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Husseini C.V

Articles and Speeches
of Faisal Husseini

Palestinian Future Vision For Jerusalem
Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) Conference

London, 15 December 1999


Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Middle East conflict between Arabs and Israelis is a dispute with many dimensions and variables, all of which affect the search for a just, lasting and comprehensive solution. There are political, national, religious, emotional, social, and economic considerations that severely complicate the realization of a peaceful settlement to this century old conflict and no where is this more important than in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the most important issue to be resolved in order to achieve a lasting peace between Arabs and Israelis. Without an acceptable solution to the Jerusalem issue there will be no peace in the region. 

In my presentation I will focus on the Palestinian future vision for Jerusalem.  This vision draws its strength from international resolutions on Jerusalem and from the conventions of international law.  This vision takes into consideration the many challenges that face Palestinians in Jerusalem.  It has also developed strategies to counter those illegal Israeli policies which have and continue to change the demographic and geographical character of the city in order to prejudice final status negotiations and consolidate Israeli sovereignty.  These Israeli actions are not acceptable and must be challenged.

While many may be skeptical as to ability of the Palestinians to effectively negotiate with the Israelis on the issue of Jerusalem, it must be remembered that many other issues were also once thought of as taboo.  Just a few years ago Israel would never even consider speaking with the PLO and, likewise, the PLO would never consider acknowledging Israel.  Now we meet frequently and even cooperate on several issues.  Israel's numerous red lines concerning Palestinian statehood and rights have begun to soften and soon, Jerusalem, one of the last untouchables for the Israelis will also be put on the negotiation table. 

Israel is undisputedly the most powerful country in the Middle East and, as such, has the difficult task of choosing between the logic of power or the power of logic. The first choice, the logic of power, may one day consolidate Israel's control over Jerusalem and the Palestinian people but it is only in choosing the power of logic that will provide Israel and its people with security, stability and prosperity. I truly hope that wisdom will prevail in Israel and that the forces of peace on both sides will triumph in their struggle for a better future for both Palestinians and Israelis. I personally hate to think of the dreadful alternative to the current peace process and sincerely wish that our efforts will culminate in attaining the desired formula for a genuine peace in our region.

Here, before embarking on the Palestinian future vision of Jerusalem, it is necessary to shed light on some of the Israeli actions that have transpired in occupied Jerusalem since 1967.  Israel has and continues to create facts on the ground that intend to prejudice any future arrangements for comprehensive peace. Israel desperately wants to annex Jerusalem and its holy sites but not its Palestinian inhabitants. Palestinian Jerusalemites are not part of the Israeli vision for Jerusalem and the Israelis have created conditions on the ground that force us to leave Jerusalem and change our identity as Palestinians. 

But we have resisted these measures. By fighting to preserve our identity as a people and our right to live in the City, we have preserved the Jerusalem as our capital and our cultural and economic center. This fight has not been restricted to the inhabitants of Jerusalem but was joined by all the Palestinians.  By the strength of our solidarity, we have managed to control our religious sites and institutions, our churches and our mosques.  We have also succeeded in preventing Israel from imposing its educational curriculum on Palestinian schools in Jerusalem.  After years of stiff resistance, we managed to keep Palestinian control over the majority of educational, cultural, health and social institutions in East Jerusalem, thus preserving the Arab Palestinian character of the City.

By the same token, however, it must be said that the Israelis have also relentlessly continued their policies of settlement expansion and land confiscation in occupied Jerusalem. With the construction of the illegal settlement of Har Homa near Bethlehem, the outer ring of Israeli settlements has now completely encircled Jerusalem and new Jewish settlers continue to be brought in from all over the world to fill them.  From 1967 until the present, the Israeli population in occupied East Jerusalem has grown from zero to over 180,000. Israel has also confiscated over 34% of Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem and left Palestinians with no more than 13% of the land in East Jerusalem for residential construction.

These Israeli policies change the landscape of Jerusalem and contribute to the intransigence of the conflict. Israeli housing units in the dozens of illegal settlements continue to grow by the tens of thousands while Palestinians only build in the hundreds.  The reasons for this discrepancy and the current housing shortage in Palestinian sectors of Jerusalem, lie in the fact that Israel systemically restricts Palestinian building through zoning plans and restrictions on Palestinian building.  This has made the building process for Palestinians both difficult and expensive.  Today, Palestinians are in exceptional need of more housing in to absorb its natural population growth.  Although the development of Palestinian areas in Jerusalem is restricted by Israeli policies, the use of current Palestinian areas has not yet been optimized and there is room for development. By working to ensure adequate housing for the growing Palestinian population in Jerusalem, Palestinian national interests will be served by raising the population of Palestinians residing in Jerusalem and by protecting Arab character of the City.

In the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, Israel has intensified its illegal actions to consolidate its control over occupied Jerusalem.  These actions continue in defiance of countless UN Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions regarding Jerusalem as well as numerous international statutes including the Fourth Geneva Convention. The strangle hold around occupied Jerusalem is now being tightened through a series of new Israeli policies intended to marginalize those Palestinians who continue to live in occupied Jerusalem. 

The first policy, the military closure around Jerusalem, was established in March 1993 and intends to isolate Jerusalem from the Palestinian Territories.  The military checkpoints prohibit Palestinians from freely entering the City even for prayer and visiting the holy sites and has greatly inhibited trade and commerce between Jerusalem and the other Palestinian Territories.  The closure also sabotages final status negotiations as it creates a de facto border around Jerusalem. It must be noted that these borders were established unilaterally and by force and are a deliberate attempt to prejudice the negotiations on the borders and status of Jerusalem.

The second Israeli policy intends to estrange Palestinians from their own institutions in eastern Jerusalem. Again in violation of the D.O.P, new Israeli laws were introduced banning many Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem and making their organizational tasks more difficult.  The Orient House has not been spared of this Israeli aggression. In April of last year, Minister of Internal Security, issued a closure order on several key offices in the Orient House. However, despite the limited success of the Israeli policy in reducing the role of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, the Orient House as well as the bulk of Palestinian institutions remain active and have even managed to diversify their activities to cope with the changing reality. 

The third strategy used by the Israelis intends to isolate Jerusalem from the international community. This goal is relentlessly pursued by the Israelis who continually prevent meetings set up between Palestinian officials and international representatives in East Jerusalem, particularly at the Orient House. The purpose of these actions is to censure the issue of Jerusalem from political discussions between foreign dignitaries and officials and inhibit international recognition of Palestinian rights to Jerusalem. 

However, even while the Israelis try to implement these three circles of isolation around us, we continue the struggle to resist the occupation and work hard to minimize their negative impact on us.  In order to counter the military closure around Jerusalem, the Orient House and other Palestinian institutions have proposed to begin a building campaign in those areas around Jerusalem which are under the status of Area B.  Building and developing Palestinian lands around Jerusalem will help to contain the expansion of the Israeli settlements and force Israel to absorb the maximum amount of Palestinians if they ever attempt to re-expand the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

This building and development program should be implemented in conjunction with other building projects in the City of Jerusalem.  Combined these projects aim to alleviate the acute housing shortage in Palestinian Jerusalem and develop Palestinian communities and raise the standard of living.  The housing program also includes renovations and restoration of existing Palestinian homes.  These renovation programs will be focused especially on the Old City Jerusalem and its environs which have been the target of Jewish settler groups.  These renovations will greatly help to thwart the attempts of these organizations to illegally seize Palestinian properties.

The protection and development of Palestinian organization in Jerusalem is also vital to creating a viable Palestinian Jerusalem. These organizations supply Palestinian people with vital services in education, health, social programs and protection of their human rights.  In order to counter the Israeli attempts to close Palestinian institutions, the Orient House has begun initiatives to support and develop the performance and security of these institutions. By raising funds to cover the running costs of Palestinian organizations, the Orient House hopes to become a source of strength for Palestinian civil society in Jerusalem.

In order to raise the necessary funds, the Orient House aspires to raise over $200 million in order to support Palestinian institutions in the areas of health, culture, education, and social services.  Sandouk Beit Almal  (the Jerusalem Fund), a committee established to facilitate development programs in Jerusalem, will be the leading organization in this initiative.  A new fund raising program called "Buy Time in Jerusalem" will also be established in order to solicit funds from both Arab countries and private donors.  As every minute spent in historic Jerusalem is priceless, we believe this program will successful and supply our initiative to develop Jerusalem with the funds and the resources necessary to realize our vision for Jerusalem. 

The diplomatic and international isolation caused by the Israelis will also be countered through the support of Palestinian institutions.  The Orient House remains committed to being the center for Palestinian foreign relations in Jerusalem and, besides maintaining diplomatic contacts with the foreign consulates, the Orient House is developing ideas to harness the potential of the commercial and tourist industry.  We want to encourage religious institutions, including Christian pilgrimage tours to Jerusalem, to use Palestinian tourist agencies, stay in Palestinian run hotels, and use Palestinian guides as they walk the streets of the Old City and see the many holy sites.

As for the difficult task of final status negotiations concerning Jerusalem, the Palestinian position is very clear.  As stated in the Oslo agreements, the borders for final status are those that existed on the 4th June 1967 as defined in UN Resolution 242 and 338.  Moreover, any durable solution on Jerusalem will include negotiations on all aspects of the whole of Jerusalem east and west.  The negotiations must also undertake the task of detailing the relations between the two separate municipalities.

Issues to be Negotiated During Final Status Negotiations

The Palestinian voice must and will be heard clearly as we embark on the final status talks to achieve a just political solution. As we focus on future Israeli/Palestinians agreements on Jerusalem there are four key issues that have been identified as the most prominent sources of contention for arranging a comprehensive peace. These are:

1.  Aspirations
2.  Security
3.  Actions on the ground
4.  Fears
Regarding the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis, it must be acknowledged that both people regard Jerusalem as vital to their spiritual and historic identity.  For the Israelis, however, this attachment to Jerusalem is expressed by achieving physical and demographic dominance over both the city and its inhabitants. This expression of Israeli aspirations is not only provocative but unreasonable and illogical, especially when considering that Israelis could maintain their historical links by acquiring a guarantee on freedom of access to all parts of the City. 

In the discussion of security, we must define the term broadly, as this definition must include provisions for personal, national and economic security. Ideally, security arrangement could be achieved through procedures and arrangements that are worked out cooperatively between the two sides. However, as is the case with the military closure of Jerusalem, the security issue has and continues to be used by the Israelis as an excuse to legitimize their control over the City and as a pretext to annex or confiscate additional Palestinian lands.  We Palestinians, are ready to address the security concerns of Israelis as long as our security is also respected.  I am confident that a suitable solution can be worked out by the both sides but the Israelis must acknowledge that security is a universal right.  There can be no peace as long as illegal Israeli settlements continue to expand, Palestinian land continues to be confiscated and Palestinian homes continue to be demolished.  If the Israelis want us to address their security concerns, ours must also be met. 

The third issue refers to Israeli actions on the ground that aim to consolidate Israeli sovereignty on the City.  These actions involve two main strategies.  One is to raise the Jewish population primarily through the construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land while the second is to restrict Palestinian population growth. Here, we should remember that Palestinians are facing a serious housing crisis due to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian building. This crisis is likely to continue and even become more acute as there is a high natural population growth among the Palestinian population and a large anticipated growth due to the return of Palestinian refugees. We estimate that Palestinian Jerusalemites need, immediately, between 40,000 and 50,000 new housing units. 

The last issue concerns the Israeli fears that the right of return for Palestinians will affect the very existence of the State of Israel by altering its demographic and cultural make-up.  This fear is rooted in the belief that Israel is an exclusively Jewish State and any influx of non-Jews is seen as a threat to its existence.  While the concern of the Israelis should be taken into consideration, the inalienable right of Palestinians to return to their properties and to their land must be acknowledged.  Moreover, it must be recognized that failure to arrive at a just solution on the issue of refugees will be a constant source of instability to the whole region.  Large numbers of Palestinian refugees continue to live without a citizenship, without security, and remain marginalized from the Peace Process in general.  The need of Palestinian refugees to realize historic and legal claims to their property and homeland is not fading and, if the rights of Palestinian refugees is not handled appropriately, it can act as a time bomb.  We believe that Israel must accept the principle of the Palestinian right of return before any discussion on the matter is considered. This is the preliminary step that must be taken if this issue is ever to be approached.

In the past two days, the issues of the borders around Jerusalem was raised. For Palestinians, the western boundary of eastern Jerusalem was established after the 1948 war. The northern, eastern and southern boundaries, however, will be delineated on the basis of Palestinian interests and needs. These boundaries will be influenced by our agreement with Israel on whether Jerusalem will become divided again or not. If Jerusalem is to be divided, then it is up to us Palestinians, alone, to decide the extent of our Jerusalem. However, if Jerusalem is to be undivided then its borders should be mutually agreed upon to ensure that the political borders of East Jerusalem are delineated in accordance with UN Resolution 242 and 338.

If we are to create an open Jerusalem, however, we must find a just solution for Palestinian land claims in West Jerusalem. The cumulative documentation of Palestinians property owners indicate that some 70% of the land and property in western Jerusalem is owned by Palestinians. However, while Israeli laws allow any Jewish citizen to re-possess former Jewish property in East Jerusalem and encourages Jews to take up residency East Jerusalem, Palestinians are denied any right to their properties in West Jerusalem. It is thus inconceivable that Israel could allow Jews to repossess property in East Jerusalem while prohibiting Palestinians, who own the majority of property in West Jerusalem, to do the same.  This is especially true considering that Jewish organizations have undertaken great efforts to struggle for their right to either return or receive restitution from European countries for properties lost during the Holocaust.  What is right for one people must also be right for another.

Here we come to the complexities of the negotiations as we are now working within two frameworks. The first one is defined by UN Resolution 242 which calls for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the lands occupied in 1967, meaning that Israel must fully withdraw from occupied East Jerusalem. The second framework is that, not only the international community, but the Palestinians in general would not like to see a new Berlin Wall that divides the city built in Jerusalem. Therefor, by these two frameworks we would like to see an open Jerusalem with two capitals: a Palestinian capital in the eastern side, and an Israeli capital on the western side. From our point of view the negotiations will work on the details concerning relations between the western and eastern side, including the establishment of a coordination committee between the two municipalities, after the political borders have been agreed upon.

We believe that the only way to solve the problem of Jerusalem is to give equal rights to all. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis should deny the other the right to call Jerusalem their capital. Moreover, safeguards for preserving equality must be established to provide safeguards for the three monotheistic religions including Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.  By the same right, this must also extend to the national claims of both the Palestinians and Israelis so that Jerusalem will become the capital of their respective states.  These can be considered as the five pillars for building a durable peace in Jerusalem, one weak pillar may cause the whole to collapse. Together, we must make certain that each is built on principals of justice and are acceptable to each of the concerned parties.

Finally, if we can find the formula that preserves the rights of Muslims, Christians and Jews as well as the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem, then we can solve all the problems in the region and begin to take real steps towards regional cooperation and peace. In this scenario, Jerusalem would once again become the warm sun of the Middle East. 

On the other hand if we fail, then Jerusalem will forever remain a black hole in the Middle East, swallowing everything, including the hope for peace that was created in the past few years. The new Israeli government now has the opportunity to choose the power of logic over the logic of power and work to build the foundation for a genuine peace.  I hope they find the courage to choose wisely and I hope that the international community will stand behind us both as we take the next steps forward. 

Faisal Husseini


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