On April 9, 2003, when the first four Jewish families moved into a new housing development at Ras al-Amud in the heart of East Jerusalem, Israeli settlement policy in the city reached a new level of absurdity.
On the one hand, successive Israeli governments and Jerusalem municipalities have succeeded in the course of 35 years since 1967 in "uniting" the city, thereby rendering it increasingly difficult to repartition Jerusalem into Jewish and Arab capitals, or to solve the conflict by creating a coherent, contiguous Palestinian Arab capital in Jerusalem. On the other hand, these same governments and municipalities are unable and/or unwilling to treat Jerusalem's 230,000 Arab residents as equal citizens, and have no realistic strategy for rationalizing their status within the prevailing scheme of settlement.
In 2000-2001, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat--neither of whom even began to understand the needs and constraints of the other side in Jerusalem--tried to negotiate the final status of the city, they ended up, with the assistance of US President Bill Clinton, discussing an approach that would assign all Jewish neighborhoods to the Israeli capital, Yerushalayim, and all Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinian capital, al-Quds. This clumsy arrangement was demographically sound but geographically very convoluted. Still, with the help of a warm peace and imaginative road and bridge construction to link Jews with Jews and Arabs with Arabs and to ensure territorial contiguity between the West Bank and the Palestinian capital, it might have been made to work. But it would not have been easy to "sell" to the Israeli public, and when Arafat's contempt for the Jewish roots of the Temple Mount/Harem a-Sharif became known, we lost the opportunity for even a cold peace.
Since then, Israelis have taken up residence in Har Homa, which blocks contiguity between Arab Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and, most recently, in Ras al-Amud--a tiny island of Jewish families surrounded by tens of thousands of Palestinians.
What have we created, and why?
In 1967, Israel hastily redrew the borders of Jerusalem based on the mistaken assumption that it would soon be told by the international community to return all its wartime conquests in the West Bank, and would have to defend the Old City, the Temple Mount and the "Holy Basin" (City of David-Mount of Olives) against hostile Arab military emplacements situated in close proximity. Hence new municipal boundaries were drawn through isolated Arab villages along hilltops east of the city, and the airstrip north of Kalandia was incorporated lest the city again be besieged as in 1948.
New Jewish neighborhoods were laid out in the eastern city to ensure Israel's foothold. When heavy settlement activity commenced in the West Bank in 1977, one key rationale was the need to buttress enlarged Jerusalem with additional Jewish population centers for security purposes.
Israel's military strategy regarding Jewish Jerusalem soon proved anachronistic, as it made peace with Jordan and it became clear that a Palestinian state would pose no military threat to any part of Israel. The demographic upshot has been to entrap the Palestinian residents within the expanded city. Israel never encouraged them to become Israeli citizens, nor do they wish to. The municipal services they receive are a tiny fraction of those allotted to Jewish residents. Most recently the security fence, though erected for legitimate reasons, has cut off even some of Jerusalem's Palestinian population from their sources of work, education and sustenance.
In fact, Israel simply never had a recognizable strategy regarding over a third of Jerusalem's inhabitants and never formulated a convincing reply to the demand of all Palestinians that the city's sovereign, religious, municipal, cultural and commercial centrality to them be recognized and incorporated into an agreed solution. Notably, with the exception of Barak's brief and messy negotiating experiment, the policies of successive Israeli governments and Jerusalem municipalities, Labor and Likud, have been remarkably uniform in this regard. They have simply been hoping for the past 35 years that the problem would "go away"--even as they repeatedly exacerbated it.
In the early '90s an Israeli minister of interior, a political dove, suggested to the late Faisal Husseini, then the Palestine Liberation Organization official responsible for the Jerusalem portfolio, that Jerusalem's Palestinian population could solve the problem in one fell swoop by ceasing to boycott municipal elections. By voting en masse and combining with the city's growing ultra-orthodox Jewish population, they could constitute a ready non-Zionist majority in Israel's capital city, thereby obliging the country's leaders to get rid of them by repartitioning Jerusalem.
Husseini rejected the idea because it would "recognize" Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem; sadly, the Palestinian approach to a solution has been at least as stubborn and unimaginative as that of Israel.
The slogan "united Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel" (still adhered to by the Likud but no longer by Labor) never fully corresponded with either the facts on the ground or Israel's declared willingness to negotiate the Jerusalem issue. The problem is that there must be compromises in Jerusalem if we are ever to end the conflict, yet Ras al-Amud and similar "facts on the ground" are making this more difficult with every passing day.
Yossi Alpher is former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.
The Ras al-Amud settlement is one of several significant projects that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon chose to pursue as the outside world was busy with the agitation of the war on Iraq. Another was the expropriation of land for a different kind of settlement project: in the northern West Bank, the bulldozers constructing miles of Israeli wall can be heard working non-stop. But the Ras al-Amud Jewish settlement is especially dangerous from the Palestinian perspective because it signifies yet another change in the Jerusalem status quo, i.e. it is one more step forward for the tenacious Israeli policy of altering Jerusalem’s demography and therefore jeopardizing peace negotiations.
Jerusalem has always been one of the most significant points of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Oslo agreements listed it among the final status negotiating issues in 1993 and it was one of the most troublesome negotiations issues at Camp David in the summer of 2000, after which talks fell apart. In microcosm, the Ras al-Amud settlement project reflects the significance and sensitivity of the Jerusalem component as a whole. Further, conflicts over Jerusalem embody the entire Palestinian-Israeli conflict in that they engage the crucial issues of land, population, Israeli settlements and final borders. That is precisely why the Israeli occupation has pursued an aggressive policy of trying to predetermine the outcome of those disputes with unabashed public planning to Judaize the city’s Palestinian areas.
The Israeli government has managed this from all angles: building complexes to add more Israeli Jews in the eastern, occupied half of the city, thus affecting its demographic composition; denying Palestinians building permits to diminish their presence; as well as rescinding the identity cards of Arab Jerusalem residents who cannot produce the pile of paperwork necessary to prove that their "center of life" is in the city.
More recently, Jerusalem’s Israeli settlements have grown to such magnitude that they follow a new rationale of surrounding Palestinian populated areas and physically preventing their expansion. The Palestinians therefore live on islands surrounded by Israeli settlements that were built on confiscated Palestinian land. Ras al-Amud will close one of these circles in a way that blocks the continuity of Palestinian populated areas, preventing independence--and in the big picture--the essence of the two-state solution.
The strategic mistake that Israeli policymakers are committing in continuing this course of action is located in their belief that the creation of new facts will have to be considered in any final peace settlement, regardless of those facts’ legality. That mentality was illustrated in the Israeli proposal for solving the Jerusalem problem at the Camp David negotiations. Israel suggested that the solution be based on its annexation of what has already been confiscated in East Jerusalem. Israel simply assumed that Palestinians would have to recognize its spoils as fact, given the situation on the ground. In return, Palestinians were to be given some modicum of control over those parts of East Jerusalem that Israel has not attempted to annex during the last 35 years of occupation. No one needs to be reminded that this formula did not work, and is the reason we are in this crisis today.
As such, the strategy of creating facts will not increase Israel’s winnings in the final negotiations--when we arrive at that point--as much as they will reduce the chances for making peace between the two sides. Palestinians, whose sole recourse in this imbalance of power is international law, will not accept any agreement that permits Israel to claim land that was confiscated by force because international law is very clear on this point. International law and the relevant Security Council resolutions refer to all of the territories occupied in 1967 as territories under a belligerent military occupation. These tenets remain codified today in the Quartet roadmap, which seems to be gaining momentum. Its preamble reads: "The settlement will resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and end the occupation that began in 1967, based on the foundations of the Madrid Conference, the principle of land for peace, UNSCRs 242, 338 and 1397, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah." Ending the occupation means ending all means of controlling Palestinians, including attempts to surround them or outnumber them by force.
Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
The Ras al-Amud neighborhood guards the Temple Mount
an interview with Uri Ariel
bitterlemons: What is the objective of establishing a Jewish neighborhood at Ras al-Amud, in the heart of Arab Jerusalem?
Ariel: The central objective is to create Jewish contiguity between different areas.
bitterlemons: But in fact isn't this an attempt to break Palestinian contiguity, between the Temple Mount and the eastern outskirts of the city?
Ariel: In advancing Jewish settlement in Jerusalem we are acting in accordance with three guiding principles: linkage, which we mentioned a moment ago; division, which you just asked about; and void, meaning filling an area where there is nothing.
bitterlemons: Why do you think the introduction of permanent Jewish residents to Ras al-Amud was accepted with relative tranquility?
Ariel: This is a general question about Jerusalem--why has it been relatively so quiet? I believe that because a large portion of the Arab residents receives services from the municipality, they know what they could lose. Everyone makes their own calculation. But I'm not knowledgeable enough about this issue; I'm not certain this is the main answer.
bitterlemons: What is your overall strategy concerning some 230,000 Jerusalem Arabs?
Ariel: I would offer them full Israeli citizenship. I would not allow them to take up citizenship of a Palestinian state, at least not at this stage. As things stand, they should be our citizens, even though this creates quite a few problems. We must endeavor to ensure that they [Jerusalem Palestinians] do not become a magnet for the Arabs of Judea and Samaria, because of the social services, and don't draw them into Jerusalem, for example the Hebron Arabs who have moved to the outskirts of Jerusalem.
bitterlemons: But most of the Jerusalem Arabs have refused Israeli citizenship.
Ariel: I'll leave the questions regarding their behavior to experts like yourselves. I barely understand the behavior of the Jews.
bitterlemons: And how do you view the Jerusalem question within the framework of a final status agreement with the Palestinians?
Ariel: It's difficult to detach Jerusalem from the broader issue. We should not alter the present borders of Jerusalem. We can discuss border alterations that favor the Palestinians, but only at a moment of strength in the negotiations, from a position of sovereignty. Today every concession is understood as a prelude to the next concession.
bitterlemons: And the Temple Mount/Harem a-Sharif in final status?
Ariel: The Temple Mount should be under Israeli rule. This is the most holy site of the Jewish people. Sovereignty is determined by the very fact that we are Jews. The Mount was taken from us by force, and I don't reject retaking it by force, or perhaps through political negotiations. The current situation is unbearable, when only Jews cannot ascend the Mount.
The primary attention of the Israeli authorities should focus on the Temple Mount. The task of Ras al-Amud is to guard the Temple Mount.
bitterlemons: How do you view the "mosaic" map of former president Bill Clinton and former prime minister Ehud Barak, according to which wherever Jews live in Jerusalem will fall under Israeli sovereignty, and where Arabs live will be Palestinian?
Ariel: This is not a plan. We said it then, when it was presented, and today, sadly, we say "we told you so". There is no logic here. We have seen where this leads us. We're still liable to get into this plan again via the roadmap, which is a worse version of Oslo--through the back door, by talking about freezing settlement activity and establishing a provisional Palestinian state.
bitterlemons: Finally, can you address the security fence that is going up around the city? The fence separates parts of the city in some places. What are the ramifications for the future borders of Jerusalem?
Ariel: This is the politicians' fence of folly. Behind closed doors they all say there was no need to build it--they gave in to public opinion. The army serves as the contractor and says "this is the politicians' affair". The money could have been used for more serious security objectives. This is one of the bigger scandals of recent times. Of course it will have ramifications: it could partially determine the border of Jerusalem, just like the border of the rest of Israel.
Member of Knesset Uri Ariel (Tkuma faction, National Union list) served as Secretary General of Amana (the settlement movement of Gush Emunim) and Secretary General of the Council of Settlers in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha Council). He lives in Kfar Adummim.
The status of Jerusalem was disputed between the Zionist movement and the Palestinian Arabs even before Israel came to be. Then, Jewish settlements in Jerusalem tended to fall largely to the west and north of the city, although in the western neighborhoods, Jews and Arabs were gradually mixing. But despite this growing presence, the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan did not give Jerusalem to either Jews or Arabs. (This was not a matter of dispute for Zionist leaders who, unlike the Arabs, officially accepted the plan. David Ben Gurion was reportedly planning a capital somewhere in the Negev.)
But in 1948, at a time when certain forces on both sides seemed to tacitly agree on implementing the Partition Plan through war, Jerusalem was the site of bitter fighting. From the Zionist perspective, the battle over the city was intended to secure a connection between the Jewish settlements in and around Jerusalem and the rest of the Jewish communities in the new Jewish state. The Zionists fought very hard to take the key Latroun junction and after the war was over, the Israeli government expelled the Palestinian residents of Lod and Ramla in July 1948. Left as they were, those towns would have been a fork disrupting Jewish continuity between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Even before the war there had been several Zionist campaigns intended to drive villagers from the areas neighboring Jerusalem. The impetus was on one hand to create Jewish continuity and secure the road to Jerusalem, and on the other to push the Arabs to the east into Transjordanian-held territories or what would have been the Arab state. In April 1948, there were also similar campaigns in the western Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. As a result of this slow dispossession, by mid-1949 following the Transjordan-Israel armistice agreement, the area of Jerusalem falling inside Israel’s boundaries was almost entirely Jewish-composed. There were some Arab villages that remained on the periphery of the Israeli-occupied Jerusalem and along the borders of Jordanian-held territories, but only one or two villages survived between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Historically then, Israel’s policy has been to cleanse the land of Arab presence. If Palestinians must remain, they are to be cut off or hidden so that the average Israeli or European visitor does not notice them and gets the feeling that all of this land is and always has been Israeli.
A similar logic seems to have been in the mind of Israelis after the 1967 War. We cannot say for sure that Israel wanted to keep all of the territories occupied in 1967, but it was clear one day after the war ended that Israel was planning to keep all of Jerusalem under its control. Israel’s very first act was to cleanse the “Jewish Quarter” of Jerusalem from its Palestinian Arab residents. The Arabs were kicked out of the quarter and many of them moved north towards Ramallah, to what is now the topsy-turvy border neighborhood of Al Ram. Israel then demolished the Maghribi Quarter just in front of the Western Wall. It also established Jerusalem’s settlement activities with the building of the settlement on the French Hill that would connect with Mount Scopus to the east, an island of Jewish control, as well as the settlement of Neve Yacov. In a sense, the goal of severing Jerusalem from its Palestinian environs and connecting it with the Jewish communities within Israel, the very same goal that motivated the 1948 attacks on the villages west of Jerusalem, was being implemented.
That marked the beginnings of the creation of a “ring” around Jerusalem. In time, that ring would allow the insertion of more than 200,000 Israeli Jews into occupied Arab Jerusalem. The process was easier on Jerusalem’s Bethlehem flank because there already were Israeli settlements in Bakaa and Talpiot and the only connection between Bethlehem and Jerusalem Arabs were a few mixed villages like Sur Baher. The forested hill of Jabal Abu Gneim lay in this area, and now the once-controversial settlement of Har Homa has been constructed to block Arab access to that.
On the other side of the city, Maale Adumim lies in the middle of nowhere, with a Palestinian population between it and Jerusalem’s Jewish presence. That Palestinian population, through Jericho, is still able to interact with Palestinians in the West Bank, but not--it appears--for long. Gradually, Israel is closing this gap.
Now, with the escalation of violence and closure policies in the last two years, Israel has found an opportune time to completely seal eastern Jerusalem. While Jerusalem has been “closed” in the sense that West Bankers and Gazans are not allowed to travel there without Israeli permission, now there is the opportunity to physically encircle the city with walls. These walls, purportedly to keep the Palestinian West Bank population out of the city and besiege Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Abu Dis, will more importantly completely strangle Arab East Jerusalem. Indeed, the only remaining weak point in this circle is that Palestinians are still able to exit the Old City through its Palestinian-inhabited areas and Ras al-Amud, heading on to Jericho and deeper into the West Bank.
Enter right wing Zionist Irving Moskowitz. More of Moskowitz’s millions made off of the elderly in Florida bingo halls will go to settling the Palestinian village of Ras al-Amud with Jews. Now that negotiations are about to restart (or so we hear), the current Israeli government is doing all it can to excise any final physical connection between Jerusalem and Palestinians who see the city as their geographical, spiritual and economic heart.
Issam Nassar is the associate director of the Institute of Jerusalem Studies and associate editor of the Jerusalem Quarterly File.
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