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.
JerusalemToday, 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 barrierthe 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
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 foundthe
emotional and symbolic.
The Palestinians will have to recognize Yerushalayim as the capital of
Israel, in all Israeli aspectsthe 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 neighborhoodswhich are in
effect villages that were annexed to Jerusalem in 1967as 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 Basinhalf 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
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
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 canand shouldbe 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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