as possible for Palestinian Jerusalemites, thereby encouraging them to move out of the city and into the West Bank.

One of the main measures has been the imposition of harsh restrictions on residency rights. Jerusalemites must apply to the Interior Ministry for family reunification before a Palestinian spouse, child or relative can reside legally with them in the city. Most such requests are turned down. Various laws also mean a Jerusalemite who lives abroad or in the West Bank or Gaza -- who cannot prove that their "centre of life" is in the city -- risks losing his or her right to permanent residency.

Another pressure has been the criminalisation of most Palestinian house construction. No master plan for East Jerusalem has ever been approved, only piecemeal local plans. Even these plans heavily restrict the areas in which construction can be carried out, limit the number of housing units to be built without considering local needs, and make it expensive, if not impossible, to attain building permits. Homes built in contravention of these requirements -- and that covers most Palestinian construction -- are threatened with demolition.

Palestinian areas are also deprived of most municipal services such as roads, refuse collection and recreational facilities.

Teddy Kollek, a former Jerusalem mayor, candidly told an interviewer in 1990: "For Jewish Jerusalem I did something in the past 25 years. For East Jerusalem? Nothing! What did I do? Nothing! Sidewalks? Nothing! Cultural institutions? Not one! Yes, we installed a sewerage system for them and improved the water supply. Do you know why? Do you think it was for their good, for their welfare? Forget it! There were some cases of cholera there and the Jews were afraid they would catch it."

A municipal policy equalising arnona, or the business tax, across Jerusalem means that shopkeepers in poor locations in the east side of the city have to pay as much as those in the hugely profitable central locations on the west side. This has penalised Arab businesses, encouraging them to relocate to Palestinian villages outside the city boundaries where they can take advantage of cheaper rates.

Israel has also severed East Jerusalem from its Palestinian commercial and social hinterland, particularly Ramallah and Bethlehem, through the imposition of an entry permit system and more recently the closure policy. Following the Gulf War, in 1991, Israel set up nine checkpoints on the eastern roads leading into the city, making it ever harder for Palestinians without Jerusalem ID cards to enter. In early 2000, Palestinians were required to apply for magnetic ID cards before they could seek permission to enter, and since the eruption of the Intifada a total ban on entry has been strictly enforced.

The main result of the closure of Jerusalem to West Bank Palestinians has been the slow withering of the political, social and cultural significance of the city in Palestinian life. Combined with the shortage of office space and the Israeli ban on political activity in East Jerusalem, many institutions -- including hospitals and schools -- closed during the 1990s and relocated to neighbouring Palestinian districts. Israel set the seal on this process in August 2001 when it invaded Orient House, the unofficial headquarters of the PLO in East Jerusalem. The building was shut down after the army confiscated all the documents inside the building.

To achieve a viable Palestinian state, any "roadmap conference" will have to confront three explosive questions about the future of Jerusalem: how to evacuate settlements in East Jerusalem and effectively partition the city between Jews and Arabs; how to realise Palestinian sovereignty over Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state; and how to carve up authority over the holy sites in ways that will not offend the religious sensibilities of either nation?

The lessons of the Camp David negotiations in July 2000 are instructive. The talks failed on all three counts, largely because Israel's unrealistic terms (minor tinkering with the illegal status quo) were accepted by the Americans. On the question of the settlements, Israel insisted on keeping the main blocs, including Maale Adumim, thereby making partition impracticable. Israel faces precisely this problem now as it grapples with building a "separation wall" in a city where Jews and Arabs live in close proximity.

Israel's views on this issue appear unchanged despite its avowed desire to improve its "security" through separation. Settlement expansion continues to grow apace, including in the heart of East Jerusalem. In April, for example, the first four Jewish families moved into a new housing project built in the Palestinian district of Ras Al- Amud and financed by American Jewish millionaire Irving Moskowitz. In other areas, like Sheikh Jarrar, tiny outposts of Jewish settlers are given round-the-clock protection by Israeli security guards. This has led even the PLO's Jerusalem task force, which presented Palestinian positions at Camp David, to assert in the past few months that a two-state solution is looking increasingly unfeasible.

On the question of sovereignty, the Palestinians demanded at Camp David adherence to Security Council Resolution 242: Palestinian sovereignty over all of Arab East Jerusalem occupied in 1967, leaving Israel the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall. Israel, on the other hand, wanted all the spoils of its illegal annexation and offered only verbal trickery instead. The Palestinians would be given sovereignty over outlying villages, including Abu Dis which they were to rename Al-Quds (the Arabic name for Jerusalem) and which would become their capital. Inside the Arab quarters of the Old City and Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem, the Palestinians would get limited self-rule. The enforced closure of Orient House in 2001 only reinforced the impression that Israel's position is unchanged on this issue. Sharon said as much in late May, on Jerusalem Day, when he observed: "We will never concede Jerusalem. Never. As the prime minister of Israel, I am proud of the right to be Jerusalem's protector."

And finally there is little prospect of hope on the question of the holy sites. In fact, the evidence suggests Israel is continuing to raise the stakes on the future of the Haram Al-Sharif, or the Temple Mount as it is known to Jews. This raised site, located in the Old City, is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. For Muslims, it hosts two important mosques, the Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, making it the third holiest site in Islam. For Jews, it is the spot where the Second Temple stood before its destruction 2,000 years ago and the site of the Western Wall, all that remains today of the temple.

Until Camp David Israel had never dared assert its authority over the site, knowing that to do so would unleash passions across the whole Muslim world. Instead a Palestinian waqf (Islamic trust) has administered the mosque compound, under the eagle eye of the Israeli police. But at Camp David Israel changed its position, demanding sovereignty over the site, as well as provision for Jewish prayer on the hilltop. This was assumed by the Palestinians to be a reference to potential plans to build a synagogue in the mosque compound -- a demand long made by Jewish Messianic extremists, who also want the mosques destroyed. In fact, prayer on Temple Mount has been banned by all rabbinical authorities since the Middle Ages but Barak employed a new rhetoric, calling the mount the "holy of holies" and articulating an apparent new Jewish sensitivity about ownership of the whole site.

It is unclear whether this tactic was designed to up the ante, by forcing greater concessions from the Palestinians in return for Barak "sacrificing" the mount, or whether the Israeli prime minister hoped his intransigence would scupper the talks, as it soon did. What is certain is that Barak's negotiating posture unleashed a new rhetoric about the central place of the Temple Mount in Judaism, a language subsequently adopted by most of Israel's leading politicians and officials, including the current prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

Thus, the Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi did not hesitate to say in May that he was preparing to force the waqf to allow non- Muslims to "pray" at the site. "It is impossible to reconcile ourselves for a prolonged period to a situation where it is not permitted for all adherents of all religions to visit and pray at Temple Mount." Paradoxically, Jews have long been banned from praying at the site by their own religious authorities; Palestinians, on the other hand, have found it increasingly difficult to pray at the two mosques in the compound since the Israeli-imposed closures began a decade ago. Nowadays prayer is all but impossible.

On Monday, it was revealed that the head of the Shin Bet, Avi Dichter, and the commander of the Jerusalem police, Mickey Levy, had secretly started allowing Jews to visit Temple Mount two months ago, without seeking waqf permission. This decision was assumed to have been taken in coordination with Sharon, who recently said he would "quietly" reopen Temple Mount to Jews when the time was right.

Also in May the minister in charge of Jerusalem affairs, Natan Sharansky, announced plans to bring one million Jews to Jerusalem in an attempt to cement their identification with the city. Schoolchildren and soldiers will be required to visit the city, local authorities will get money to arrange trips for local residents, and the Histadrut, the country's labour federation, will be expected to bring workers on day trips.

There seems little sign of Israel preparing to show greater flexibility on the status of the holy sites.

If the roadmap conference is ever convened, the Palestinian negotiators -- like Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000 -- will face an insurmountable obstacle, in the shape of Jerusalem, to reaching a deal. They will be caught between the rock of unrelenting Israeli demands, backed by the international community, for control of the city and its holy places and the hard place of the Muslim world's refusal to let the Palestinians sign away one of Islam's holiest sites.

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