Jerusalem as it should be
RAMI NASRALLAH, MAY 5, 2007
The Jerusalem issue has long been the centre of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle,
and a source of conflict and hostile feelings between the Arab/Muslim world
and Israel, and sometimes the whole western world. The symbolic significance
of Jerusalem, whether religious, national or political, is often exploited
to varying degrees by the opposing sides.
On the one hand, Israel has sought to change Jerusalem's demographic and
geographic realities to achieve dominance and control. Attempts to change
the city extended to its identity, promoting to the world the view that Jerusalem
is essentially a Jewish city that allows religious and racial diversity,
but under its own rules and under its ultimate control.
On the other hand, the Palestinian side is focused on national demands for
eastern Jerusalem to become the capital of the future Palestinian state.
But the continuing isolation of Jerusalem from the rest of the West bank
has turned it into a big myth that is engraved on the minds of thousands
of inhabitants who live in the surrounding areas, but who are deprived of
the right to enter it. This is creating an entire generation that is totally
ignorant of Jerusalem.
After the failure of the Camp David II talks in 2000, Jerusalem became the
fuel for a larger struggle that is morphing into new forms. The national
struggle for a state and sovereignty has now intensified and deepened to
reach even holy sites, and the holiness of the very stones, in a way that
denies human existence, dignity and belonging to the city, and more sadly,
the city's belonging to humanity in general. Israel and its leaders have
started to view control of Al Haram Al Shareef (the Holy Shrine) as the one
and only thing they will never give up.
Palestinians consider this an attempt at displacement and replacing the religious
reality prevailing for more than 1400 years. Fuelling the conflict and turning
it into a religious struggle threatens a wider and more far-reaching confrontation.
Henceforth, theories which many people have considered mere hypotheses about
the clash of civilizations will materialize into reality centred around Jerusalem:
a city that carries all the factors and elements of this clash. Unfortunately,
we are already on this path.
The question now is: How can we avoid this clash, and how can we strengthen
Jerusalem's role as a resource for creating agreement and mutual, non-confrontational
vision? How can Jerusalem bring about prosperity and peace for Palestinian,
Israeli, Arab, Muslim, Christian and Jewish worlds, instead of struggle and
All indications show that Jerusalem has suffered the most in this conflict
on all levels. This does not apply to the Palestinian side only, which suffers
because of the Israeli occupation, but extends to West Jerusalem and the
Jewish people of the city. Jerusalem has become the victim and the fuel of
the conflict, and the eternal slogan used for escalation.
The only possible way out of this stalemate, is to reach a political compromise
that allows peaceful transformation, and to build Jerusalem as a centre,
a capital and universal city. Giving Jerusalem a universal status would become
the energy fuelling the rise of the city after four decades of dismemberment,
suffering, poverty, marginalization and war.
This cannot be attained unilaterally and for the interest of one side only.
It also cannot be achieved unless Jerusalem is politically divided along
spatial and functional lines; an open city with no boundaries or walls, no
poverty or marginalization. It cannot be inhabited only by the less-fortunate
and less–educated, estranged by the middle class and its elite.
Building Jerusalem as a universal city with all the necessary political,
social and economic components, and advancing it through changing the prevailing
perception of a city of conflict and suffering into a city of international
opportunities and a model of stability and prosperity in the region, can
be achieved through the following principles that represent a proposed paradigm
for a solution with the lowest common denominator between the conflict parties:
The geopolitical solution for the future of Jerusalem should be based on
the principle of sovereign political separation.
East and West Jerusalem should be two capitals for two states: East Jerusalem
as the capital of Palestine, and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Borders between the two capitals should be open with no physical separation.
The open city will permit the free flow of people, goods and values between
the two capitals. Control points may be established to deal with security
issues in a manner that does not affect the open borders principle.
The open city shall comprise the territories of both the Palestinian and
the Israeli sectors. Entry into and exit from the city can be controlled
through security and custom control points at the outer borders of the open
city, i.e. between the capital of each state and the rest of its sovereign
The open city is an essential element to enhance and strengthen the universal
status of Jerusalem. Religious, cultural, economic and social functions related
to this status shall provide leverage for Jerusalem to be a human global
capital in addition to being a political capital for two states.
The Old City represents a living museum and the jewel in the crown. The highest
level of cooperation must be achieved between the two sides to enhance its
status and pluralistic universal role, reducing religious struggle, and the
struggle over control, identity and perspective of the city. The universal
perspective is the joint "trade mark" for the two sides. The whole world
is the targeted beneficiary.
Jerusalem should be the centre for regional institutions that address cultural
issues and religious and cultural dialogue. It should also host universities
and academic institutions that address conflict and world peace.
The identity of the city should be a joint issue that should be re-shaped
to express a super-national concept, the agreement on which should be based
on shared interests and the ability to transform Jerusalem into a capital
and a cosmopolitan centre for each of the two sides.
Finally, Jerusalem is the model that will chart our life paths together as
Palestinians, Israelis, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews. Jerusalem may
either be a centre for humanity and a link in a network of global cities,
in addition to being a capital and a national centre for two states, or a
symbol of clashing civilizations, religions and peoples: an ominous thought
that warns of an all-encompassing conflict and inconceivable loss.
Rami Nasrallah is the head of the International Peace And Cooperation Center.
This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be
accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.