We have long wanted to produce an issue dedicated to the proposition that Jerusalem’s political future must be firmly inscribed on the agenda of any Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that presume to be credible. We hope this issue can contribute to a more widespread appreciation among advocates of a negotiated resolution of the conflict that Jerusalem’s importance is not only symbolic or religious but has to do with basic material realities.
The March 30 Israeli ban on Palestinian entry into Israel — including “greater Jerusalem” with its scores of square miles of West Bank land — could not be a more timely reminder of just how untenable Israel’s insistence that Jerusalem is “non-negotiable” really is. This largest Palestinian city, with all its administrative, economic and social as well as political and communications functions, is arbitrarily put off limits to most Palestinians, and its residents isolated. “Greater Jerusalem,” moreover, effectively divides the residents of the northern and southern parts of the West Bank from each other as well as from the city itself. Muslim Palestinians cannot pray at the Haram al-Sharif, nor can Christian Palestinians celebrate Easter in the city. Workers cannot reach their shops and offices, patients cannot see their doctors, children cannot get to their schools. These are some of the everyday implications of defining Jerusalem as non-negotiable. Israelis have made a fetish of Jerusalem’s “unification” (read: annexation) in a way that ignores the fact that it is the only Palestinian metropolitan center. To excise Jerusalem from any arrangement for Palestinian self-government is akin to conceiving of Lebanon without Beirut or Syria without Damascus.
Israel’s insistence that Palestinians from Jerusalem not participate in the US-sponsored talks has from the beginning undermined the possibility of a viable political settlement. To be credible the negotiators must be representative. Jerusalem is home not only to many Palestinian political leaders but also to lawyers and other professionals whose expertise had been arbitrarily denied to the Palestinian team, adding to the already immense imbalance between the resources of the negotiating parties. There is also the question of the political rights of Jerusalem’s Arab residents, who are neither Israeli citizens nor residents of the occupied territories. The Israeli decision to allow Faisal Husseini to join the delegation is a small but welcome recognition of these matters, notwithstanding the ridiculous fiction of declaring Husseini a resident of Jericho for this purpose!
No political settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict will succeed unless it incorporates imaginative solutions to competing claims on Jerusalem. By moving further and faster to recognize Jerusalem’s essential place on the negotiating agenda, Israel and the US could begin to repair the violence done to the negotiations by the expulsion of 415 Palestinians in December and the increased repression throughout Gaza and the West Bank that has characterized Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s tenure so far. There is no reason to think that the Clinton administration will take such a step without a loud insistence from all proponents of a political settlement that Jerusalem’s future status must be on the table, too.