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Sunday, July 9, 2000

The Holy City Must Be Ruled Fairly 

Palestinians don't want a divided Jerusalem, just a share in its governance. 


    No city in the world evokes as much passion and controversy as Jerusalem. And for good reason: Jerusalem is spiritually important to three great religions--Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And it is politically important to two peoples--Palestinian and Israeli. 

     If we are to reach a peaceful resolution to the Jerusalem quandary, it only will be through devising a way to ensure that all five of these constituencies have a role in the administration of Jerusalem and its holy sites. No single group should be able to claim either religious or political exclusivity in Jerusalem. 

     One of the many myths that have flourished since 1967 is that Israel wants to keep Jerusalem unified while the Palestinians wish to redivide it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Neither I nor others want to see Jerusalem as a divided city. The real question is whether a unified Jerusalem will be under the exclusive control of Israel or under shared control. 

     Palestinians believe that Jerusalem should be a shared, open city; two capitals for two states. In our vision, East Jerusalem, as defined by the 1948-1967 borders, would be under Palestinian sovereignty, while West Jerusalem would be under Israeli sovereignty. Two discrete municipalities, one Palestinian and one Israeli, would fulfill the needs of both sides, while an umbrella authority would deal with common issues such as the environment and citywide services. But the city would have no internal or physical borders and would have open access for all people, no matter their citizenship. 

     To a large degree, this arrangement would simply be recognition of reality: For the past 33 years, Israelis have treated East Jerusalem as a separate entity. The Israeli government has channeled only minimal resources to the Palestinians of East Jerusalem and has denied its majority Palestinian population many basic rights. These Palestinians, many of whose families have lived in Jerusalem for centuries, have had no voice in their city's administration and have faced severe impediments imposed by Israel in housing, land use and economic development. This is the Israeli version of "unified" Jerusalem. 

     Under our plan, all of the city's residents, not just Jewish Israelis, would have a say in how Jerusalem is run. Moreover, the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis should be equal: If Israelis are to live in East Jerusalem, then Palestinians should be allowed to live in West Jerusalem. 

     Creating shared administrative arrangements is especially important in the Old City of Jerusalem, as this concentrated area evokes the most passion among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Many residents of the Old City are Palestinian. Yet for the past 33 years, all decisions about land use, housing and development have been made by Israelis. Palestinian Christians and Muslims have had no say and have suffered as a result. 

     For example, soon after Israeli forces captured Jerusalem in 1967, Israel greatly expanded the Old City's Jewish Quarter and ruled that Palestinians could not purchase houses there, even though extremist Jewish groups--often with Israeli government encouragement--have seized properties in the Old City's Christian and Muslim quarters. And since 1993, Israel has imposed a military closure that systematically prevents Palestinian Christians and Muslims from entering Jerusalem. 

     In our vision of Jerusalem, such actions could not occur because administration of the Old City would be shared and followers of all three religions would enjoy unimpeded access to their holy sites. 

     As Jerusalem is the spiritual center for all three monotheistic religions, no one should have a monopoly over the Old City, and no one should act there unilaterally. Israelis say they want to keep Jerusalem unified and not divided. What they really mean is that they want to maintain 100% control over Jerusalem. 

     Palestinians want a Jerusalem that is shared, not divided. Ours is the only realistic alternative for a city that is so important to so many people. There is no reason why Jerusalem cannot become the symbol of reconciliation in the Middle East instead of continuing to be an obstacle to peace. 

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times 


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