Oct 11th 2010

Jerusalem must exemplify coexistence

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

The religious, demographic, physical, psychological and political realities facing the Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem today require that it be an undivided-yet shared-city serving as a microcosm exemplifying Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. Jerusalem not only represents the largest urban concentration of Israelis and Palestinians coexisting alongside one another, but also the epicenter of the conflict that divides them. The leaders on both sides must counter the rejectionists at every level to create a solid foundation in Jerusalem for a lasting two-state solution.

The demographic reality in east and west Jerusalem makes division of the city impossible. While Palestinian residents are largely concentrated in east Jerusalem, and Jewish residents in west Jerusalem, they are interspersed throughout the city. Over forty percent of east Jerusalem residents today are Jews, and nearly forty percent of the city's Israelis live east of the so-called "seam line" that once divided Jerusalem prior to the 1967 Six Day War. In addition to establishing this demographic mix, Israel has deliberately developed the city in a concerted manner that has united the eastern and western neighborhoods. Various municipal services, such as gas lines and electricity, are shared across the city. Israel has understood that such structural ties make a future division of the city impossible. Indeed, today Palestinian leaders do not call for a physical division of the city, rather for sovereignty over a Palestinian capital in the eastern portion of the city. As such, any solution to Jerusalem must take into account that the city is physically united in every way.

Furthermore, Jerusalem's religious significance makes it holy to the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, a fact which can never be changed short of a catastrophe. No faith can claim sovereignty over the holy places of another. Just as the guardians of the Dome of the Rock are and must remain Muslims, so should the caretakers of the Western Wall be Jews. The familiar Jewish call to return "next year in Jerusalem" has lasted millennia. Islam's veneration of Jerusalem also spans numerous centuries. Efforts to delegitimize Judaism or Islam's affinity for the city as a holy place deny the unmitigated religious attachment of both peoples to the city.

However, the affinity for Jerusalem on both sides also transcends religion. Secular Israelis and Palestinians value Jerusalem as more than a place revered by the religious, but as the rightful capital of their respective nations. To further dismiss the conflict over Jerusalem as simply one among the religious is to also ignore the reality that both peoples in totality share psychological and emotional ties to the city as the epicenter of their national aspirations.

Recognizing these realities, it is a foregone conclusion across the Israeli spectrum that Jerusalem cannot and will not be divided. No Israeli politician could survive the political upheaval which would follow an attempt to structurally divide the city. If peace and security is assured, Israelis will support the removal of settlers from communities outside of the major settlement blocs. They will never support the removal of Israelis from the Jerusalem environs. Adding this political reality to the aforementioned facts, it becomes inconceivable that the city could be divided in any physical way. This consensus view requires one to consider an approach to ending the conflict by sharing the sovereignty of the city in order to exemplify Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and peace.

The solution to Jerusalem therefore requires an institutionalization of simple realities: Jewish neighborhoods should be under Jewish sovereignty, Palestinians neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty; and the holy shrines should be administered in an independent manner by the appropriate faiths. In this way, rather than creating contiguous land masses divided by a network of walls and tunnels-an impossible proposition-the city would represent the quintessential representation of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation and coexistence. In a recent interview with the Newspaper Haaretz, Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defense Minister, has let it be known that Israel has plans for dividing Jerusalem. "West Jerusalem and 12 neighborhoods (east of the city) that are home to 200.000 (Israeli) residents will be ours" Mr. Barak said in the interview. "The Arab neighborhoods in which close to a quarter million Palestinian live will be theirs. There will be a special regime in place along with agreed upon arrangements in the old city, the Mount of Olive and the City of David."

Inevitably however, there will be some Israelis who will continue to live in areas that would fall under Palestinian control and some Palestinians will continue to reside in Israeli controlled neighborhood. By their own choice these Israelis and Palestinians would become permanent residents in their current places of residence but citizens of their respective countries where they can exercise their political rights to vote and be elected.

Creating such a scenario where the city will be politically-rather than physically-divided demands one central component: strong and sound internal security cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. As long as both sides agree on security arrangements-for example, what happens if a crime is committed in one sovereign area and the criminal flees to the other? -Then other issues can be resolved as well. Joint efforts to administer necessary municipal services would be simple to arrange should Israel's chief concern-security-be effectively addressed.

Even so, the idea of establishing Jerusalem as a shared city representing the potential of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is met by fierce rejectionists. First, there are those who want it all. They deny the legitimate claims of the other side and work to undermine peace efforts at every turn. These rejectionists will work against any kind of peace efforts and will have to be addressed in any arrangement regardless of its makeup. Second, there are those-particularly in Israel-who want to maintain status quo. These critics do not recognize the reality that the status quo is untenable. Without a reasonable solution to Jerusalem, the deep disagreements over the future of the city will continue to serve as a tinderbox of potential violence, as the recent violent clashes sparked in the Silwan neighborhood demonstrates. Third, there are those who support the concept of physically separating the city similar to its pre-1967 status. But the aforementioned realities make such a physical separation impossible. Finally, there are those who question whether Israelis and Palestinians can genuinely work together to administer municipal services and keep the peace in such an urban environment. My answer to this concern is rather simple: under conditions of real peace and amity, anything is possible; under conditions of hostility, little, if anything, is possible. Political will and courageous leadership can generate vast public support and meaningful coexistence in Jerusalem and beyond-but it must first be tried.

Rather than serve as a core issue of division, Jerusalem can indeed serve as a symbol of coexistence and peace. To achieve this goal, the leaders on both sides must get serious about recognizing the realities on the ground in Jerusalem, and addressing the rejectionists to a meaningful two-state solution. If they do, the city aptly called "Ir Shalom" or "City of Peace" can deservedly live up to its name.

*A version of this article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post on October 8th, and can be accessed at http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=190501

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."