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03 september 2011

This article was first published in The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre,  and is republished here with their full permission.
Jerusalem, Israel
Some rights reserved by Adam Reeder - Flickr.
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The Jewish attachment to Jerusalem is incontrovertible. However, the realities in Jerusalem today clash with Israel’s genuine interests, and a blind devotion to exclusive Israeli rule over a mythical “undivided” city poses grave existential challenges to the long-term viability of Israel and its character. Indeed, a drama of historic proportions is unfolding in Jerusalem today. If the Government of Israel continues on its current course – pursuing its claims and policies of sole Israeli control over the entire city – Jerusalem will soon become the arena where the two-state solution is lost forever. If it follows this path, Israel will continue on a collision course with the Arab world, the world churches and much of the international community, and condemn the City of Jerusalem to become an impoverished, increasingly-violent backwater. By pursuing an alternative course – a political division of the city in a way that guarantees genuine Israeli and Jewish national interests – Israel will achieve what it needs and deserves most: recognition of Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel, and universal recognition of the Jewish attachment to the city, which will be the crowning achievement of Zionism.

The millennia-old attachment of the Jewish people to  Jerusalem, and the centrality of contemporary Jerusalem     as     Israel’s     national     capital     are incontrovertible. They are embedded in the religious and historic sites of the Old City and its environs, and in the modern Jewish city that has emerged over the last century  and  a half. Whether evoking the ancient memories of exile  and redemption, or the more recent traumas of denial of access to ancestral sacred sites between 1949 and 1967, Jerusalem is at the core of the collective identities of Israelis and Jews throughout the world.

But the  realities  in  Jerusalem  today  clash  with Israel’s  genuine interests, and a blind devotion to exclusive Israeli  rule over a mythical “undivided” city poses grave existential challenges to the long- term viability of Israel and its character.

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A divided Jerusalem is already a reality

Jerusalem today is a de facto bi-national city. In 1967, the Palestinians represented 24.5% of the city’s population; today they constitute 38%, and within decades there will be a Palestinian majority in the city. Considering that the ultra-Orthodox population of Jerusalem is largely non-Zionist, the reality today is that fewer than 40% of the  residents of Israel’s capital celebrate its Independence Day.  Israel has never viewed the Palestinians of East Jerusalem as Israelis, nor have they viewed themselves as such. Never  seriously offered citizenship by Israel, and nor wanting that status, almost 300,000 Palestinian residents of the city do  not  have the right to vote in  national  elections.  They  are   a   permanently- disenfranchised population, with neither Israelis nor Palestinians aspiring to share a political community. A quasi-democratic, bi-national capital in Jerusalem is an anomaly that cannot be sustained over time.

Jerusalem today also is a de facto divided city. As defined  by Israel in 1967, modern Jerusalem is a city whose limits go well beyond the map of Israeli and Jewish equities. It incorporated into Jerusalem 27 Palestinian towns and villages that have nothing to do  with Israeli Jerusalem, nor with the historic Jewish attachment. Few Israelis have ever heard of these Palestinian neighbourhoods, much less visited them. The reality is that on the ground, the borders between Israeli and Palestinians in Jerusalem already exist. Few Israelis ever venture into East Jerusalem, and Palestinians  rarely  visit  the  West.  The  two peoples  lead separate lives, shopping in different areas, going to  separate schools and even having different curricula (even  in  Israeli public schools, the Palestinians study the West Bank curriculum).

Israeli rule  in  East  Jerusalem  today  is  largely  a fiction.  Forty-four years after “unifying” the city, Israel today still does not deliver mail, provide most normal services, or even build sufficient classrooms in much of East Jerusalem.


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