Sharing Jerusalem: Key to wider peace
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz | Saturday, 02.27.2010, 03:38 AM

Jerusalem is not just a city in historic Palestine or Biblical Israel. This city arguably holds all the knots of the conflict between Arabs and Israelis. Jerusalem invokes issues of identity, history, demography, borders, refugees, settlements and security.

A Palestinian man smokes a cigarette beside Israeli soldiers after minor clashes with Palestinian stone-throwers in the West Bank city of Hebron February 23, 2010. Israel's plan to include the Biblical Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in a project for rehabilitating Jewish and Zionist heritage sites touched off violent Palestinian protests on Monday and Tuesday. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

In December 2009, Europe was poised to make an important political declaration: East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state. That was too good to be true. Israel's lobby managed to outsmart the leading Scandinavian voice that was well expressed in the first draft of this declaration. The final draft was tame: it called on the two parties to resolve the issue of Jerusalem through negotiation. The negotiation has been stalled, as Israel insists on continuing the building of settlements in East Jerusalem.

Europe, which remains an ally of Israel, is aware that the status-quo in Jerusalem is unsustainable. The occupation generates insensitivity to injustice and the settlements arouse Arab anger. The city of peace runs on a double standard of living, expands through annexation, reverses history through demolition of Palestinian housing and creates new realities through illegal settlements.

Current plans for a final resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict are fading away. In a hypothetical Palestinian-Israeli agreement, west Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel and east Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. The two states would share planning, management and operation of a functionally integrated, albeit politically divided city.

The hard line position of Israel on Jerusalem is explicitly stated by the current government of Prime Minister Netanyahu who insists that Jerusalem will never be a part of a future Palestinian state. He considers metropolitan Jerusalem the "re-unified, eternal capital" of the Jewish state.

An Israeli peace activist holds a placard during a demonstration, marking the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War, in the West Bank city of Hebron in this June 5, 2007 file picture.          REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun

Palestinians are furious about the ease with which Israel has acquired and transformed Jerusalem, unilaterally, without arousing strong and effective international objection.

Jerusalem could provide a model for coexistence of the two people. Anchoring Palestinians in East Jerusalem would be an acknowledgement that they are linked to Abraham, just as Jews are, that they are indigenous to the Holy Land and that they are entitled to this historic place.

When Arabs and Israelis agree to share Jerusalem, other contentious issues are likely to become manageable; and both parties would be more inclined to show flexibility on the questions of refugees, borders, security and settlements.

In sharing Jerusalem, Palestinians would be motivated to adjust their claims to the right of return to their homeland, from which they were evicted by war and intimidation. They would be mindful of the Jewish demographic character of Israel. Refugees would be motivated to integrate their right of return with the equally important rights of self realization: accepting new opportunities of social integration, gearing up for industrial growth, quality education and social empowerment.

Muslim and Christian Palestinians are not strangers to Al Quds (Jerusalem). In 1947, Jerusalem's population was less than half Jewish, with a Muslim majority of the non-Jewish population.

Today, the population of Jerusalem is nearly one third Palestinian. Minorities of Orthodox, local Lutheran and Anglican Palestinians, Armenian Christians, Egyptian Copts, as well as a mosaic of Western Christians are an important part of the original residents of this city of great diversity. About 250,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. Since the 1967 occupation, about the same number of Israelis moved into a much expanded East Jerusalem. The current population of Metropolitan Jerusalem exceeds 750, 000.

While Jerusalem is the center for the Jewish world, it is also considered holy by the Christian and Muslim world communities. Fifteen million Christians in the Middle East, the descendants of indigenous Christian communities of historic Antioch, Alexandria, Damascus and Jerusalem, revere Jerusalem. The international community of the three so-called Abrahamic religions considers this honored place the "Shining City." Over fifty Muslim-majority countries have special sentiments for this city.

From the city of peace, Arabs and Israelis might find ways to expand cooperation to the entire Holy Land and the wider Middle East. After being an empowered community, Palestinians might be destined to mediate between the Jewish community and the Arab and Muslim worlds. Jerusalem could be the key to achieving lasting peace.

The way things are now, Jerusalem is a recipe of conflict for future generations. When will Europe listen to its people, whose majority would favor the initial draft on Jerusalem?


By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

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