Saturday,19 January, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)
Saturday,19 January, 2019
Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Jerusalem elections

The emergence of a joint Palestinian-Israeli list for October’s municipal elections in Jerusalem points the way to a new strategy for achieving Palestinian survival and rights, writes Abdel-Moneim Said


Among the worst possible policies is to wage a battle whose time has lapsed or to sue for peace when the proper conditions no longer exist. The worst possible applications of such policies arise from the inability to discern changing realities. In all such cases, diplomacy and war achieve nothing but to kill time in international forums.

Previously, in this column, we have observed that developments related to the Palestinian cause are proceeding at two levels: the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships and, secondly, geographic and demographic realities on the ground. At the first level, the conflict still persists in various modes, through diplomacy striving towards the so-called two-state solution, and through conflict in the form of rhetoric and the occasional missile fire on the part of the Palestinian resistance or the attacks that Israel wages against Gaza. The second level unfolds around that compelling fact that 12 million people lie between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, half of whom are Palestinians and the other half of whom are Jews. Due to demographic overlaps and mutual dependency in many fields, there has evolved a political and economic space that has generated political movements markedly different to those occurring at the leadership level and that propel towards a single, dual national entity.

The latest manifestations of the changing realities have taken two forms. The first is the Palestinian march for return primarily being staged in Gaza. Although there has been some stone-throwing violence, observers agree that the protests are generally peaceful. They seek the return of some 70 per cent of the refugee inhabitants in Gaza who had been displaced from their homes during the 1948 War. With no Palestinian state to accommodate them, they have been kept in refugee camps for much longer than a people can humanly tolerate. As a result, the return to their old towns and villages has become an aim in and of itself.

The second manifestation is a joint Palestinian-Israeli electoral list that plans to run in the next Jerusalem municipal elections. Perhaps it was no coincidence that this occurred at a time when the US declared its determination to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as a token of its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel alone, even if Washington left the door open to negotiation over the city’s final status. But such political gymnastics aside, some 350,000 Palestinians have permanent residence in Jerusalem and are entitled to vote in the municipal elections that are scheduled for October.

The Yerushalayim-Al Quds list (using both the Hebrew and Arab names of the city) was founded by Palestinian rights activist Aziz Abu Sarah and veteran Jewish peace activist Gershon Baskin. It will be made up of equal numbers of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs and equal numbers of men and women. It will be headed by the Palestinian, Abu Sarah. The members of this diverse group of people share the belief that Jerusalem is city of diversity and that it is essential to respect the rights and needs of all inhabitants of what they, at least, describe as a collective city.

The Palestinians, in spite of their ancient roots and their homes and properties in the city, have only been granted permanent residency, having refused to apply for Israeli nationality in anticipation of the day of the declaration of establishment of Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Only a minority of Palestinians have applied for and received Israeli citizenship, becoming a component of the demographic weave called the Arabs of Israel. There are approximately two million Palestinians with Israeli nationality. In 2003, Israeli authorities began to reject nationalisation applications from Palestinian residents in Jerusalem. They have, more significantly, also stripped 14,000 Palestinians of their residency rights in Jerusalem on various pretexts. Participating in municipal elections has become another means of Palestinian resistance. Its purpose is to safeguard the Palestinians’ identity with Jerusalem and their survival in the Holy City in which they make up 40 per cent of the population.

This electoral approach to the question of Jerusalem not only addresses the religious dimension, which juxtaposes Al-Aqsa Mosque with the Wailing Wall, and the political dimension, which pits Jerusalem as a capital for two states, as the Palestinian Authority advocates, against Jerusalem as the capital of only one state, as Israel is pushing for, but it also addresses the dimension of Jerusalem as a place where people live and share a range of common interests and concerns. There have been previous Palestinian attempts to field electoral lists, but they were unsuccessful. This one stands out because it approaches the general Palestinian cause not from the standpoint of hostility and conflict but rather from the standpoint of peaceful coexistence based on respect for the rights of all Arab and Jewish sectors of society in the city. The joint Arab-Jewish list will be greeted by strong resistance on the part of Palestinians who will see it as a concession to the unity of the city and a pre-emption of the partition needed to create a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. However, the stiffer resistance will come from Israel which has been working relentlessly to promote the Judaicisation of Jerusalem and to drive out native Arab Jerusalemites by making life for them as difficult as possible. This said, public opinion polls point to an increasing trend among the Palestinians to avail themselves of all possible means to safeguard their Jerusalem residence, including running for membership in that city’s municipal council. Also, an Israeli pro-peace minority will back this electoral list.

Regardless of the results of the Jerusalem municipal elections in October, the trend is towards growing bonds between Arabs and Jews at the level of day-to-day realities on the ground between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. The lessons from the experiences of the 1948 Arabs, or the Arabs of Israel, have informed the current trends coming from Gaza and East Jerusalem. Clinging to the land was the first and highest strategic aim. This made it possible to promote the demographic factor, relating to the day-to-day life concerns and survival needs of the people on the ground, over the boycott policies and, on this basis, to create the framework for a political entity to advocate and promote the realisation of equality and basic human rights.

The process, here, is different. It did not originate with and nor has it brought on board yet international parties that still declare their commitment to the two-state solution. But reality works in its own ways. It imposes its methods through human interactions and their interweaving patterns of interests. The Arab world, while continuing to support the Palestinians’ right to self-determination through their sole legitimate representative, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, should forge bridges with the Palestinians inside Israel with an eye to encouraging and promoting everything that will help them remain on the land of Palestine. The Nakba occurred 70 years ago with the Palestinian exodus. The Naksa, 50 years ago, put the Palestinians under occupation again. This time, instead of another Nakba or a Naksa, there should be diverse means to secure survival and peaceful coexistence in a climate of equality and dignity.

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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