When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acceded to the ultimatum from his coalition partner Shas not to negotiate the fate of Jerusalem lest he lose the religious party's support, he confirmed Palestinian fears that Israel is not ready for serious negotiations.
Since the resumption of political contacts between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert, and particularly during preparations for the Annapolis conference last November, Palestinians reached the conclusion that the Israeli government was interested in a process but was not ready for substantial negotiations, particularly on Jerusalem, refugees and settlements.
On the refugee issue, Israel has made it clear time and again that there will be no negotiations. On settlements, the Israeli government has been unwilling to even freeze settlement expansions or dismantle outposts let alone dismantle settlements in general or even negotiate such a possibility. The final nail in the coffin for good faith negotiations was this stark position on Jerusalem.
This is alarming for the Palestinian side. The only practical outcome of the Annapolis conference was a reiteration of the need to implement the first phase of the road map. Part of the Israel's obligations under that first phase are Jerusalem-related issues. East Jerusalem is considered a part of occupied Palestinian territory. The expansion of settlements that the roadmap expects to see frozen includes those in East Jerusalem. In addition, the roadmap calls upon Israel to reopen certain Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, among them the Arab Studies Center and Orient House, that were closed a few years ago in accordance with Israeli policies to suppress Palestinian activities in East Jerusalem, including non-political activities such as health and socio-economic development.
On the ground, meanwhile, illegal Israeli measures to change the reality in East Jerusalem in contradiction with international law, especially on the demographic level, are gathering pace. There are growing concerns about the social and economic situation of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. The rate of dropouts from Israeli government schools has reached 40 percent (compared to one to two percent in the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories where education is run by the PA) and the disparity in income and educational levels is creating a large Palestinian underclass. Both international and local NGOs are warning of a dramatic increase in drug use and violence among Jerusalem's Palestinian youth, a by-product of this disenfranchisement.
The social and economic deterioration is a direct result of the oppressive and discriminative policies of the Israeli occupation authorities in East Jerusalem, and the situation of Palestinians there is reminiscent of that suffered by Palestinians inside Israel since 1948 as a result of similar policies. These policies have left Palestinian communities in Israel suffering from high levels of unemployment and poverty in addition to social problems including low levels of education.
On a wider political level, the Israeli insistence on shunning final status issues, particularly that of Jerusalem, while continuing to create facts on the ground is not only jeopardizing Palestinian objectives and thus delaying a workable solution, it is also influencing the domestic Palestinian political situation by weakening the argument of the peace camp and reinforcing the arguments of those opposed to negotiations. The resumption of American peace efforts that resulted in the Annapolis process and the visit of US President George W. Bush to the region offered some hope for the Palestinian public that translated into an increase in support for the peace camp led by Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
This support, however, is already being undermined, even reversed, by the lack of any tangible progress in talks to stop the continuing consolidation of the Israeli occupation in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Combined with the ability of Hamas to break the siege on Gaza, as perceived by the Palestinian public, this has had a significant effect in shifting the balance of power between the two rival political camps in Palestine in favor of Hamas and the rest of the groups opposed to the peace process.- Published 4/2/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Now that the Winograd report is behind us, PM Ehud Olmert appears to have gained a renewed mandate to deal intensively with two key Palestinian issues. One involves Hamas and Gaza and does not directly concern us here. The other is the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that Olmert has developed together with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US President George W. Bush. That process now appears to offer the main rationale for Olmert's ongoing premiership and the only potential achievement separating him from new elections in which public disappointment with his performance in the Second Lebanon War is likely to sweep him from office.
Of the two "existential" issues--Jerusalem and refugees--that most challenge both Olmert and Abbas in their attempts to come to grips with the demands of a peace process, Jerusalem is the most pressing and immediate. First, because it is a roadmap phase I issue, and the Israeli and Palestinian governments are pledged, under the watchful eye of the United States, to deliver on their phase I obligations. The roadmap states that in phase I, "Government of Israel reopens Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other closed Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem based on a commitment that these institutions operate strictly in accordance with prior agreements between the parties." Thus far, neither the Chamber of Commerce, the Detainee Rehabilitation Center nor Orient House has been reopened, nor, to the best of this writer's knowledge, have negotiations been launched toward this end.
A second reason why Jerusalem is so central to the process is the existence of planned or ongoing Jewish building activity in East Jerusalem, in neighborhoods like Gilo, Har Homa and Shimon HaTzadik. Olmert, who presumably wants to negotiate in good faith, seems to be less than fully in control with regard to Jewish settlement activity east of the Jerusalem green line, whether sponsored by the Jerusalem municipality, settler groups or his own government's Ministry of Housing. That activity makes it harder to negotiate a Jerusalem settlement in which an "Arab Jerusalem" becomes the Palestinian capital--the kind of settlement Olmert ostensibly seeks.
Third, and apropos negotiations over Jerusalem, Olmert has committed to the Shas party leadership to postpone them as a condition for keeping Shas in the coalition. Assuming Abbas acquiesces in this internal Israeli political concession, the ramifications for the peace process itself are far-reaching. For one, avoiding discussion of Jerusalem constrains the ability of the peace negotiators to discuss those aspects of additional final status issues that inevitably touch on Jerusalem, including borders, settlements and even (Sho'fat refugee camp) refugees. Then too, this arrangement implies that the moment when, assuming all other final status issues have been agreed, the two sides begin deliberating the complex Jerusalem issue, Olmert will be plunged by Shas' withdrawal into a coalition crisis that further constrains his capacity to complete negotiations.
One could argue, of course, that this is a tempest in a tea pot: that there is virtually no likelihood Israelis and Palestinians will agree on the other final status issues; that Israel's non-compliance with its roadmap phase I obligations regarding Jerusalem is fully justified by the Palestinians' failure to deliver on their security undertakings; and that ongoing Hamas control in Gaza in any case renders the entire Annapolis process meaningless. But it is precisely because of these major obstacles to a successful peace process that an examination of the status of Jerusalem in the process is so revealing--and so disappointing. Looking at Jerusalem, we must conclude that the entire process is either a cynical exercise on Olmert's part, or a genuine reflection of his lack of strategic grasp of the real demands of a peace process. - Published 4/2/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
The fate of the two-state solution hangs on Jerusalem
by Mousa Qous
Immediately after last November's Annapolis conference, Israel declared its intention to construct 307 new housing units in the Har Homa settlement in occupied East Jerusalem, in addition to building new settlements in the Almatar and Sheikh Jarrah areas of the city. Thus, Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert--who announced before the conference that he had ordered a freeze on all construction in West Bank settlements--started a battle even before negotiations had got under way. He justified the building in Jerusalem by claiming that the city should be considered a part of Israel and thus exempt from any freeze.
Israel occupied and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. In 1980, the Israeli parliament passed what it called the Jerusalem Law, which considers Jerusalem the "eternal and indivisible capital of Israel". However Israel alone holds this position. UN Security Council Resolution 478 deemed the Jerusalem Law "null and void" and determined that it "must be rescinded forthwith". According to international law, the situation is quite clear: Jerusalem is part of occupied territory to which Geneva conventions prohibit Israel from moving its civilian population and on which the Hague conventions ban it from undertaking permanent changes. No country, including the United States, has recognized Israel's annexation and no embassies are located in the city. Nevertheless, Israel has pressed ahead with its settlement project.
Despite Olmert having agreed with the Palestinian leadership under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resume final status negotiations, it is therefore apparent that he is not yet willing and/or confident enough to include Jerusalem, one of the most important final status issues, in these talks. This was made explicit in his agreement with the religious Shas party not to discuss the fate of the city. Shas, which holds 12 Knesset seats and is thus a vital coalition partner in Olmert's government, threatened otherwise to withdraw from the coalition and thus potentially bring down the government. Moreover, this position means that Olmert is also not ready to abide by the roadmap agreement--which dictates a freeze on "all settlement activity, consistent with the Mitchell report, including natural growth of settlements"--as was agreed at Annapolis.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to ban any PA activity in Jerusalem and refuses to re-open the city's Palestinian institutions, including Orient House and the Arab Chamber of Commerce, which were closed after the eruption of the Aqsa intifada. In the long run, furthermore, Israel's Jerusalem municipality plans to reduce the number of Palestinians in the Old City as part of its Jerusalem Master Plan 2000 that seeks to "develop" the city as "a center for the Jewish people and a seat for its government", in order to achieve a "long term goal that reflects the future vision for the city as conceived by the city fathers".
This Israeli unilateralism in Jerusalem is clearly preparation for the implementation of the Clinton doctrine that "what is Jewish will remain for the Jews and what is Arab will remain for the Palestinians" in any future agreement over the city. In other words, by ignoring international law and any and all UN resolutions related to the Arab-Israel conflict, Israel is working hard to secure itself as large a slice of the Jerusalem pie as it can.
On its part, a divided and weak Palestinian side is unable to exert any pressure to force Israel to stop its unilateralism. The peak of recent Palestinian activity regarding the city was last month's Popular Conference for Jerusalem (which was held in Ramallah). At the conference President Abbas declared that, "we want Jerusalem to be our future capital and we will not accept other than that.... Regardless what [Israel] did or intends to do and whatever they do to change its features, the holy occupied Jerusalem is the capital of our state and we will not cede it." Organizers of the conference hoped to organize and direct Palestinian efforts against Israeli measures and practices in the city. But Palestinians--who now control only 14 percent of their land in the city--face an uphill battle.
Jerusalem, which was the spark for the second Palestinian intifada during which thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis were killed and injured, remains the key to peace in the region. However, peace can only be achieved if Israel ceases to act as a settler state and moves to build trust instead of settlements. Since Israel has failed to do so in the past 40 years of occupation, it is time for the international community to act to end Israel's monopoly over the spiritual capital of the three major monotheistic religions. In fact, Jerusalem is not a Jewish city and thus cannot be the eternal capital of the Jewish state. If Israel continues with its current policies and measures in the city, it will become impossible to achieve a two-state solution for the conflict and the cycle of violence will continue. Ultimately, Israel will then finally have no other choice but to become a bi-national state that either functions by way of apartheid or ensures equal rights for all its citizens.- Published 4/2/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Mousa Qous is the Arabic media coordinator of Miftah, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Jerusalem will remain united
by Efraim Inbar
The Ehud Olmert-led government seems unperturbed by the Winograd report. This means that business will continue as usual, including the pursuit of peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Yet the chances of reaching an agreement are dismal; the main reason for this assessment is the issue of Jerusalem. The Palestinian demand to partition Jerusalem is a major obstacle to peace.
The Palestinians and most of the international community fail to understand that then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer to divide Jerusalem at the Camp David summit in 2000 was divorced from the strong attachment a majority of Israelis feel toward the eternal city. This incredible concession has continually lacked the necessary domestic political support. Strategic considerations also dictate holding on to a greater Jerusalem.
Israeli public opinion is committed to maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem. A recent poll shows that 68 percent of Israelis feel that Jerusalem should remain the united capital of Israel while only 29 percent favor its division and becoming the capital of both a Jewish state and a future Palestinian state. The group of Israelis showing the largest support (78 percent) in favor of Jerusalem remaining the undivided capital was the age range of 18 to 24 year olds. Of this group, the strongest support was expressed by ultra-orthodox and religious Israelis, who are the fastest growing segments in the Jewish population. When asked whether Israel should relinquish its control over the Temple Mount, over 70 percent of Israelis disagree.
After Barak's offer in 2000, over 250,000 people demonstrated their opposition to his violation of the Jerusalem taboo, in the largest rally ever held in Israel. The electrifying hold of Jerusalem on the Jewish psyche is not sufficiently appreciated. Moreover, the orthodox injunction against visiting the Temple Mount has eroded, allowing for a growing number of Israelis the mystic experience of meeting a methaphysical past and future. Such feelings are politically potent, foreclosing the possibility that Israelis will sit idly by and watch a transfer of sovereignty.
In 2000, the division of Jerusalem lacked the necessary majority in the Knesset; Barak's coalition disintegrated (for other reasons as well). Similarly, in 2008, Prime Minister Olmert has experienced coalition difficulties because he placed Jerusalem on the negotiators' agenda. The Yisrael Beitenu party has already left the coalition in opposition to talks over permanent status issues, while Shas threatens to do likewise if the government starts discussing Jerusalem with the Palestinians. Even elements within the ruling Kadima party will likely desert the coalition if Jerusalem is touched. At least one Laborite (Yoram Marziano) shares a similar position. Olmert was forced to delay negotiating this issue or risk the collapse of his government.
No Israeli government is likely to survive concessions in Jerusalem under the current political constellation, which is unlikely to change. If elections are held in the near future, the strength of opposition to any concessions in Jerusalem will only grow.
Jerusalem's importance to the Jews is not only historic and religious; the city also holds strategic importance in controlling the only highway from the Mediterranean coast to the Jordan Valley along which military forces can move with little interference from Arab population concentrations. Jerusalem is the linchpin for erecting a security zone along the Jordan Rift. If Israel wants to maintain a defensible border in the east, it needs to secure the east-west axis from the coast to the Jordan Valley via an undivided Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim.
Keeping greater Jerusalem, which includes the settlement blocs that President Bush recognized as realities that must be accommodated in a future settlement, is a strategic imperative. Arguments that ignore the immense potential for political upheaval east of the Jordan River and the fluctuating nature of military technology in order to minimize the military importance of Jerusalem and its central role in Israel's eastern line of defense are opportunistic. Designing stable and defensible borders in accordance with current, but transient, technological state-of-the-art and political circumstances is strategically foolish.
Finally, the partition of Jerusalem is simply a bad idea when the Zeitgeist dictates uniting cities such as Berlin, Belfast or Nicosia. Why should Jerusalem be different? Jews have held a majority in the city for the past 150 years. The Palestinian demand to apply the principle of self-determination to Ramallah is valid for Jerusalem as well. Even the Arab minority in the city has shown its preference for living under Israeli rule, as many have moved to the Israeli side of the security barrier being built around Jerusalem. Their choice is reasonable, as Jerusalem offers the quality of life of a modern western city while only a few kilometers away the norm is a third world standard of living, chaos and religious intolerance. An undivided Jerusalem is the best guarantee of a better life for all Jerusalemites.
In sum, the unreasonable Palestinian demand for dividing Jerusalem is an obstacle to a better future.- Published 4/2/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Efraim Inbar is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the director of its Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.
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