Jerusalem - Two Capitals For Two States in Two Conferences

A series of two parallel conferences organized by the European Union (EU) and the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum were held at the end of October 2013, in Jerusalem, to discuss the future of Jerusalem as the capital city for the two states of Palestine and Israel. Palestinian experts expressed their point of view during the first conference (Oct 28) while Israeli experts expressed theirs during the second one (Oct 30). A report will be made available by the organizers containing the synthesis of recommendations from both conferences.

The Palestinian conference was divided into three sessions:

First Session: A discussion on Jerusalem as defined by the Palestinians from the geopolitical point of view.

    Mr. Saman Khoury: Secretary General Palestinian Peace NGO Forum
    Mr. David J. Geer: EU Representative Office in Jerusalem
    Mr. Ziad Abu Zayyad: Attorney at Law, Journalist, publisher and co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal
    Mr. Azzam Abu Saud: Director of the Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry
    Ms. Hind Khoury: former Ambassador of the PLO in France, former Minister of State for Jerusalem Affairs
    Mr. Haqi Husseini: facilitator

Second Session: The centrality of Jerusalem to Palestinian statehood.

    Dr. Rami Nasrallah: head of the International Peace and Cooperation Center in Jerusalem, research associate at the University of Cambridge
    Ms. Nadia Harhash: Lawyer and international cooperation coordinator at Al Quds University
    Dr. Yara Saifi: Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Hind al Husseini College (HHC) for Women of Al-Quds University (AQU).
    Ms. Riman Barakat: facilitator

Third Session: Facing Israeli policies and politics – the steps to creating a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

    Dr. Omar Yousif: architect and urbanist
    Prof. Rassem Khamaisi: professional urban and regional planner, Lecturer in the Geographic Dept. and Environment Studies, head of Jewish Arab Center at Haifa University
    Mr. Walid Salem: member of the Palestinian National Council of the PLO, lecturer
    Ms. Maisa Baransi: facilitator
photo credit: Flash90

From left to right: Hind Khoury, Ziad AbuZayyad, Azzam Abu-Saud, Haqi Husseini

The Israeli conference was divided into three sessions:

Opening Remark

    Dr. Ron Pundak: Israeli co-chair of the Palestine-Israeli Peace NGO Forum
    Mr. Mark Gallagher: Head of the political section, Delegation of the European Union to the State of Israel
    Mr. David Chemla: Europe Secretary at J CALL
    Ms. Yael Patir: Director of Israel program at J STREET
    Mr. Daniel Seidemann: Director of terrestrial Jerusalem and the program “Between Breakdown and Breakthrough?”
    Mr. Robert H. Serry: United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process

First Session: What is Preventing Two Capitals in Jerusalem?

    Dr. Me'ir Margalit: Council Member of the Jerusalem Municipality, East Jerusalem portfolio
    Ms. Yudith Oppenheimer: Director of Ir Amim
    Ms. Hagit Ofran: Head of the Settlement Watch Project of Peace Now
    Mr. Yonathan Mizrachi: co-founder of Emek Shaveh
    Mr. Yizhar Be'er: Director of Keshev

Second Session: Two Capitals in Jerusalem: Feasibility of Alternative Concepts and Plans

    Mr. Dan Bitan: Israeli Co-Chair of the Jerusalem Committee of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum
    Col (Ret.) Sha'ul Arieli: Senior researcher at ECF, author of “Border Between You and Us“: Jerusalem - The Already Divided Needs not be Divided
    Prof. Shlomo Hasson: Head of the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Two capitals in Jerusalem as an open city
    Prof. Eran Feitelson: Department of Geography and Head of the School of Environmental Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
    Mr. Saman Khouri: Secretary General, Palestinian Peace NGO Forum
    Mr. Rami Nasrallah: Chairperson of the International Peace and Cooperation Center (IPCC)

Third Session: Discussion between Members of Knesset

    MK Amram Mitzna: Hatnuah
    MK Etan Cabel: Labor
    Mossi Raz: Former Meretz MK
photo credit: Flash90

From left to right: Daniel Seidemann, Mark Gallagher, Yael Patir, David Chemla

Presenters from the two conferences thanked the Peace NGO Forum and the EU for sponsoring and organizing this conference, and for the EU’s financial and technical support to the Palestinian Authority in its state building effort, with an 8 million EUR contribution in 2011 and an additional 5 million EUR dedicated to civil society initiatives through the EU Partnership for Peace program. The EU promotes confidence building measures between the two sides and advocates for a fair settlement of the conflict. The EU along with the UN believes that all core issues including borders, security, water, and refugees must be resolved now, Jerusalem being a particularly complex issue.

The opinions expressed in the conferences in no way represent an official position of the European Union. I have organized the findings and recommendations from both conferences in the following manner:

Historical background

Palestinian view

Historically, Jerusalem has always been at the heart of the conflict. The partition plan submitted to the UN in 1947 at the end of the British Mandate had planned to internationalize Jerusalem. The city was de facto divided between Israel and Jordan after the Armistice of 1949. Israel’s unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as its capital in 1950 has not been recognized by the international community. The status of Jerusalem remains undecided or corpus separatus.

The PLO accepted a two-state solution in 1988 at the Algiers Palestinian National Council meeting conceding to the Israelis insistence on having a separate Jewish state rather than a secular bi-national state.

Israeli view

Jerusalem is not a holy city but there are holy places in Jerusalem. The concept of Holy Land was invented in the mid-nineteenth century by explorers. The borders of Jerusalem as defined by the British expanded with the UN partition of 1947 and again with the current Israeli municipality after 1967. As of 1949, Israel internalized the partition of Jerusalem with Transjordan. Government ministries, the Supreme Court, the Hebrew University, Mount Herzl, Yad Vashem were established in West Jerusalem out of necessity. When the West Bank was occupied in 1967, Israel appropriated the holy places, but few government offices were transferred to the East. The annexation put facts on the ground with national rather than municipal interests, without ever having genuine unification as a goal but fulfilling Israeli needs.

Fundamental Aspirations

Palestinian view

The pillar supporting a strong peace agreement is to respect the aspirations of both sides, namely, striving to create two states for two people based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of each state. The State of Palestine without Jerusalem as its capital is inconceivable for the Palestinians. Jerusalem is an integral part of the West Bank as its center of gravity and as the largest Palestinian city.

Israeli View

A peace settlement is needed or else a tragedy is on its way. With the continuing policy of settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank, peace won’t be achievable. The very existence of the State of Israel is at stake. Everyone would suffer from a re-occupation of the West Bank. Palestinians of East Jerusalem are an integral part of the Palestinian society and of the future of a Palestinian state. The freedom of the Palestinians and their aspiration for a national state is our liberation. Destroying it will bring a malignant bloodletting dispute.

The Role of the Jewish Diaspora

Palestinian View

The barrier of fear between the two sides must be removed, in particular by combating the opposition to compromise from American Jewry.

Israeli View

To save the identity of Israel, we need a settlement supported by the Diaspora through lobby groups such as J Call in Europe and J Street in the USA advocating for the two-state for two-people objective. The Jews are not all right wingers and most don’t feel represented by their institutions. The depth of analysis at the recent J Street conference was outstanding, yet there is no internal debate coming from the civil society in Israel. Two J Street surveys revealed that amongst Israeli Jews 87% support the partition of Jerusalem according to the Clinton Parameters while amongst American Jews 61% support it as well, and 67% support an American leadership role. Painful decisions that are backed by the public need to be taken to reach the two states objective. J Street launched the 2 campaign, an online petition whose output will be handed to John Kerry to highlight U.S. Jewish support.

Demography and Settlements

Palestinian view

Israel has been trying to change the demographic reality in East Jerusalem multiplying Jewish settlements against international law. Israel perceived Jerusalem as an enclave surrounded by Palestinians and pushed the boundaries of the city through planning driven by demographobia (a fear of demography), restricting Palestinian development, fragmenting Arab neighborhoods, breaking their contiguity while creating a continuous belt of settlements. Beit Hanina is now an enclave surrounded by walls in an urban incarceration.

This policy along with the 142 km barrier around Jerusalem and its checkpoints is isolating Jerusalem from the West Bank. The greater Jerusalem defined by Israel that includes nearby settlements reaching almost Ramallah and Jericho constitutes border manipulation.

Israel started by restricting Palestinian development in the Holy Basin and the surrounding green belt as of 1977 and then confiscated 34% of East Jerusalem land for Jewish construction. As a consequence, the Christian population has been divided by two while the Jewish one multiplied by six. The Arab population has been pressured to move into the Shuafat neighborhood whose population has been multiplied by ten. Today the population of East Jerusalem consists of 250 thousand Jewish settlers and 370 thousand Palestinians, while 32 thousand Palestinian houses are under demolition orders.

A Palestinian metropolitan area enjoying natural organic growth under Jordanian rule has been replaced by a Jewish metropolitan area weak in functionality. The current conditions are creating the facts for a bi-national state characterized by apartheid and segregation. West Jerusalem is home to a high ratio of poor ultra-Orthodox Jews and lacks infrastructure as well. Urban functionality will be restored when Palestinian needs are taken into account. An East Jerusalem capital must be contiguous. The property rights of refugees in exile from West Jerusalem must also be addressed.

Israeli view

Thirteen years have passed since the Camp David 2000 peace talks and the announcing of the Clinton Parameters and later the Road Map. We have not reached the point of no return where a sustainable partition is no longer possible but this minority view is not shared by the right wing parties. The second term of the Netanyahu government has seen an unprecedented outbreak of settlements, in a strategic coherent move to shape Greater Jerusalem, making a partition more complicated. Enclaves for Palestinians break the contiguity for a viable Palestinian state. The current government policy expresses no aspiration to reach an agreement. The window to maintain borders compatible with two states is rapidly closing, but settlements can be dismantled.

Social Services under Occupation

Palestinian view

Since 1967, services to East Jerusalem have been provided by Israel, including water, sewage, and electricity but the Arab neighborhoods have been neglected and infrastructures have deteriorated. The education system is collapsing. Garbage dumps are becoming dangerously toxic. East Jerusalem has lost its functional autonomy. It is prevented from becoming the capital of the Palestinian state through a policy of deportations, annexation, a trickle of building permits, and alteration of street names. The mention of ethnicity on ID cards such as Syrian, Arab, and Armenian is an attempt at dividing a Palestinian society proud of its pluralism.

Palestinians representing forty percent of Jerusalem taxpayers receive 8% of the budget for services. Boycotting payment or flooding municipal hotlines with complaints has failed. Meanwhile, the Palestinian economy is deteriorating: 70% live in poverty and the middle class has left to Ramallah.

Surveys show that Palestinian Jerusalemites would choose receiving health and employment insurance from Israel only because the young Palestinian state would have a steep learning curve to reach the same level of services. Only 30% Palestinians in Jerusalem are interested in Israeli citizenship, but only as a survival tool, not as a public demand. Palestinians are reluctant to participate in Israeli municipal elections although their electoral weight could be one third, since municipalities are dominated by Jewish interests. Yet, they deserve an active participation in the decision making process as their political and human rights are denied.

Palestinians live an identity crisis paramount to schizophrenia, feeling like aliens in their own land but rushing to Israeli malls when Israelis open access from the West Bank. Accepting Israeli law, municipal elections, legalizing the occupation would be betrayal, yet taxpayers are entitled to services from the municipality as a management system. To claim their share — under developmental resistance not collaboration — Palestinians must elect neighborhoods committees, create a shadow municipality. The offices of the Palestinian Authority must be moved back to Jerusalem.

Israeli view

Recently reelected mayor Nir Barkat continues the policy of his predecessors only with different tools to control East-Jerusalem, less easy to identify, with more subtle land grabs. He has no strategic economic vision to improve East Jerusalem. Pressure from the Supreme Court led to the opening of schools, care centers, and a decline in demolitions. But actions still aim at declaring Jerusalem forever united and maintaining a strong Jewish majority. Arabs represent 40% of the population receiving 11% of the municipal budget fully dependent on Israeli municipality.

The social cohesion of the Palestinian community has been fragmented into a collection of individuals too frightened to ask for their political and social rights, perceived as a demographic problem. Thousands have lost their residency status after expiration. Space planning, building schools, government offices or institutions are denied to Palestinians, preventing them to function as a community. The current right wing municipal council will torpedo the peace process.

Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the fence like Shuafat have been excluded. They represent 25% of the Palestinian Jerusalem population owning blue ID cards. The municipality is encouraging migration beyond the fence in slums where services are not provided.

Israel is choking East Jerusalem and Israeli Jews are not aware of the oppression through municipal dictates, and the daily house demolitions.

The Holy Basin

Palestinian View

Recent years have seen an increase in confrontation at the Haram-Al-Sharif/Temple Mount and harassment by religious Jews. Holiness is a curse for Jerusalem with a risk of a religious conflict. The legitimacy of the Jews in this cradle of civilization stems from a small period of time. Archeologists have found testimonies of many more civilizations beyond the Israelites.

Jerusalem is an international spiritual city. Moving administrative government offices of both peoples outside Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and Ramallah would allow Jerusalem to remain a purely spiritual capital. Religious functionality for Christians, Muslims and Jews must be international, with a special status for the Old City. Christian and Islamic pilgrimages are a treasure for Jerusalem. Mecca greets 4 million pilgrims that should also come to Jerusalem.

An open city accessible from both states is a romantic but unpractical idea due to years of hatred and mistrust.

Israeli view

In East Jerusalem, 2000 Jewish settlers have acquired houses in Arab neighborhoods, including a handful within the Old City but outside the Jewish quarter. The ELAD foundation has settled 350 people in isolated houses within Silwan protected by a 17 million NIS private security but it failed to change the Arab nature of the town.

National parks constitute additional invisible settlements establishing a Jewish connection with the 3000 years old City of David where seven thousand Palestinians currently live, threatened by expulsion for the creation of a touristic attraction. The facelift of Jerusalem will cost 800 million NIS, to impose a new narrative as part of the struggle over sovereignty and identity. Political usage of archeology is a time bomb. There is no alternative but an international involvement in the supervision of all archeological activities in areas sensitive to both sides.

The Palestinian media headlines highlight concerns with threats to the Haram-Al-Sharif and Al Aqsa Mosque. Jewish extremists who almost succeeded in blowing up the Dome of the Rock in the past now want to control the worshipping rights of Muslims which is unacceptable. Rabbinical and Zionist religious movements are changing their discourse, approving what used to be a halakhic taboo (Jews have no right to pray where the Temple used to stand except for the Cohanim tracing ancestry from the priests). A unilateral change in the status quo at the Temple Mount would have devastating ramifications.

The Way Forward

Palestinian view

Facts on the ground are limiting the possibilities for two states with two capitals. High expectations from 20 years of negotiations turned into broken dreams with the occupation breathing down the Palestinians’ neck. Not imposing a settlement freeze at the Taba Summit was a mistake. Cities, like the fenced city of Belfast, are complex multi layered entities that rarely go backwards.

Peace is often the peace of the victorious. A fair settlement must ensure putting an end to the hardship of Palestinian populations rather than being an imposed solution from the stronger side that the street may not accept. Palestinian negotiators are not treated as equal partners, are pushed around and hold a weak negotiating position. A counter offensive is needed, built on the September 2012 UN Resolution admitting Palestine as a UN non-member state. The civil society and the government must clearly express what the Palestinian demands are. A campaign must advocate for the return of people expelled from Jerusalem in 1967 to Jerusalem rather than the West Bank.

Palestinians need to create political sovereignty and then development will come later. They must recreate their institutions, an alternative urban planning, invest in housing, create jobs for the youth, provide affordable loans to retain the middle class, provide their own urban services, and acquire civil independence, not just to improve Jerusalem but to transform it into the capital of Palestine. Working with sectors such as education, agriculture, tourism rather than working with community and human security needs has created a competition for money.

A joint administration can be created inside the Old City. Sensitive and symbolic places must remain under the sovereignty of one party: the Haram-Al-Sharif to the Palestinians, the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall to the Jews. The outside of the Old City must be partitioned along the 1967 border with checkpoints against infiltrators and peace spoilers. A complete separation between two states is needed first, followed by incremental cooperation on a European Union model. The end goal is two independent municipalities with an umbrella council, and sharing the Old City. Jerusalem will become a bridging gap between the two states facing each other rather than turning their back to each other. The international community will recognize the two capitals and even Hamas will accept a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

A solution can be found with political will. An offer for a provisional state will bring a new Intifada.

Israeli view

The two cities currently have separate commercial, political, economical ways of life. Jerusalem is already bi-national, public transport is separate. Mobility of people, goods, and tourists must be assured with comprehensive security, passports and border controls filtering access to prevent the unleashing of terrorism. Architect planners during the Geneva initiative considered creating transit areas, bridges, shared areas, an open city in the Holy Basin with no obstacles and an international administration that includes Israelis, Palestinians and an international police force.

Shelly Yachimovich from the Labor Party understands the mistake she made during the national election campaign by not taking a political position on the Palestinian issue. Still, under a right wing government, the meetings between Tsipi Livni and Saeb Erakat have been constructive and both sides — helped by an unprecedented U.S. involvement — have the resolve to reach an agreement despite public apathy and cynicism.

A drama of biblical proportions will unfold if the current negotiations fail and the Palestinian Authority collapses or violence erupts. We then need to create an alternative solution with help from civil society and the private sector taking into account border crossing operations, a legal framework and health and education, with an emphasis on a functional solution.


In clearly two contrasting conferences, powerless Palestinian academics and functionaries vented their frustration and Israeli center-leftists denounced their government’s policy.

On November 13th, the Palestinian negotiation team resigned from the peace talks over Jewish settlement building. Clearly, the current Israeli government is having a hard time making the necessary concessions to bridge the gap with the Palestinian aspirations, but the positions of Israelis and Palestinians present at the two parallel conferences are not incompatible.