Today's date:
Fall 2000

How to Solve the Jerusalem Issue

Yossi Beilin
, presently the minister of justice of Israel, initiated the secret negotiations with the Palestinians seven years ago that led to the Oslo Accords.

Jerusalem—Today, after Camp David, there is a new reality. The Israelis and Palestinians are close to agreement on issues of security and new solutions have emerged on the practical questions of our lives together on such issues as water and pollution.

Alongside these advances, there remain the emotional difficulties in resolving the problem of Palestinian refugees and the harshest psychological and symbolic barrier—the status of Jerusalem.

The evaluation of all participants at Camp David, including the Americans, is that solving the problem of Jerusalem may facilitate closure on all other issues and thus end our long-standing conflict.

Can the issue of Jerusalem be solved? There are those who believe it is unsolvable given the all-or-nothing approach of both sides. I do not lend my voice to that chorus, and I am convinced that the problem could be resolved if it were up to the free choice of Israelis and Palestinians.

Within the camp of believers in a solution there are "postponers" arguing that many more years of effort are needed to internalize the need for compromise, and "the Jerusalem now-ists" who believe that the problem can and should be solved now. I am a signatory of the latter group.

While it is true that when the difficulty involves feelings and symbols, solutions appear especially hard to come by. But it is also the case that these same qualities hint at the realm in which solutions may be found—the emotional and symbolic.

The Palestinians will have to recognize Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel, in all Israeli aspects—the western sector, the neighborhoods that were built in the eastern sector after the Six-Day War in 1967 as well as the Israeli settlements that were established close to Jerusalem and that will become an integral part of it.

Israel will have to recognize the Arab neighborhoods—which are in effect villages that were annexed to Jerusalem in 1967—as part of Palestinian-ruled Al Quds, and to surrender sovereignty there.

If one pursues this "revolutionary" course of action, there would still be the question of the Holy Basin—half a square mile, which contains sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, the future control over which will be the "make-or-break" issue for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The existing practical daily realities are less problematic than rhetorical and are the basis for a permanent agreement on Jerusalem. Members of various religions are permitted to come and pray in the sites holy to them without interference, as has never been true in the past. An interesting equilibrium has been created, which is the result of layers of history hundreds of years old.

When Israel responded to the Jordanian attack in 1967 and conquered Jerusalem, it respected the status quo of the holy sites, even regarding the Temple Mount, leaving control of it in the hands of the Muslim Waqf and maintaining the restriction on Jewish communal prayer, but allowing individual prayer. Thanks to this status quo, the Old City of Jerusalem has remained relatively quiet over the past 33 years.

Dividing up this small area is not practical. Any solution that is found must relate to the walled city as one unit, with one police authority, tourist, transport and religious management.

The question of sovereignty over this area must be secondary. Even if certain agreed-upon changes take place, they need not have any real significance for practical life in the Holy Basin, except for the right to raise flags or other symbolic rights.

The burden that will be placed on this minuscule space is enormous. It contains sufficient fuel for endless conflicts but also has the potential to bolster peace for generations to come.

From Jerusalem the call can—and should—be sounded for an end to lunacy and killing, a call for normal, quiet life. The practical status quo, flags and truly free access of believers to the sites that are holy to them, may actually become a very uncomplicated formula for solving what seems to many to be an insoluble problem.

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