A roundtable discussion on this subject took place in Jerusalem
under the auspices of the Palestine-Israel Journal, with the
participation of four leading Jerusalemites:
Dr. Mahdi-Abdul Hadi, founding member and head of the
Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs
Dr. Meron Benvenisti, author, researcher and former head of
the West Bank Data Project;
Professor Naomi Chazan (MK, Meretz), former director of the
Truman Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and
Ibrahim Dakkak, civil engineer, former chair of the Arab
Thought Forum and a member of the board of the Higher Islamic
The moderator was Robin Twite, a former director of the
British Council in Israel and other countries, who has been working
on conflict resolution at the Hebrew University, and is involved
with the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and
Robin Twite: Let's start from the ideal: What should
Jerusalem be like in 10 years' time? All of us present are lovers
of Jerusalem. How then has it come about that the quality of life
is not improving and that it is a center of anger and
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: From the Palestinian perspective, we have
to rectify the damage Jerusalem is facing today and will be facing
in the future. I wonder whether there will or will not be a
solution to the problem of Jerusalem.
Meron Benvenisti: The game of solutions for Jerusalem is
boring and futile. You can list all the excellent solutions
proposed for Jerusalem over the last 50 or 60 years, and look where
we are now. Sometimes I think the more solutions aired, the more
violent the conflict. Rather than debating theoretical solutions
which can never be implemented, we can try to seek remedies for
today and tomorrow for existing symptoms. This will be a more
The city is today tom by strife both because of its importance and
because of the friction between two strong and vital communities
living side by side and creating the symptoms of hatred and
I think it will always be like that. Even if we find a way to
resolve the macro-national issue, we will never be able to resolve
the ethnic friction, the micro-friction. After Oslo there are two
legitimate collective entities liv¬ing in Jerusalem. A process
of reconciliation should be based on granting equal and collective
rights to both communities, at least on the local level. Postponing
for the future the question of the sovereignty of Jerusalem, let us
deal in micro terms with the creation of two municipalities
providing equal services, founded on the collective equality to
which both sides aspire.
Ibrahim Dakkak: We have started to talk about Jerusalem
without defining what we mean by it and whether we hold the same
perception of what Jerusalem is. Are we talking about the Old City,
the Arab part of the city, the Israeli part of the city, the two
parts together, the city within the munic¬ipal boundaries,
In response to Meron's description of the conflict in Jerusalem
being communal, I am inclined to believe that the conflict is in
part so, but in no way can it be seen as only so. The political
dimension of the issue cannot be glossed over. It is and will
continue to be the crux of the Palestinian¬-Israeli conflict.
Therefore, to defer decision on the sovereignty over Jerusalem may
serve to gain time, but the cost will be so high that neither of
the two parties will find it easy to foot the bill.
On the other hand, taking into account the interests of the Islamic
world and the other interested parties, like the Vatican, the
complexity of the issue will definitely intensify and multiply.
Jerusalem can in no way be divorced from the Middle East and the
Mediterranean countries and many other parts of the world.
Accordingly, cosmetic changes in the form of the establishment of
two municipal administrations, or equalizing the status of the two
parties and ignoring Palestinian sovereignty over the eastern part
of the city will prove to be misleading and dangerous at the same
time. The peace process may falter on the threshold of
Jerusalem will continue to be one of the keys to war and peace,
stability and instability in the region. The fantasy that some
Israelis hold over an over-stretched Jerusalem extending from the
Jordan Valley to the 1967 bor¬ders of Israel and dividing the
West Bank into two parts, is but a call for intensifying and
perpetuating the conflict.
Naomi Chazan: Though Jerusalem is mostly inhabited by two
national communities, I agree with Ibrahim that in many respects
Jerusalem goes beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict or the
Palestinian-Israeli relationship - I am not even sure I want to
call it a conflict now - because it has regional and international
connotations. The Holy See has interests in Jerusalem. Everyone has
an interest in the city, that is its nature.
But the problem is first and foremost political. Therefore, in
direct response to Meron, we will have to deal with the sovereignty
question. In order to begin developing a new norm of sharing
Jerusalem, which is absolutely necessary, the first step is to do
everything possible not to allow any changes on the ground that
will alter the very delicate balance existing in the city at the
moment. A change of the status quo because of Israeli control will
automati¬cally change the possibilities and prospects for
sharing Jerusalem in the future.
Second, we must take steps to equalize as much as possible the
gross inequality which has developed over the last 27 years - in
infrastructure, in facilities, in building permits, etc. I agree
with Meron that one has to start building alternative
administrative frameworks to the present ones, at this stage from
the bottom up.
One possibility is a series of autonomous neighborhoods (I do not
like the terminology) or even a Palestinian municipality for
certain areas. I do not want to get caught in the trap of going
back to the borough system [mayor Teddy Kollek proposed giving the
different boroughs a degree of municipal autonomy - Ed.]. There is
nothing without political ramifica¬tions and there also has to
be a political objective.
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: I am afraid we are trying to take
Jerusalem out of its con¬text. It would be worth focusing on
the simple triangle that covers the issue in terms of the land, the
people and their rights. Jerusalem involves inter¬connected
and inseparable dimensions in terms of history, culture, religion,
nationalism, politics and people. It is very wrong to separate
East Jerusalem, Arab Jerusalem, is an integral part of the Occupied
Palestinian Territories (OPT). It is the core of the geographic and
demo¬graphic integrity of the territories. We must start by
rectifying the current damage done to East Jerusalem's land, its
people and their rights: land con¬fiscation, Israeli
settlements, denying the Palestinians normal growth in housing,
institutions, demography and external connections.
Palestinian-¬Israeli coexistence must start with mutual
recognition, acknowledgment and the acceptance that they must share
The Israeli right-wing policy is very clear: a united Israel and
united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. The Palestinian
perspective is that of an open city with divided sovereignty.
Ibrahim Dakkak: What city are you talking about?
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: The whole city of Jerusalem, East and
West, where Palestinians still own about 26 percent of the property
(in West Jerusalem). Israeli policies, in both parts of the city,
must be frozen. I agree with the idea of not following up the
borough system. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as an integral part
of the OPT. This explains the continuous tug-of-war in Arab
Jerusalem between the Israeli establishment and the people of the
Intifada, over who has authority and control. It is the future
capital of the Palestinian state. To rectify the dam¬age, we
need to reestablish our institutions, such as a municipality and a
network of neighborhood councils neither connected with nor
governed by the Israeli municipality, but linked to a future
independent Palestinian municipality. Palestinians do not consider
themselves as Israelis and are not part of Israeli society. This is
a starting point for normal commu¬nity growth and community
rights. Palestinians must establish their own independent
institu¬tions and infrastructure and then meet face to face
with their neigh¬bors in the other parts of the city to
coordinate their work.
Robin Twite: What have the Palestinians in Jerusalem done to
organize themselves so as to repre¬sent what they really want
to the Israelis?
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: On one level, there have been several
attempts in recent years to maintain an independent Palestinian
presence in the city, by establishing a "Jerusalem National
Council," or "Jerusalem Arab Council," in the eastern part of the
city. There are about 160,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem and
over 200 institutions. They need a national umbrella.
On another level, the broad and overall linkage between Jerusalem
and the rest of the OPT should be maintained because East Jerusalem
is the cen¬ter for the rest of the territories. Without this
center and this capital address, there is no meaning to the
Robin Twite: The Israeli process of changing the status quo
in Jerusalem seems accepted in Israeli society as if "it belongs to
us." What can we do about it?
Meron Benvenisti: That question should have been asked in
1968 and not in 1995. Don't kid yourself: there is no room in
Jerusalem anymore. It is a question of space. Mayor Ehud Olmert's
plans are outside, way outside Jerusalem. What is Jerusalem for the
Jews is Beit Sahur for the Arabs. It is Jerusalem only according to
Israeli planning or political decisions.
For Palestinians, Jerusalem is the Old City. For the Jews it is now
an area of 123,000 dunums; for the Palestinians, Jerusalem is only
6,000 dunums, namely the Old City and the area that was Jordanian
until June 4, 1967. Everything else is the West Bank. Israeli talk
about the 1995 "sta¬tus quo" is ridiculous in Palestinian eyes
- it merely legitimizes every¬thing that has happened since
1967. To say that things must be frozen now is totally
unaccept¬able. Mahdi speaks of rectifying the situation, not
legitimizing the status quo. The disparity in power relationships
creates a sit¬uation in which all the responsi¬bility
rests with the Israelis. I don't know how we are going to rectify
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: You agreed that the Old City and Arab
Jerusalem are totally different from the Jerusalem the Israelis are
talking about. It is a different society and a different area,
separated by a large gap. Since the Intifada, the Green Line has
been the border in terms of social, political and psychological
rela¬tions between the two peoples. Recognition must now be
given to both societies, both lands and both cities bearing the
same name. The 13 Jewish settlements now surrounding Jerusalem have
to be balanced out. Divided Jerusalem has clear demarcation lines,
psychological, geopoliti¬cal and cultural, that separate the
Palestinians from Israelis.
For example, next to the settlement of French Hill is the Wadi Joz
area. Are Palestinians allowed to move the Shu'fat refugee camp and
build housing units and services in a new neighborhood there? We
could balance the demo¬graphic dimension in this part of the
Ibrahim Dakkak: The call for parity under the prevailing
conditions is devoid of seriousness. The established pre-defined
objective of the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality
to establish a Jewish majori¬ty, not only in the western part
of the city, but in the entire city; and the officially adopted
proportion of the population of Jerusalem which calls for
two-thirds Jews and for one-third "non-Jews"- all this is in itself
an evidence that parity is not on the Israeli agenda. The only
method left for the Palestinians, under the present Israeli policy,
is to cause instability by revolting against the Israeli
discriminatory policy in Jerusalem.
On the other hand, the two contradictory claims by the Palestinians
and Israelis that Jerusalem is, or will be, the eternal capital of
either one of the two parties while denying the other party any
rights, will produce a zero-¬sum result with which no party
will be satisfied.
Naomi Chazan: Two terms being used here are not
interchangeable: "rectification" and "not worsening" the situation.
We are in a retrogressive cycle and the question is how to halt it,
not necessarily in terms of rectification. Israelis must understand
that one-third of the population is not Israeli but Palestinian,
and doesn't want to live under Israeli rule. The proportions have
not changed, by the way, and there has, I think, been a slight rise
in the Palestinian percentage in Jerusalem since 1967.
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: When you talk of one-third, are you
including the whole city?
Naomi Chazan: The whole city. One-third of the present
municipal borders is inhabited by Palestinians. Any notion of the
redivision of Jerusalem into East and West is technically
impossible and politically virtually impossi¬ble. Therefore
the city will remain undivided. Without parity, it will be
well-nigh impossible to reach anything livable in the city. Because
of the gross power disparity, the core of the problem is
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: I do not think we should dismiss the
possibility of having East and West Jerusalem as a shared city -
not a united city but an open city. I cannot conceive of the idea
of a united city under a particular sovereignty or authority.
Naomi Chazan: I said it is physically impossible to divide
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: Instead of the term "undivided", why not
say "an open city?"
Meron Benvenisti: As long as we know we are talking of a
physically undi¬vided entity, the question of municipal or
even political arrangements is not contradictory to the notion of
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: East Jerusalem is in our view part of the
OPT. If you claim that it is also part of a united city, how can I
see the relationship? No passing authority, regardless of the
"sovereignty" it may claim, can suc¬ceed in changing the
character and identity of the Arab city of Jerusalem.
Meron Benvenisti: If you don't want closure, then the place
is physically undivided, with free movement of people and goods and
the city will func¬tion as one from an urban point of view.
Leave the question of manage¬ment aside because that is
political, even on the local level. If that is your definition of
"open", then "undivided" is the same.
Robin Twite: The problem is that the term "undivided city"
has become associated in the minds of Palestinians with the idea of
a city united under the Israelis. This is not necessarily
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: That is why I used the term" open city"
with no walls separating its various neighborhoods and yet not
"united" under Israeli authority and control.
Robin Twite: But "open city" is also a tech¬nical term,
meaning something quite differ¬ent in law, a city which is not
defended. This is a semantic problem but we need another term. What
you mean is a city without barri¬ers, customs, etc.
Naomi Chazan: This is precisely the point, no walls or
barriers. We have to start unpacking Jerusalem. This is crucial.
When Israelis refer to Jerusalem now, it has some semi-mythical
definition. If you ask an Israeli, even a Jerusalemite, where is
Beit Hanina - and it is part of the Jerusalem municipal boundary -
many people do not have the faintest idea. Beit Hanina is holy?
What is holy in Beit Hanina to Jews? Or Gilo as another
To unpack it we have to bring it down to earth, to demystify it.
Jerusalem is not some super-creation which must be protected at all
costs. Rather, it is a living city with a hinterland. For
Palestinians, the only real hinterland is the West Bank. In terms
of economic institutions, Jerusalem is the most important
Palestinian city. Though symbolically significant, it is not the
most important Israeli city. In terms of daily life, Tel Aviv is
the most important. A dialogue is difficult because essentially one
is combating myths and symbols, not real facts and figures.
Meron Benvenisti: People think of the arbitrary one-third -
two-thirds and for the Israelis it is important in terms of
majority and minority: 72 percent Israelis, 28 percent
Palestinians. This is because the orders have been drawn that way.
Palestinians can say they are an absolute majority in their
Jerusalem, which is the Old City and East Jerusalem. So there is a
dou¬ble minority issue, which is similar to other
One constructive suggestion is to draw a line in which both sides
will have demographic parity, if it's a question of where to draw
the line. Facts on the ground have created for the Palestinians
problems that are almost strangling them. Maybe it would be
advisable to redraw Jerusalem and include almost equal numbers of
Jews and Arabs.
Robin Twite: That idea was put forward by Moshe Amirav and
Hanna Siniora. They wanted a greater Jerusalem which would include
many existing Palestinian villages currently outside the city so as
to obtain demo¬graphic parity.
Naomi Chazan: You could also narrow down Jerusalem and
create the parity.
Meron Benvenisti: I agree there are other possibilities.
Divide Jerusalem and say it is a divided city. The whole notion
that we are discussing a united city is a fallacy. It is not a
united city. Solve the problem by cutting it in half, except that
you are just postponing the problem because of the West Bank. But
what will happen to Gilo? And what will be the future of the West
But the urban phenomenon, the urban definition of Jerusalem, of
greater Jerusalem, is not mythical but real. That is how a
geographer from Mars would define the met¬ropolitan area of
Jerusalem. Miraculously, in that area we have an equal number of
Jews and Arabs. This delegitimizes existing Israeli settlements. If
you enlarge the cake you can redivide it and create enough communal
power for the 160,000 Palestinians that will be based on larger
As for the rest of the West Bank, this takes us back to my basic
pes¬simistic approach that there will be no final solution to
the West Bank. Basically we are talking about a binational entity,
something the Israelis will not accept. Perhaps, therefore, a
solution based on a total partition of Israel and Palestine is
wrong and we must look to the minority recom¬mendations of the
U.N. in 1947: a federated Palestine which also has a
Ibrahim Dakkak: In a way, psychologically at least, we are
talking about a cor¬pus separatum (separate political body).
Even from the Israeli point of view, Jerusalem is not treated like
Tel Aviv; we Palestinians are not treating Jerusalem as a
continuation of the West Bank. We are actually looking at Jerusalem
as a special problem. I am not referring to the 1947 corpus
separatum, but in a sense there is something leading in this
direction, that of different treatment.
Meron Benvenisti: Even the borders of the corpus
separatum were very similar to the municipal area.
vMahdi Abdul-Hadi: As a Palestinian, I am not sharing West
Jerusalem. The Israelis have been sharing my East Jerusalem the
whole time and now they arc becoming equal there in terms of
numbers. In addition, Palestinians within the walls of the Old City
suffer from sub-standard living conditions and the absence of
freedom for communal development.
Meron Benvenisti: Suppose you have Israel-Palestine from the
river to the sea, with two communities. Both will have autonomous
institutions and they will find a way to cooperate. Then Jerusalem
will become a federated capital.
Based on Zionism, I know that Israelis will not accept this. But
maybe we are not in a Zionist age, maybe we are beyond that or will
be when a solution presents itself 50 years from now, to both
sides. We had our state, maybe the Palestinians will have theirs -
and we will decide that this nationalism has brought a plague on
both our houses.
Naomi Chazan: We are in a process of disengagement and in
order to achieve a confederation you first have to have two
The immediate step is political disengagement and the creation of a
Palestinian state alongside Israel. Then the federated Palestine,
maybe larg¬er than the Mandatorial boundaries, would arise.
What will be in Jerusalem relates to a concept of an open and not a
Mahdi Abdul-Hadi: The Palestinian aspiration is clearly for
an indepen¬dent Palestinian state, two societies on an equal
footing, two peoples and two cultures sharing the land of
Palestine-Israel. The peace process started at Oslo is now facing a
major crisis because Rabin is stalling; the Palestinian reaction,
on the other hand, is to look forward to a new chapter in the
rela¬tionship with the Israelis. We have been through the
periods of steadfast¬ness till 1972, then isolation till 1982,
from 1987 the Intifada, in the 1990's negotiations, and now we are
building a Palestinian Authority.
If these chapters do not realize Palestinian aspirations, the new
stage might be that of military resistance. Small military
operations by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad might start recruiting
from the mainstream and launch a new chapter. Maybe that is what
will happen in Jerusalem now. It is a divided city and one of fear.
The duty of the Palestinians is now to garner support for the
agenda of a national address in Jerusalem, linkage with the West
Bank and to open a dialogue on sharing the city. We are not put off
by nega¬tive comments from the Israeli government. We are not
an underground movement or government; we are civilians with needs
to keep our society functioning.
Ibrahim Dakkak: We are speaking about several borders of
Jerusalem. Continuously spreading Jerusalem means there will be no
solution what¬soever. In such a case we will be talking on the
future of the West Bank annexed to Israel under the name of
Jerusalem. If on the other hand we speak of parity, we cannot
postpone the question of sovereignty over that part of Jerusalem we
call Arab or East Jerusalem. We can have sover¬eignty over our
part and the Israelis over theirs and then we can have some sort of
municipal con¬federation. We must continue our discussion on
the city as a whole within the 1967 borders, while' other areas
should be considered part of the West Bank.
Naomi Chazan: It is essential now to halt any serious change
in the topography and demography of Jerusalem. We in Meretz and
some segments of Labor are committed on issues like Har Homa - no
building must take place unless a Palestinian neighborhood is
developed at the same pace alongside the Jewish. Orient House can
become a Palestinian embassy if it wants or a Palestinian center.
Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem must remain open and
Robin Twite: We must not lose sight of the actual physical
environment of the city and the danger of each side trying to
increase its population through more and more building. In the
south this looks as if it may link Bethlehem physically to
Jerusalem, whereas a normal environmental development would leave a
green belt there, instead of having people drive from Jerusalem to
Bethlehem without seeing a single field. On the Palestinian side,
we do not want to see concrete blocks marching up the Mount of
Olives. Because politics is put first, the city may become a victim
of politics and very difficult to live in.