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East Jerusalem: no state in sight

Friday 18 May 2007, by Stuart Reigeluth

The chances of a Palestinian state are fast diminishing, as Israel forges ahead with the Judaisation of East Jerusalem, writes Stuart Reigeluth

Another Jewish settlement is being built. It is called Nev Tzion/ Manthar Al-Thahabi (the Golden View) because it overlooks Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock. The settlement is located in the middle of the Arab neighbourhood of Jabal Mukabir. On the back of Israeli buses, advertisements claim that the prices for apartments at Nev Tzion have reached $200,000, providing a bargain for European and American Jews who might possibly desire a vacation home in the Holy Land, the "Eternal Capital of Israel", as the former Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin (who also annexed the Golan Heights in 1981) once called Jerusalem.

As a result of the Six-Day June 1967 War, Israel conquered East Jerusalem from Jordan, the barb wire separating east and west Jerusalem was torn down and the city was "reunited".

Meanwhile, a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) leaked to the media, has separately accused Israel of reshaping Jerusalem to further its own interests, in violation of international law.

According to the report, Israeli policy has far reaching humanitarian consequences for Palestinians living under occupation in east Jerusalem.

The confidential report transmitted to Israel on February 2007 showed Israel’s "general disregard" for its obligations under international humanitarian law and the law of military occupation in particular.

Yet, Israel rejected the report, "we reject the premise of the report, East Jerusalem is not occupied land, it is part of Israel," said Israeli foreign Minister spokesman Mark Regev.

Furthermore, according to the authors of a new book, Separate and Unequal, Israel’s Judaisation and discriminatory policy towards East Jerusalem has become a "d e facto " one. The authors, Amir Cheshin, Bill Hutman and Avi Melamed, go to great lengths to describe how, since 1967, the Arab population has fared badly under the supposed "re-unification" of Jerusalem. Treated as an "ethnic minority" with lesser political rights and social privileges, Arabs in East Jerusalem are also subject to inferior quality social services such as water, postal services, electricity and garbage collection. The first Palestinian Intifada exacerbated the divisions between the east and west, while the second reinforced and militarised Palestinian frustration, following decades of Israeli mistreatment.

Relying on their experiences as advisers to the successive Israeli mayors of Jerusalem — Kolleck from Labour and Olmert from Likud, it is worth quoting the insightful comments of the three authors.

"Do not believe the propaganda — the rosy picture Israel tries to show the world, of life in Jerusalem since the 1967 reunification. Israel has treated the Palestinians of Jerusalem terribly. As a matter of policy, it has forced many of them from their homes and stripped them of their land, all the while lying to them and deceiving them and the world about its honorable intentions. And what makes all this so much more inexcusable is that there was no reason for it." (p.251)

Published in 1999 by Harvard University Press and presenting The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem, as the subtitle attests, the repercussions continue to be felt today. East Jerusalem is now an Arab enclave within a consolidating ring of Jewish settlements. These stretch from the settlement growth of Pisgat Ze’ev and Nev Yaco in northern Jerusalem, to the eastern Jerusalem E1 settlement activity in and around Ma’ale Adumim. The southern Jerusalem settlements of Gilo and Har Homa also extend to the pockets of new Jewish settlements in the Arab neighbourhoods of Jabal Mukabir and Ras al-Amoud. East Jerusalem is thus completely surrounded and isolated from the rest of the Palestinian territories. The consolidation of "Greater Jerusalem" is also effectively cutting the West Bank in two, destroying the possibility for a territorially contiguous Palestinian state.

Plans to consolidate "Greater Jerusalem" are nothing new, however. Ma’ale Adumim was established in 1975, and the E1 expansion and expropriation plan was conceived by Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Sharon continually supported settlement activity, and, not surprisingly, the near completion of his "security fence" is inclusive of "Greater Jerusalem". The Israeli wall cuts through the Arab neighbourhood of Ras Al-Amoud and through Jabal Mukabir, and then deeply into the West Bank.

The inclusion of the Jewish settlements within Greater Jerusalem could resolve the perceived demographic problem posed by the Arab population, with its higher birthrate. Israel will be able to maintain its claim to be both Jewish and democratic. In the case of final settlement negotiations, this inclusion scenario would satisfy the Clinton parameters which state that what is Jewish will be Israeli, and what remains Arab, will be Palestinian. The Clinton parameters also call for an Israeli withdrawal from around 90 per cent of the West Bank, along with land swaps for the remaining settlements.

However, the consolidation of a Greater Jerusalem as the capital for Israel will further complicate final status negotiations, and could render the two-state solution obsolete. The current course of settlement activity makes it difficult to envision how East Jerusalem could become the Palestinian capital. Where precisely in East Jerusalem could a Palestinian capital be situated? One can envision a possible token Palestinian Authority office at the now empty Orient House, where the quasi- headquarters of the PLO once were; but even flying a symbolic Palestinian flag above the entrance seems so far-fetched that it would be laughable. The other possibility would be a symbolic religious capital on the Haram Al-Sharif, which is also highly improbable. High levels of Israeli creativity and Palestinian imagination will be required to determine where the location of a Palestinian capital would be in Jerusalem.

Ideally, Tel Aviv and Ramallah would be the political capitals of Israel and Palestine, and Jerusalem would become a corpus separatum, as the UN proposed in 1947. But this is unacceptable to Israel, which claims that it is entitled to a holy city, Jerusalem being the only one pertaining to Israel, whereas Al-Quds (Jerusalem) remains third in line for the Arab Muslim world, after Medina and Mecca.

With no Palestinian state in sight, and with Arab East Jerusalem incorporated, with all its limitations, into Israel, one is compelled to ask again: will Palestine remain a symbol or will it become a reality? As Israeli "facts on the ground" consolidate, that reality is rapidly vanishing. Will what remains of Palestine then be incorporated, as East Jerusalem has been, into Israel? If so, a bi-national Israel/Palestine could then become a possibility. But then, due to the demographic balance, Israel would no longer be able to claim that it is both Jewish and democratic. Is this scenario really in Israel’s national interest?

Settlements have overwhelmed Jerusalem, making the Dome of the Rock but an insignificant speck in the prospect of the city.

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