A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Undermining the peace camp
by Ghassan Khatib
Jerusalem has always been an enormously significant component of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is often at the center of major developments in relations between the two sides. At the moment, Jerusalem is one of the main issues threatening, in different ways, the possibility of holding free and democratic Palestinian parliamentary elections.
The issue of Jerusalem is at the top of the agenda of all Palestinian candidates. The need to end the military occupation of East Jerusalem is very much in the hearts and minds of the Palestinian public. Having reached a point of no return in its preparations for elections, the Palestinian Authority would face great difficulties if Israel should decide not to allow elections in the city to proceed. Israel, which directly controls all aspects of Palestinian life in Jerusalem, has been using this fact and its power as leverage in order to pressure the Palestinian side.
The public reasons behind the Israeli threat to prevent elections in Jerusalem are first, its position that East Jerusalem was annexed to Israel and thus it refuses to accept the legal and internationally accepted definition of East Jerusalem as being under military occupation; and second, the fact that some of the candidates recognize neither Israel nor the peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinian side.
The actual reason, however, is different. Israel, behind the scenes and through third parties, has been using its leverage in order to indirectly bargain with Hamas. Since Hamas is eager to take part in these elections, and since some elements within the PA and Fateh might seize on the Israeli position as an excuse to cancel or postpone elections, Israel has used this as a bargaining chip to make Hamas stop launching rockets from Gaza.
Nevertheless, and in spite of Israel's recent declarations that it will allow elections in Jerusalem, in practice, and until now, candidates and campaigners, whether from Jerusalem or from other parts of the Palestinian territory, haven't been allowed to campaign in East Jerusalem. Non-Jerusalemite Palestinians, not only from Gaza but also from the West Bank, are not allowed to even enter Jerusalem to campaign. In some cases, Israel is also selective in dealing with Jerusalemite candidates in a way that goes beyond discriminating only against Hamas candidates, prejudicial as this is in the first place.
The irony here, which may or may not be understood by the political echelon in Israel, is that its attitude and behavior on the issue of elections in Jerusalem has been benefiting the Palestinian opposition and mainly Hamas.
First, discriminating against Hamas and opposition candidates or preventing campaigning in Jerusalem because Hamas is taking part in elections simply serves to single out Hamas and thus increase its public support. Second, the fact that the PA hasn't been able to guarantee the right of its citizens to participate in elections in Jerusalem has been portrayed as a sign of weakness of the PA. One of the possible outcomes is a low turnout among the general public in East Jerusalem. This can also be expected to be unfavorable to moderate parties.
But this is consistent with Israeli positions and practices throughout last year, which have negatively affected the public image of the PA and the moderate leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas. The shift in the balance of power in favor of Hamas and the opposition that might be witnessed in the results of the upcoming elections can at least partially be attributed to Israeli policies. Whether intentionally or otherwise, these have steadily been weakening and undermining the peace camp in Palestine.- Published 16/1/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of labor, acting minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Another crisis temporarily averted
by Yossi Alpher
Ever since Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and acted quickly to annex the Arab city and surrounding villages, it has pretended, under the slogan "united Jerusalem eternal capital of Israel", that this is a permanent situation. Accordingly, it has built Jewish neighborhoods and a network of roads across the green line with the obvious intention of enclosing many of the city's Arab neighborhoods, cutting them off from the West Bank and rendering them an enclave, geographically and politically. The wall/fence in Jerusalem, which the government fully admits is as much politically as security motivated, is but the latest illustration of this approach.
At the same time, Israeli governments and Jerusalem municipal authorities have done virtually nothing to absorb their captive Arab residents into the fabric of the country. Basically, the authorities have never figured out what to do with them. In his ten years as mayor of Jerusalem prior to 2003, Acting PM Ehud Olmert neglected the city's 230,000 Palestinian Arab residents, as did his predecessor, Teddy Kollek. Indeed, 39 years after the Six-Day War, social and medical benefits and freedom of movement inside Israel are the only attributes of Israeli-ness that those residents possess. Nor do they seek more: the best indicator as to where their allegiance lies is their refusal to vote in municipal elections and the small number who have applied for full Israeli citizenship (not that Israel ever encouraged them to do so). The result is that, in human terms, this is anything but a permanent situation.
Israel in fact recognized this reality when it acknowledged, in the Oslo agreements, the right of Palestinian Jerusalemites to vote in Palestinian Authority elections. Since then, in the course of more than a decade, a growing number of politicians and a growing percentage of the Israeli public have become increasingly aware of the demographic threat to Israel's Jewish and democratic nature created by the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In looking for ways to withdraw from Palestinian population centers, more and more mainstream politicians, including Olmert, have even begun to propose ways for Israel to redefine "united Jerusalem" in such a way that it comprises as little of Arab Jerusalem as possible.
All these contradictions in Israeli policy came together in the current Palestinian voting issue. Olmert, thrust into the position of chief Israeli decision-maker, confronted by American pressure, recognizing the precedents of the 1996 and 2005 votes and fearing lest Israel be blamed for a Palestinian decision to postpone the January 25 elections, agreed as his first decision in office to reverse Ariel Sharon's dictum and permit Palestinian Jerusalemites yet again to vote in Palestinian national elections.
Another Jerusalem crisis averted, however temporarily. With elections looming in both Palestine and Israel, that is the best that can be done for the time being.
But the fuse is burning on a far bigger crisis for Jerusalem. The fence/wall, by separating Palestinian Jerusalemites from the surrounding West Bank, is creating an unbearable situation for hundreds of thousands of people. The situation, if not rectified, is liable to deteriorate into major violence: a third intifada, centering on Jerusalem.
There are two possible ways out of this tragic situation: one Israeli, the other Palestinian.
Assuming Olmert is Israel's next prime minister, he should include as much as possible of Arab Jerusalem in those areas he seeks to withdraw from in the next phase, either through negotiations or, more likely, unilaterally. Accordingly, the fence/wall should be moved so as to separate Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, which is the logical path for a barrier whose purpose is physical as well as demographic security and whose location has inevitable political connotations. This will not resolve all the heavy religious/political issues of the Temple Mount/Harem al-Sharif, the Old City (which in any case has a wall around it) and the Holy Basin, all of which Israel has to hold onto pending a negotiated political settlement of the conflict. But it will improve the security situation and constitute another step (after Gaza) toward demographic and security sanity for Israel.
If this does not happen, then it is time for Palestinian Jerusalemites to act: not by violence, which would be suppressed brutally in view of the proximity to the city's Jewish population and its governing institutions, but once again by voting, this time in an Israeli election. With nearly 40 percent of the city's population, Jerusalem Arabs should vote in the next municipal election with the clear purpose of showing Israel that it is better off without Arab Jerusalem--that Israel's ill-defined historic and political capital is in danger of being taken over legally (perhaps in coalition with Jerusalem's a-Zionist ultra orthodox Jews) by an essentially hostile population that Israel insists on keeping captive.
This might be the only way to ensure that Israel's capital remains Jewish and democratic.- Published 16/1/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
an interview with Hanan Ashrawi
bitterlemons: On a practical level, how difficult is it to campaign in Jerusalem?
Ashrawi: I am running as part of the Third Way's national list and not in the Jerusalem district alone. But we do have three people on the list in Jerusalem, and it is extremely difficult to campaign there.
We decided, as an act of defiance and determination, to kick off our campaign in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the capital and it has to be at the heart of any kind of democratic or political process. This was a political act of affirmation. But we were met by the Israeli police and border police, and they physically intervened to prevent us from campaigning.
We nevertheless continued campaigning and meeting with organizations and institutions in Jerusalem, and we will continue to do so. I feel, however, Israel is showing real ill will toward Jerusalem, to our political participation in Jerusalem, and that there is an Israeli agenda to undermine Palestinian elections in Jerusalem.
bitterlemons: This, despite the statement last week that Israel will allow elections in the city to proceed?
Ashrawi: First of all, I didn't like that the police should be able to summon a candidate and tell him how and when. This is not a police issue or a public order issue, this is first and foremost a political issue, and it cannot be addressed only in terms of organizational issues or security issues.
We are not willing to fragment the issue of Jerusalem to deal with each component alone, i.e., first campaigning and then we'll see about voting, freedom of movement and the general siege on the city. All these things have to be dealt with comprehensively. This is not something that should be dealt with by the police, but between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, in an officially binding way, so as to allow Palestinians to participate comprehensively in free and fair elections in the Old City, in the city itself, around the city, in the suburbs and in the villages, in a way that will not undermine the integrity of elections.
bitterlemons: On a practical level, do you feel that Jerusalemites are keen to participate and do they feel that by doing so they are affecting practical issues?
Ashrawi: Unfortunately, I think there is a sense of resignation and probably anger, even despair, among Palestinians in Jerusalem. Sometimes I have the sense that they feel that this is an exercise in futility rather than an exercise in democracy.
But there is also another dimension, which is the rumor campaign, a campaign of intimidation and fear whereby people are told that [if they vote] they will lose their residency rights, their IDs and their social rights and hence we will lose Jerusalem.
We have to break multiple sieges. There is a territorial siege with the settlements, a security siege at the checkpoints, a physical siege with the wall, a political siege with elections now, and a psychological siege, i.e., this fear and intimidation. We have to break through all of these in order to energize and re-invigorate the Palestinians of Jerusalem. I'm not talking about all of them, of course, but a sizeable minority that feels either afraid and intimidated or that the situation is hopeless. So we have to inject hope and vigor.
At the same time, many people have assessed the record of the Palestinian Authority and feel that the PA has done nothing or very little for Jerusalem. And there is confusion over what the duties of the legislative and the executive branches are; some feel the legislative should have done more executive things. We are trying to explain during the campaign what the powers and responsibilities of each are and how we will deal with Jerusalem.
bitterlemons: The issue of Jerusalem threatened and might still threaten the entire elections process. How important is it that elections in Jerusalem are part of the process? Or are the elections as a whole too important and should go ahead anyway?
Ashrawi: Jerusalem is a non-negotiable issue when it comes to elections. There is no such thing as partial or selective elections. Jerusalem is more than just an obstacle or an issue for elections, or a technical, security or police issue. Jerusalem is a political, legal and rights issue of the first degree. Therefore no elections would have any legitimacy or credibility or even be genuinely democratic and representative if Jerusalem were excluded in any way or undermined.
Jerusalem is not an issue to be circumvented and I was quite amazed to hear from Hamas and others that said they would find ways around any ban on elections there. One must not bow to Israeli dictates. This is not acceptable.
bitterlemons: But for a while it seemed that there were certain interested parties who wanted these elections to be postponed and were using Jerusalem as the excuse?
Ashrawi: Some people did, yes, and looked at Jerusalem as a pretext to postpone elections. And there were others who said we should have elections regardless. Our position is that Jerusalem is neither a pretext nor an obstacle. It's a core issue. We have to intervene effectively to ensure that Jerusalem is part of the elections?
bitterlemons: Are you confident that elections will go ahead in Jerusalem?
Ashrawi: From experience I know there will be obstacles. The rumor campaign will continue working overtime. The presence of police and border police will intimidate activists. This happened last time, when they arrested people near the polling stations in the post offices. Also there will be a siege around Jerusalem that will make movement very difficult. We saw this last time.
We need a lifting of restrictions on the freedom of movement, we need non-intervention by the Israeli police, we need to increase the number of places where Jerusalemites can vote, we need more polling stations, not less, and we need to have a campaign to encourage Palestinians to participate.
bitterlemons: With all these restrictions in Jerusalem, to what extent can we talk about free and fair elections?
Ashrawi: We can't talk about free and fair elections anywhere because we are holding elections under occupation and really as an act of defiance. We know the elections and the outcome will be far from perfect. But flawed elections, I guess, are better than no elections at all. And this election needs to re-energize Palestinians, the people and the candidates, and all the factions must act in a positive and decisive manner to ensure that the elections are as representative and free and fair as possible We have to stand up to all sorts of restrictions, defy obstacles and persist in order that they have as much integrity as possible.
But we don't claim to have perfect elections, and I don't think they will be. Already they are prejudiced. The siege against Jerusalem is prejudicial, the restrictions on movement are prejudicial and a people voting in a state of fear of intervention and violence and under occupation will act differently from a free people. The results will be tainted but hopefully not enough to undermine the legitimacy of the elections.- Published 16/1/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for Jerusalem and is running for re-election with the Third Way list.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
The beginnings of a solution
by Gilead Sher and Jonathan Gillis
The recent decision by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to allow the participation of Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem in the forthcoming Palestinian elections surprised many. It was taken by some as a sign of a new pragmatism on the part of the Israeli government. The Israeli right took it as the thin end of a wedge: the phrase "they're about to divide up Jerusalem" was swiftly dredged up, ironically a slogan originally coined by Olmert himself and used against former prime minister Shimon Peres, now a member of Olmert's party.
Pragmatic, yes, but not as part of a wider pragmatism with regard to Jerusalem: beyond maintaining the present status quo, there has been no official policy regarding East Jerusalem since the attempt, at the Camp David talks and in the subsequent Clinton parameters, to present one. On the other hand, in the present political climate no Israeli government is about to begin dividing up Jerusalem.
Yet Jerusalem does require urgent action, and the anomalous legal status of its Palestinian citizens in the forthcoming elections (Palestinian as well as Israeli) merely highlights this need. Since Camp David, the situation on the ground has been deteriorating greatly. A burgeoning population, particularly in the Old City, inadequate (in some areas non-existent) infrastructure, utilities, and public services, haphazard enforcement of planning and construction laws, rising poverty and rising crime are together creating a situation that is becoming ungovernable.
The status quo is no longer tenable.
A myriad of factors have contributed to the situation's present acuity: legal factors (not least the effects of poorly conceived and poorly applied Israeli laws creating the anomalous hybrid "permanent residency" status of East Jerusalem Palestinians), political factors, historical and demographic factors, and of course the recent effects of the boundary fence. None of the political solutions broached since the Camp David talks--all variations on positions taken then and on the Clinton parameters--provides concrete answers to this plight, except for making a solution to the problems on the ground contingent on a solution of the wider sovereignty issue. However, when there is no perceivable Palestinian polity capable of assuming control and governance over a Palestinian Jerusalem, and no Israeli political consensus over the desirability of this happening, the likelihood of anything like it taking place soon is rather remote.
Until this happens, the predicament of East Jerusalem and its population requires that we look for practical solutions, and at the most basic level. Since the overriding effects of the current situation are experienced at the municipal level, it makes sense that the parties also begin seeking workable solutions to these problems there--first and foremost, by creating bodies (joint Israeli and Palestinian as well as separate) that could assume responsibility for decisions over planning, the provision of utilities and public services, transportation, and the maintenance of law and order.
To do this, we would propose setting up a two-tier system of municipal government for the East Jerusalem area (the whole of this area, not merely the area within the walls of the Old City). Boroughs would be established, each with a council chosen from its population and each council with representatives on an overall council, or municipal corporation. How the boroughs would themselves be organized, what powers each would have and how these might be exercised, and the interface between the overall council or municipal corporation and existing bodies, are questions that require more extensive treatment than may be sketched out here. It is the principle behind the proposal that is presented here: to begin to find, in the prevailing legal and political circumstances, mechanisms that are legally and practically workable, which are capable of meeting at least some of the immediate needs of the population, which avoid as far as possible the stigma felt in the application of Israeli sovereign law to the area, and which provide the beginnings of representation for the local population.
The aid of the international community should also be called upon in the implementation of such a plan. Israel has already embarked on a positive process of protecting East Jerusalem by applying the principles of the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and involving existing UNESCO mechanisms. Applied wisely and in tandem with a practical plan for the area, UNESCO could prove an important ally in tackling the area's acute problems as well as ensuring non-controversial protection for sites of historical, cultural and religious importance.
It will be argued that none of the above addresses the pressing issues of the final-status arrangements for the area, the drawing of sovereignty lines, the establishment of symbols of Palestinian sovereignty in the area under Palestinian control, or the question of what to do with the Temple Mount and the other Holy Places. Yet the pursuit of one need not cancel out the other. The above plan would allow for the creation of the first mechanisms of cooperation that would in any case be needed to make these provisions possible.- Published 16/1/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Gilead Sher served as Prime Minister's Bureau head and policy coordinator and was the Israeli co-chief negotiator in 1999-2001. Sher's book, Within Reach: the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, was recently published in English by Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Jonathan Gillis is a senior associate at Aaronsohn, Sher, Aboulafia, Amoday and Co., Law Offices and chairman of "Bizchut", the Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities.
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