Jan 22 2014

Status of Jerusalem may again scuttle peace talks

Published by at 11:22 am under Articles,Palestinian politics



By Daoud Kuttab

Ever since the current Palestinian-Israeli negotiations commenced, all the leaked information about the talks focused on borders and whether Israeli soldiers will be present in the Jordan Valley. Israel’s demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state received a lot of coverage. But while the Palestinian refugee issue received scant coverage, one topic was totally ignored: Jerusalem.

The US sponsors, along with the Israelis, might have thought that keeping Jerusalem out of the framework agreement would be the best way to avoid having the process blow up in their faces. Such an idea is clearly in violation of the agreement, reached at thestart of the talks, that all permanent status issues are on the table and will be discussed.

Once it became clear that Jerusalem was going to be off the table, the Palestinian and Arab side went to work. First, it was Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) meeting with a delegation of East Jerusalem institutions and assuring them that no solution will be found unless East Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state. Then off to Marrakesh, where the Moroccan sponsored Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Committee met and reiterated the same position. Jordanian and Palestinian officials also met and reportedly agreed to create a special $1 billion fund to support the occupied city of Jerusalem.

The sudden Arab flurry over Jerusalem brings back memories of what happened near the end of the 2000 Camp David summit that included US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Then, as now, the issue of Jerusalem — and not the refugee issue, as was reported in some places — was the deal breaker. Arafat adamantly refused to compromise on Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem and especially the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. Under pressure, he turned to the Arab leaders and talked to them from Camp David with a simple question that he knew the answer to: “Do you agree to any deal that doesn’t include Jerusalem?”

The negotiations over Jerusalem are generally separate from the border discussion, even though in Palestinian eyes, East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian independent state on the 1967 borders that the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized. When Israelis discuss borders and possible land swaps, they are always referring to the West Bank minus Jerusalem, which Israel annexed, insisting that the unified Jerusalem is the “eternal capital of Israel.”

In dealing with the Jerusalem issue three issues need to be resolved. What happens to the various neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which have been heavily settled by Israel since 1967? Almost as many Israeli Jews as Palestians live in East Jerusalem. The second issue of contention is the status of the 1 square kilometer (0.6 square miles) that is within the walled area of the Old City of Jerusalem. This area includes the Jewish quarter, and Palestinian negotiators have said that they are fine with that specific quarter being part of Israel. The third area of contention is the status of the holy places in Jerusalem, which are the cradle of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

These areas of contention have been addressed in study after study and in tens of proposals on how best to resolve them. From the concept that sovereignty should reside with God and that the issue should rather be how the city is administrated, to the idea that in the contentious area around the Al-Aqsa Mosque Palestinians have sovereignty over anything above ground while Israel has control over anything below ground, where they claim the remnants of the destroyed second temple exists.

Clinton made specific contributions to how to resolve the Jerusalem issue. In what is referred to as the Clinton Parameters, Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem will be part of the Palestinian state while the Jewish neighborhoods belong to Israel. The city should be united and open to all as well as its holy places.

Jordan, which signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1994, has stipulated in Article 9 that “Israel recognized the special role of Jordan in the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem and committed itself to give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines in negotiations on the permanent status.”

Ignoring the difficult issues of Jerusalem are definitely deal breakers. While Palestinians and Israelis differ the most on the future of the holy city — among all contentious issues — it makes little sense to ignore or delay coming up with some basic understandings on how the future of the city and its inhabitants will be resolved. Any attempt to gloss over this issue will most likely blow up the entire peace process.

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