The Status of Jerusalem
The Israeli government of PM Netanyahu appeared recently in the Israeli and the Arab press willing to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians and ready to discuss the core issues of the conflict, including the status of Jerusalem.
It is true that the status of Jerusalem is at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No Muslim leader will sign away Jerusalem to Israel, no matter how generous any peace agreement could be. The given estrangement of views among both sides as expressed in the context of Camp David II, reinforces the fact that Jerusalem, in the heart of the conflict, is the key to any comprehensive peace settlement. So a mutually acceptable solution to the future status of the city is imperative. And any possible solution acceptable both by the majority of the Israelis and the Arabs at large, must bear in mind the repeated and virtually unanimous positions of both sides. No Palestinian leadership will ever accept a permanent status solution, which fails to give the Palestinian state part-sovereignty over Jerusalem and no Israeli government could ever accept a re-division of Jerusalem.
Realistically, there are two alternative endings to the search for the final status of Jerusalem: Israel and Palestine agree to share an undivided Jerusalem and peace is achieved on that basis, or both parties fail to agree on the city's status and peace cannot be achieved. The first alternative undoubtedly consists a sobering possibility that should stimulate peace-seekers to further explore the potential of assigning sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem.
In this sense, it will be essential to draw a distinction between the ancient walled city where the holy shrines of the three religions are located and the remaining outside areas. These areas were added in response to population growth and successive decisions such as that of the Arab municipality in 1955 and of Israel since 1980, to extend the city limits.
According to proposed solutions, the walled city would belong to no single nation or religion; no state would have political sovereignty over it and no flags would fly. International guarantees will make holy places accessible to everyone, overseen by a council representing the highest Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious authorities. Each authority will be responsible for maintaining its own holy sites and participating on equal footing in the city Administration.
Such a solution would require cooperation rather than a new partitioning of the city and continuing domination of one people over another. Concerning the urban areas, a compromise is promoted. Specific areas to the East are proposed to come under Arab sovereignty and will be linked geographically and demographically to the shrines with their surrounding Christian and Muslim quarters within the walled city. Similarly, areas to the West will be under Israeli sovereignty and linked to the wailing wall, thus forming an uninterrupted entity. All this will allow Israelis to keep Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, yet the walled city will not be assimilated into either side, and peace and brotherhood will become a shared responsibility.
In this way, the vision for Jerusalem formed half a century ago by Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism can come true. According to Herzl, Jerusalem will simply be extra-territorialized belonging to nobody, yet to everybody. It would become the holy place common to the adherents of all faiths, the great condominium of culture and morality.
Published in: Middle East Observer, Issue #1 ,February 2010, Institute for Security and Defense Analyses, Athens.