The Road to Peace Starts in Jerusalem: the Condominium Solution
There will never be a durable peace in the Middle East without a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict acceptable both to most Israelis and to most Palestinians. That is a fact. There will also never be a lasting settle¬ment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without a solution to the status of Jerusalem acceptable both to most Israelis and to most Palestinians. That is also a fact, one which is increasingly difficult (and dangerous) for anyone to ignore.
It is widely assumed that no such solution exists. This has led Israel to insist that the status of Jerusalem should not even be discussed until all the lesser problems of Israeli-Palestinian relations have been resolved, at which point, perhaps, some previously unimaginable solution may mirac¬ulously appear. While, according to the Declaration of Principles, perma¬nent status negotiations are to commence "as soon as possible" but not later than May 4, 1996, and Jerusalem is explicitly one of the "remaining issues" to be covered during those negotiations, the Declaration of Principles is ambiguous as to whether all the "remaining issues" are to be discussed at once. Absent a major change of heart, Israel can be expected to refuse to commence permanent status negotiations until the spring of 1996 and to maintain its refusal to discuss Jerusalem until the very end of the five-year interim period.
Many people on both sides have no faith in the current peace process and no desire to become involved in it and to try to help it to succeed, because they see at the end of the road a great immovable boulder named Jerusalem which they believe condemns any peace process to ultimate and inevitable failure. Nothing is more likely to restore the faltering momen¬tum toward peace and to accelerate the essential moral, spiritual and psy¬chological transformation toward a cooperative, rather than a confronta¬tional, view of the future of the Middle East than a prompt recognition that a solution to the status of Jerusalem does exist. Fortunately, there is one solution which has a real chance of being acceptable both to most Israelis and to most Palestinians.

Undivided But Shared

When Israelis and Palestinians speak about Jerusalem, they are not simply laying out negotiating positions. Jerusalem has too tight a grip on hearts and minds. Their repeated and virtually unanimous positions must be taken seriously. If one accepts, as one must, that no Israeli government could ever accept a redivision of Jerusalem, and if one accepts, as one must, that no Palestinian leadership could ever accept a permanent status solu¬tion which gave the Palestinian state (and, through it, the Arab and Islamic worlds) no share of sovereignty in Jerusalem, then only one solution is con¬ceivable - joint sovereignty over an undivided city. In the context of a two-state solution, Jerusalem could form an undivided part of both states, be the capital of both states and be administered by an umbrella municipal council and local district councils. In the proper terminology of interna¬tional law, the city would be a "condominium" of Israel and Palestine.
As a joint capital, Jerusalem could have Israeli government offices principally in its western sector, Palestinian government offices princi¬pally in its eastern sector and municipal offices in both. A system of dis¬tricts or French-style arrondissements could bring municipal administra¬tion closer to the different communities in the city (including the ultra¬ Orthodox Jewish community). To the extent that either state wished to con¬trol persons or goods passing into it from the other state, this could be done at the points of exit from, rather the points of entry into, Jerusalem. In a context of peace, particularly one coupled with economic union, the need for such controls would be minimal.
Jerusalem is both a municipality on the ground and a symbol in hearts and minds. Undivided but shared in this way, Jerusalem could be a sym¬bol of reconciliation and hope for Jews, Muslims, Christians and the world as a whole. Furthermore, since a city needs no army but only police, Jerusalem could also be fully demilitarized, finally becoming the "City of Peace" which all three religions have long proclaimed it to be.
Among peace-oriented Israelis and Palestinians there is a broad consen¬sus that, in any permanent status solution, Jerusalem should remain phys¬ically undivided. However, there is no consensus on how the problem of sovereignty should be solved. That issue remains almost too hot to handle.
In seeking a solution to the status of Jerusalem, it is essential to distin¬guish between sovereignty and municipal administration. Questions of municipal administration, including the division of authorities between an umbrella municipal council and local district councils, exist for any sizable city, regardless of any questions of sovereignty. In Jerusalem's case, it would clearly be desirable, employing the European Union's principle of subsidiarity, to devolve as many aspects of municipal governance as pos¬sible to the district council level, reserving for the umbrella municipal council only those major matters which can only be administered efficient¬ly at a city-wide level. Since there are currently no integrated neighbor¬hoods in Jerusalem, assuring that Israelis are subject to Israeli administra¬tion, and Palestinians to Palestinian administration, at the district council level this would present no practical problems.
If the devolution of authority to the district council level were broad and deep, the potentially inflammatory issue of the percentage representations of the two communities on the umbrella municipal council would be much less problematic. If elected district councils named their own representa¬tives to the umbrella municipal council, a more technocratic and less dem¬agogic style of municipal government might be possible. If the percentage representations of the two communities, through their respective munici¬pal districts, on the umbrella municipal council were fixed at an agreed level and made impervious to subsequent demographic changes within the municipal boundaries, the issue of post-peace "immigration" of Israelis and Palestinians into Jerusalem would become a non-issue. The purely political motivation for building more Jewish residential districts in expanded East Jerusalem or expanding the current municipal boundaries even further to incorporate additional Jewish population centers would evaporate.
While municipal administration involves numerous practical questions, sovereignty over Jerusalem is fundamentally a symbolic, psychological and virtually theological question. Symbolism, psychology and theology are extraordinarily important in connection with Jerusalem (more so than with any other city on earth), but it is important to recognize that this is the nature of the question. An internationalization of the city, with neither Israel nor Palestine possessing sovereignty, was recommended in 1947 by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181. This recommendation has never been revoked and continues to enjoy significant international support and moral authority. However, internationalization would serve no useful symbolic or psychological purpose for those most directly involved and thus cannot be a realistic option today.

The Advantages of Undivided Sovereignty

One of the strengths and beauties of joint undivided sovereignty, and a potential advantage in making it acceptable to both peoples and to their leaderships, is that it would not require either Israel or Palestine to renounce sovereignty over any territory over which it has asserted sover¬eignty. The state of Palestine asserts sovereignty only over those Palestinian lands conquered and occupied in 1967. Of those lands, the State of Israel asserts sovereignty only over expanded East Jerusalem. Under a "condominium" solution, in the only place where current sovereignty claims overlap, sovereignty would overlap and be shared. Potentially intractable negotiations over where to draw international borders through and even within Jerusalem would be completely avoided, since the city would not be divided but shared.
Israelis should ask themselves what (if anything) they would actually be giving up in accepting joint undivided sovereignty over Jerusalem. Roughly 70 percent of the city's residents are now Israelis, and Palestinian residents already have the right to vote in municipal elections. That would not change. Put most simply, all Israel would have to do is say this: "United Jerusalem, within the expanded boundaries which we have uni¬laterally established, is the eternal capital of Israel ... but, in order to make peace possible, we accept that it is also the capital of Palestine." That's all. While, today, only Costa Rica, El Salvador and Zaire even recognize West Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and no country recognizes Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, if Israel adopted such a position and implemented it with Palestinian consent, virtually all countries would promptly recognize united Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Embassies would move there. Is this real¬ly so awful and unthinkable for Israelis? Is this really impossible?
There is a widespread misconception among Israelis that, under the sta¬tus quo, Israel possesses sovereignty over expanded East Jerusalem. It does not. It possesses administrative control. A country can acquire adminis¬trative control by force of arms. It can acquire sovereignty only with the consent of the international community.
Israel has possessed and exercised administrative control over expanded East Jerusalem for more than 27 years. To this day, not one of the world's other 192 sovereign states has recognized its claim to sovereignty. Furthermore, Israel's purported annexation of expanded East Jerusalem has been declared null and void and Jerusalem has been explicitly includ¬ed among the Occupied Palestinian Territories in a long series of United Nations resolutions, most recently Security Council Resolution 904 con¬demning the Hebron mosque massacre.
Israel could retain administrative control over expanded East Jerusalem indefinitely. That is a question of military strength and political will. However, it is most unlikely that it will ever acquire sovereignty over expanded East Jerusalem un1ess it agrees to a permanent solution to the sta¬tus of Jerusalem along the lines set forth above. That is a question of law. Indeed, since the right of a country to declare any part of its sovereign terri¬tory to be its capital is not contested, the refusal of virtually all countries to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the maintenance of virtual¬ly all embassies in Tel Aviv is striking evidence of the refusal of the interna¬tional community, pending an agreed permanent solution to the status of Jerusalem, to concede that any part of the city is Israel's sovereign territory. A clearer understanding of what the legal status quo regarding Jerusalem really is could make Israeli public opinion less reflexively resistant to con¬templating any modification of the status quo, even in return for peace.

A Mutually Accepted Solution

It is clear that joint undivided sovereignty is not the first choice of either Israelis or Palestinians. Exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the whole city would clearly be the first choice of most Israelis, but this is equally clearly unacceptable, not only to Palestinians, but also to the Arab and Islamic countries with which Israel wishes to have normal diplomatic and eco¬nomic relations (which would accept any permanent status terms which the Palestinians might accept except that one), as well as to significant seg¬ments of the international community beyond the Arab and Islamic worlds. A division of sovereignty and a redivision of administrative con¬trol strictly in accordance with the pre-1967 border (and hence with international law and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242) would clearly be the first choice of most Palestinians, but, particularly in light of the pres¬ence of the Western Wall, enormous new Jewish residential districts and even a slight Israeli population majority in expanded East Jerusalem, this is equally clearly inconceivable from the Israeli standpoint. (While expand¬ed East Jerusalem is effectively indistinguishable from the other Occupied Territories as a matter of international law, it is most certainly distinguish¬able and distinguished as a matter of Israeli domestic law and, most impor¬tantly, in Israeli public perception.)
These irreconcilable "first choice options" must, logically, be discarded by all who truly wish to achieve peace. Such people should be searching now for a mutually acceptable "best second choice." If one accepts the two premises that no Israeli government could ever accept a redivision of Jerusalem and that no Palestinian leadership (and certainly not the Arab and Islamic worlds) could ever accept a permanent status solution which gave the Palestinian state no share of sovereignty in Jerusalem, then, as a matter of pure logic, joint undivided sovereignty is the only possible sec¬ond choice if peace is ever to be achieved.
The "condominium" solution has the advantage of being consistent with both the letter and the spirit of the formal American position on Jerusalem, which urges that the city should remain undivided and that its permanent status should be determined through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It is even consistent (at least up to a point) with the letter (if not the spirit) of the formal Israeli position, as restated by Yitzhak Rabin during his joint press conference with President Bill Clinton in Jerusalem on October 27, 1994: "Jerusalem must remain united under the sovereign¬ty of Israe1." Whether a united Jerusalem could be shared under the sover¬eignty of Israel and Palestine has not yet been formally addressed. However, the absence of the word "exclusive" from the official Israeli for¬mulation may be taken as an encouraging sign. By leaving this word unsaid, the current Israeli government has avoided tying itself up in a rhetorical straitjacket and has left open the door to eventually adopting the "condominium" solution without excessive political embarrassment.
The "condominium" solution is further from the traditional Palestinian position with its steadfast reliance on international legitimacy. With an exceptionally weak hand to play in terms of military strength and power politics, Palestinians have long drawn comfort from their certainty that international law is on their side. However, the decisions to enter into the Declaration of Principles and its follow-up agreements reflect a mature acceptance of the brutal truth that a strong position under international law does not alone ensure even the slightest measure of justice. Agreeing not to insist on their strong position under international law with respect to expanded East Jerusalem and to share sovereignty in the only part of the former Palestine Mandate where current sovereignty claims overlap may be the practical price which Palestinians must pay for successfully assert¬ing Palestine's strong position under international law and Palestinian sovereignty with respect to all other Palestinian lands conquered and occu¬pied in 1967. Indeed, in an interview with the BBC on July 3, 1994, Yasser Arafat suggested that Israelis and Palestinians should share Jerusalem as the joint capital of their two states, thereby hinting at a more flexible state of mind which could, in time, be susceptible to the charms and practical merits of the "condominium" solution.
If Israelis and Palestinians can agree (even if only silently for the moment) that a mutually acceptable solution for the status of Jerusalem does exist, all the other pieces in the delicate peace puzzle should fall into place. Without a mutually acceptable solution for the status of Jerusalem, every¬thing will fall apart. That cannot be permitted to happen.
The road to interim self-rule may start in Gaza and Jericho, but the road to peace starts in Jerusalem. The time to think and talk about Jerusalem is now.