by Heidi Basch
Since the June 12 closure of Gaza, media that care to cover the issue have focused on the dire humanitarian crisis resulting from this Israeli policy decision. However, the other closure, that between the West Bank and Jerusalem, deserves attention and analysis as well, particularly for its implications on Israel’s questionable intentions in final status negotiations, pertaining to the borders of a future Palestinian state and Jerusalem's role in that state.
Several civil society accords and government-sponsored conferences including the Geneva Initiative, the Taba Agreement, Camp David II and the Clinton Parameters discuss the topic of Jerusalem and its eventual status as a capital to two sovereign nation-states, Israel and Palestine. Leaders and supporters who envision and promote a just peace
to the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict understand that this must be the fate of Jerusalem. The concept of one city serving as two capitals to two independent and sovereign states is a keystone to moving forward in negotiations. Without acknowledgement of and action toward this new reality for Jerusalem, the current political and social stand-off between Israel and the future Palestinian state will persist.
Current Israeli government policy neither commits to a shared capital in Jerusalem, nor explicitly rejects this standpoint. However, the closure between the West Bank and Jerusalem reveals the government's sly objective to unilaterally make the concept of East Jerusalem as a capital to a future Palestine impossible in terms of demographics and feasibility.
The personal experiences of Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem confirm this suspicion. A visit to East Jerusalem's Salah-a-Din Street reveals a bustling city center with several grocers, boutiques and sundries stores frequented by a fair amount of traffic throughout the day. However, from speaking to residents of the neighborhood, a widely felt frustration of increasing economic difficulties becomes apparent.
For Palestinian Jerusalemites, finding employment is no easy task. Prior to the closures between the West Bank and Jerusalem, people used to travel back and forth for work and entertainment. The constant movement fostered a lively economy for East Jerusalem restaurants, shops and other businesses. But now, with random delays at checkpoints, the possibility of not being able to pass and disappointment over permits that never come through, West Bank Palestinians avoid traveling to Jerusalem at all. As the numbers of Palestinians coming from the West Bank to East Jerusalem dwindle, so too does East Jerusalem's economy.
Meanwhile, those in Ramallah can eat and find work. Businesses are thriving, forcing unemployed Jerusalemites to go west. Further complicated by Israel's employment policies, including restrictions for those who didn't serve in the Israeli army, Palestinians seeking employment in West Jerusalem find themselves in jobs with no opportunity for upward mobility. These facts are leading some Palestinian Jerusalemites to believe that this closure's purpose is to push them out of Jerusalem for good.
Israelis who oppose a shared Jerusalem as the capital of two sovereign nation-states would be pleased if an increasingly large number of Palestinians were forced out of Jerusalem for their economic survival. However, Palestinians are also having to return to their residences, or attempt to acquire a residence in Jerusalem in order to keep their current jobs and businesses. If they already hold a Jerusalem identity card, in order to continue receiving health benefits and other social services guaranteed by the identity cards, they have to remain in Jerusalem, job or no job; or else have their benefits taken away from them. In any case, the overall effect of the closure and the Wall is isolation and separation, making East Jerusalem's connection to the West Bank more and more difficult to maintain.
Over time, this underhanded policy will continue to segregate the Palestinians living in Jerusalem from those living in the West Bank. Even though Ramallah serves as the de facto
headquarters for the Palestinian Authority, the previously sleepy village that served as a respite from the summer heat for the people of the Levant will never substitute as the Palestinian capital. The Palestinian connection to Jerusalem will never dissipate.
As of now, when Israel is asked to make good on its stated intentions in final status negotiations, on the issue of Jerusalem, Israel comes to the table in bad faith.
Furthermore, if Israeli policy succeeds in closing off Jerusalem from the West Bank, a peace process based on a two-state solution will become unattainable, and then what?