|Footnote to my previous post -- Jerusalem as the only stumbling block in the Middle East negociations:|
Jerusalem Quarterly File
Double Issue 11-12, 2001
The Prospects for a Shared Jerusalem
Salim Tamari also refuted the claim that Jerusalem is an open city delineating the type of discriminatory policies faced by Palestinians that would indicate that simply respecting each other's legacy in the city is not enough. He reminded the audience that while Israelis are free to move and settle anywhere within Jerusalem, Palestinians are barred from visiting or from even reclaiming their properties in West Jerusalem: "As long as one group is denied access to the other side of the city, then we have to treat the colonial presence of the city on the Arab side as a colonial or settler presence." According to Tamari, the illegal presence of 200,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem was a key reason for the collapse of the discussions on Jerusalem during the Camp David talks. Whereas Ben-Meir referred to the presence of settlers in East Jerusalem as a historical right, Tamari argued that these settlers were "imported" into East Jerusalem to ensure a Jewish majority in the Palestinian areas of the city. The importing of Jewish residents is part of an overall plan by the Israeli government to reduce the proportion of Palestinian residents in Jerusalem. The effects were felt in 1985 when, for the first time since the Israeli occupation of 1967, Israeli Jews formed the greater part of East Jerusalem's population. The tactics of the Israeli government are various and irreversible. Strict and discriminatory building codes favoring Jewish residents have forced Palestinian residents to the margins of the city or the West Bank; once they live outside of Jerusalem boundaries, the Israeli government accuses them of leaving the city and strips many of them of their residency. Tamari also discussed how damaging the Oslo process has been for the Palestinian people. Economic life, for instance, has been stunted, as continual closures imposed on Palestinian areas have severed the West Bank and Gaza from Jerusalem - their main metropolitan center and commercial marketing outlet.
While Tamari and Khalidi unsurprisingly pointed to the status quo of the Israeli occupation as the root cause for the failure of the Oslo/Camp David framework, Ben Meir called for its formalization within the negotiations framework: "Both sides should continue to administer their holy places as they have" since Israel captured the Old City in 1967. The Palestinians have been exercising de facto sovereignty over their holy shrines and educational institutions. Israel should now formalize this arrangement by extending extraterritoriality to the Palestinians over the entire area called Haram al-Sharif - including much of the Old City where a majority of Palestinians reside. This solution "could satisfy the Muslim needs without compromising the integrity of a united city." Rashid Khalidi countered that such a plan will not lead to a satisfactory or equitable solution for the sharing of Jerusalem's holy places: "The status quo has led to killings, on three occasions in ten years of Palestinian worshippers on the Haram al-Sharif. This, to my way of thinking, is not an acceptable status quo. People were shot down in 1990, 1996, and 2000 in one of the holiest places in Islam." The status quo has led to "violence in holy places all over Palestine - in both Jewish and Muslim holy places," he reiterates.
Interestingly, one of the main discussion points of Daniel Seidemann is that there is no status quo per se in Jerusalem, alluding to the fact that Jerusalem's current reality is one of instability and constant flux. Although the city is seen as the "detonator" of the current uprising, which is blamed on Sharon's visit to the Haram al-Sharif, the city remains quiet on the surface. Yet Seidemann urged people not to be deceived by the apparent calm: "Jerusalem is like an atomic device. When it blows, watch out..." He believes that expectations of Palestinians in East Jerusalem are high and that they will not accept a continuation of Israeli hegemony. Seidemann issued a "dire" warning, saying the Intifada will find its way into Jerusalem, especially if the current move towards unilateralism is completed: "Unilateral withdrawal is almost like a surgical removal between Israelis and Palestinians. Nothing will motivate the Palestinians in Jerusalem more than if they are to be sealed from their hinterland in Ramallah."