Jerusalem crisis: Amid violence, seeking paths to peace

The question of how to govern a shared Jerusalem, sacred to both Jews and Muslims, often seems intractable. But many potential solutions are already under consideration.

Ammar Awad/Reuters
Israeli border police officers walks in front of the Dome of the Rock, in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City last month.

For decades, Jerusalem has presented successive teams of Middle East negotiators with an array of complex and emotional issues that touch the heart of the Israeli-Arab conflict. It produ­ces the highest of passions, but also unique opportunities to forge a solution.

Since July, political resentment, religious tensions, and social ills have boiled over into the worst violence the city has seen in a decade – from the brutal revenge murder of a Palestinian teenager to the killing of rabbis at prayer in a synagogue – pushing Jerusalem back into the global spotlight.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has decried Israeli political and security actions on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound as “contamination” and a “declaration of war,” and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, en route to early elections, fired the most vocal supporters of Israeli-Palestinian peace in his government, in part, analysts say, for being soft on Jerusalem.

Is hatred and violence the inevitable destiny of the holy city?

Here we examine the key challenges and potential solutions for establishing a practical, sustainable peace in Jerusalem, sacred to more than half of humanity.

Borders and sovereignty

When the United Nations outlined the division of British Mandatory Palestine in 1947, it envisioned Jerusalem as an internationally administered city between two sovereign states. When the fighting over Israel’s creation in 1948 ended, the armistice line, which became known as the Green Line, divided the city between Israeli and Jordanian control.

In the 1967 war, Israel conquered the eastern half of Jerusalem and declared full sovereignty over the city as its “eternal and undivided” capital – a move no major world power has yet recognized.

Palestinians call for a capital in East Jerusalem that is contiguous with the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the West Bank. They decry the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, where nearly all of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods are located, and they demand that Israel withdraw to the 1949 Green Line.

The 2000 Clinton Parameters, outlined by then-President Bill Clinton, declared that the city’s Arab neighborhoods should be apportioned to the future state of Palestine, while the Jewish neighborhoods – including large blocs over the Green Line – would be part of Israel. Israeli and Palestinian leaders approved that principle, though with caveats.

Palestinians seek separate municipalities within an open city, while Israelis insist on a physical border between the two halves – a massive logistical undertaking given the interlocking patchwork of Jewish and Arab areas. Under a divided regime, the walled Old City – the heart of Jerusalem and the epicenter for its holiest sites – would also likely be divided, or administered by an international body.

Holy sites

The most recognizable building in Jerusalem is the Dome of the Rock, a magnificent, golden-domed, 7th-century mosque built atop the most contentious religious site in the city: the Temple Mount as it is known to Jews, and known as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to Muslims.

The man-made plateau, visible from the surrounding countryside and rising above the Old City’s crowded Muslim and Jewish quarters, is the holiest place in Judaism, the site of the first and second biblical temples. Muslims, who believe the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the rock under the dome, built the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the same rectangular plaza and consider it the third holiest place in Islam.

Both Israelis and Palestinians demand freedom of worship at their respective holy sites. Neither side trusts the other to guarantee that right.

The plaza is administered by Jordanian religious authorities, but Israeli police are responsible for security. Palestinians are concerned by the provocative visits and proposals of right-wing Israeli lawmakers to establish Jewish prayer times and even a third temple on the plaza, which would involve the destruction of Muslim sites. Israel is concerned about freedom of access, after Jordan banned Jewish worship there during its 1949-67 rule over East Jerusalem.

Palestinians have previously agreed to Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall of the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa compound. Israelis have agreed to international control of the compound itself. Palestinians have traditionally demanded full sovereignty of the compound, but according to the leaked Palestine Papers, negotiator Saeb Erekat indicated a willingness to cede control to an international body.

Other proposals suggest giving the Old City and its holy sites the status of “divine ownership” or diplomatic status, such as the UN enjoys in New York.

Residency and citizenship

When Israel captured East Jerusalem, it offered citizenship to all Palestinians. For those who declined, it offered participation in municipal elections. But Palestinians, rejecting Israel’s claim of sovereignty, refused to participate in the municipality, leaving it purely Israeli.

Today the city is home to about 300,000 Palestinians and 515,000 Israeli Jews and others; 200,000 Israeli Jews live in the eastern half.

In the 2006-08 peace talks, Mr. Abbas reportedly agreed to allow about 60 percent of those Israelis to stay. Many Palestinians face difficulties retaining their residency rights and accuse Israel of trying to push them out.

A new initiative, Two States in One Space, proposed by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, advocates solving this issue by disconnecting citizenship from place of residence.

In an autonomous capital region under joint Israeli and Palestinian sovereignty, all the city’s residents would be able to remain in their current neighborhoods, while still enjoying citizenship rights in the state of their choice.

Municipal services

Education, sewage, water, trash collection, and infrastructure development in East Jerusalem all lag far behind West Jerusalem. Human rights groups say there is a shortage of 2,200 classrooms.

A third of Jerusalem’s sewage (most of it from the eastern half) flows untreated to the Dead Sea. A section of East Jerusalem that is home to 60,000 to 80,000 residents relies on water infrastructure that was designed for 15,000. Palestinians have difficulty securing municipal building permits and often build illegally.

In a divided city, a Palestinian municipality would be responsible for services and development in its capital, while Israel would scale back its services to the Israeli part of the city.

The Two States in One Space initiative proposes a decentralized system of municipal government, in which local bodies would be empowered to make the best decisions on development, education, and economic issues in their neighborhoods.

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