For Israel There Is One Jerusalem… Why Do We Have Two Jerusalems?

The Judaization of East Jerusalem continues unabated, if not at an even more accelarated pace. The latest among the various targets of Israel's Judaization campaign has been the tourism sector, which is deemd the mainstay of economic life in the city, the source of income for Palestinians businesses, and the gateway to recovery for the quarters and markets inside the Old City.

The succession of measures recently taken by the Israeli authorities did not come spontaneously or in isolation from the strategically and politically motivated planning for Jerusalem, now spanning 60 years. These actions are proceeding according to a prioritized progam whose stages are being implemented meticulously.

The OECD Conference: A Consecration of Jerusalem as Capital?

The most salient event in the Judaization process in recent months was Israel's hosting of the International Conference on Tourism in Jerusalem on Oct. 20, 2010. The conference was organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which had accepted Israel's membership less than a year ago.

Israel succeeded in imposing its will for the conference to be held in Jerusalem, despite the OECD secretary-general's letter condemning the statement made by Israel's tourism minister from the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu Party that convening the OECD conference in Jerusalem represents an international recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The secretary-general protested that the tourism minister's statement as "factually incorrect and quite unacceptable." (Perhaps that was only lip service to the Muslim member states, as the conference was held.)

Even if the international community does not recognize, at least verbally, Israel's unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem and its declaration as the "united capital" of the state, the mere fact that the conference was held in the city - albeit not with the participation of all OECD members - proves the fragility and vacillation of the international community's official political stance regarding Israeli practices in Jerusalem. It also reveals the absence of an international consensus vis-à-vis Israel's violations of the resolutions of international organizations in the eastern part of Jerusalem.

Imposing Israeli Tourist Guides and the Narrative They Tell

Not apart from the tourism conference, a number of right-wing members of the Knesset revealed a draft proposal suggesting the amendment of the Tourism Law. The draft that had been produced some months ago proposes the addition of a condition stipulating that any Palestinian working as a tourist guide in East Jerusalem should hold the Israeli citizenship. The amended draft law will require that tourist agencies provide only Israeli tourist guides who hold official work permits issued by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to accompany any group of tourists of 11 members or more.

Here, it would be worth imagining what Israeli tourist guides tell the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the city every year! In Israel, this is a politically charged career par excellence.

Such amendments aim to sabotage any attempt to promote information about the city's history and archaeology outside the scope of the Zionist narrative. It also imposes the promulgation of information portraying Israel's historic, religious and cultural right to Jerusalem … not to mention the outright lies and the dissemination of myths regarding the archaeological finds and their interpretations, and the role Israeli tourist guides play to discourage tourists from shopping in East Jerusalem. Under the guise of the Israeli tourist guides' deliberate propagation of slanders among tourists and pilgrims over years, describing the Palestinians as thieves and terrorists, Israel has been able to hamper the revival of the economy in the eastern part of the city. Instead, tourists are encouraged to shop in western Jerusalem and are taken to the Israeli hotels there, too. Some of these hotels have been built in the heart of the occupied eastern part of Jerusalem.

Conveying a Political Message to the International Community

The declaration by the Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs of Jerusalem as an "area of national priority" was the third in a succession of Israeli measures. This declaration offers Israeli settlers a variety of privileges to encourage them to settle in East Jerusalem, such as tax exemptions, mortgages, employment opportunities and attractive investment opportunities in housing, education, culture, welfare, industry, agriculture, the environment and infrastructure. It is a means to attract young Israeli settlers to live in the eastern part of the city. This would also increase the incoming tourism to the city.

All these measures aim at conveying a political message to the international community that, for the Israelis, the re-division of Jerusalem is non-negotiable and the city's status as the united capital of Israel cannot be reversed under any circumstance.

The persistence of Israel in taking unilateral measures in Jerusalem under the cover of continued Arab and international silence is in effect moving incontrovertibly towards scrapping the option for the Arabs and the Palestinian leadership of contemplating East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders - just as the settlements and the separation wall slicing through the depths of the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are doing away with the option of the two-state solution, where the future Palestinian state would be truly viable and sovereign. This was the strategic choice the Palestinian leadership strove to achieve through negotiations that lasted nearly 17 years to no avail and without them reaping a single fruit in Jerusalem.

Palestinian Rights in Both East and West Jerusalem

The fact that the Israelis continue to change the realities on the ground in East Jerusalem leaves the door wide open for the Palestinians and the Arabs - assuming the presence of a real political will - to conduct a well-organized political, diplomatic and legal campaign to put the credibility of the international community's position on Jerusalem to the test by calling for the opening of the file of Palestinian rights in Jerusalem in both its eastern and western parts, in a comprehensive manner, as long as the international community chooses to remain silent regarding Israeli practices in the occupied eastern part of the city. This silence has been compounded in recently by a series of attacks perpetrated by the settlers in various parts of the the city against a number of symbolic non-Jewish religious sites, the latest of which was the church on Haneviim Street (Prophets Street) in the heart of Jerusalem.

It is true that the Palestinian leadership - which had opted for negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967 as an unparalleled strategic option - does not appear keen to raise the issue of the historic and political rights of thousands of Palestinian families who fled the city of Jerusalem in 1948, as was the case in other towns (and some of their homes and beautiful neighborhoods are still standing and inhabited by Jewish families). Perhaps the Palestinian leadership also does not want to awaken the latent psychological horror in the minds of the Israelis stemming from their silent awareness of the magnitude of the crimes they have committed against the Palestinians historically, and thus undermine their confidence - that of the Israelis - in the credibility of the Palestinian leadership adhering to the the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. But the demand to open this file under the current situation derives its legitimacy from the persistence of the Israelis in flouting all international resolutions pertaining to Jerusalem and in proceeding with unilateral actions that have turned the reality in Jerusalem on its head.

A Nebulous Discourse Open to Several Interpretations

The Americans, as well as the Europeans, have always been careful to use a nebulous political discourse which calls upon the Palestinians and the Israelis to accept the implementation of the "principle" of the two-state solution and to consider "Jerusalem as the capital for two states," despite the absence of serious international guarantees to the Palestinian side that the future state will be established on the totality of the land occupied in 1967, including full Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem. Added to this is the complete omission of reference to the right of return, which has become vulnerable to being scrapped, covertly and overtly.

The use by the Americans and the Europeans of a discourse open to several possible interpretations and not predicated on clear and agreed-upon bases with the Israeli and Palestinian sides paves the way for the Israelis to dictate their terms to the Palestinians regarding possible rectifications to the boundaries of the future Palestinian capital in the eventuality that the Israeli side accepts - in the best-case scenario - the principle of withdrawal from East Jerusalem. At the same time, Israel insists on holding on to the major settlement blocs built around Jerusalem when the future status of the city is brought to discussion - the issue which in the past was enough to ignite the second intifada in 2000, after the failure of the Camp David II talks on Jerusalem.

The Americans and the Europeans are now well aware that they are dealing with a Palestinian side that shows flexibility and willingness to make the maximum concessions possible, in contrast to the increasing intransigence and arrogance of the Israeli side. This makes their task as honest brokers even more complex.

Enough Justification to Press for Claims

In any event, an official international discourse with such a fuzzy content would, logically, leave the Palestinians and the Arabs - if a genuine political will exists - with a sufficiently wide margin to seriously initiate claims for the rights of the Palestinian Jerusalemites in both its eastern and western parts. If this will not be done out of political or historical motivation, let the driving force be the popular Arab and Palestinian sentiments of deep provocation arising from Israel's practices going on unabated in East Jerusalem.... Not one Palestinian in Jerusalem feels that his or her fate is clear or secure.

The Palestinian leadership has occasionally alluded to the likelihood of resorting to the one-state solution instead of the two-state option, as more dust settles on Israel's real intentions. Such posturing, however, was mere occasional tactics and nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction. It does not appear that the Palestinian leadership - at least at this stage or in the near future - views the one-state solution as a serious strategic option.

As for the launch of an earnest campaign for the rights of the Palestinians to their properties, their homes and lands in both East and West Jerusalem, it remains subject to the political status of the city, given that Jerusalem - with the recognition of the silent, impotent and complicit international community - remains an Israeli-occupied city whose status may not and should not be altered. Also, by virtue of agreements signed between Israelis and Palestinians, the city is not under Palestinian sovereignty. Is there not enough convincing justification here to raise the level of Palestinian demands after they have plunged to the ground?

Our homes in West Jerusalem are still standing there. The Israelis found them beautiful, so they did not demolish them, but used them for housing and official institutions…. And our land is also still in place and has not gone anywhere.