Jerusalem: A Shared Solution

May 1, 2000
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Daoud Kuttab

The history of the city of Jerusalem is full of tragedy and pain. One conqueror after another has taken the city, only to lose it to someone else. Defeat has met each ruler attempting to govern the city in an exclusive way. While many formulas and suggestions have been floated as to how to crack the Jerusalem nut, there are no magic solutions and I will not attempt in this essay to present one. Furthermore, the leaders of both sides will be unable to sign an agreement that appears to compromise their national or religious rights. Genuine, lasting solutions require many years of negotiating and a commitment from all sides to work together.

Attempts at quick-fix solutions or solutions based on the present balance of power will not succeed. Rather, certain guidelines and principles must be acknowledged and followed in order to bridge the wide gaps between both sides.

To begin with, I am convinced that the only viable solution to Jerusalem is a shared one between the peoples of the city and the faithful. There are two peoples in the city: Palestinians and Israelis. Jerusalem is very holy to Jews, to Christians, and to Muslims. A lasting solution to the city must take into consideration the needs and aspirations of the population of the city as well as the faithful around the world who have unique religious attachments to the city and the holy places within it.

In order to begin the process of addressing the needs and aspirations of the people of Jerusalem, we need to de-politicize and de-emotionalize the city. Palestinian and Israeli leaders, as well as religious leaders from the three faiths, have climbed up such a high tree that any attempt to find a lasting solution must include a gradual stepping down from this high tree. Selfish political reasons have often motivated the high political and emotional pitch surrounding Al Quds, Yerushalayim, Jerusalem. Whenever any politician–on either side–felt the need to raise his or her popularity, they would wave the flag of Jerusalem. Israeli leaders would restate the slogan that Jerusalem shall be the unified capital of Israel forever and Palestinians would insist that Jerusalem would be the capital of the Palestinian State. This political flag-waving has also been exported: American politicians from both parties use the status of Jerusalem as a quick fix to their electoral demise; and Iran and other Islamic countries use it to whip up militant crowds.

A sincere attempt to begin the search for a solution to Jerusalem will, therefore, require a conscious effort by all parties to refrain from using Jerusalem as an emotional crowd-pleaser. At minimum, Palestinian, Israeli, and American leaders should commit themselves to refrain from using Jerusalem for their political ambitions. Even more important is to acknowledge that searching for a solution to the Jerusalem problem will require time. We should address the practical solutions to everyday concerns of the people of Jerusalem before attempting to tackle difficult issues like sovereignty. This approach will require negotiators to look at the present realities in Jerusalem. The connection of Palestinians in Jerusalem to their people in the rest of Palestine will be important to maintain. Any strategic plan for Jerusalem, for example, needs to look at the demographic realities and the natural needs for each population to grow. Transportation, education, health, business, and economic issues will similarly need to be addressed jointly.

Despite the sometimes optimistic present plans to find a negotiated solution in the year 2000, I think a lasting solution for Jerusalem will only be feasible to envision after a five- to ten-year non-eventful, transitional period. An interim solution, however, needs to include clear provisions to reverse the present discriminatory policies against the Palestinians while also introducing a more equitable mechanism to solve day-to-day problems. To do this Palestinians and Israelis might need to create a joint strategic planning committee for Jerusalem. The demographic war that included the policy of denying Palestinians residency in Jerusalem should end. Such a mutual agreement will encourage Palestinians and Israelis to participate in a new, binational municipal election that will be entrusted to address the daily concerns of Jerusalemites. A similar body will convene to address religious issues, including control of religious places and the freedom to travel to them.

At the present time, the conflict over Jerusalem will not and should not be solved on the basis of a zero sum game. Any solution reached now will be humiliating to one side and therefore will not be signed, nor implemented if signed under duress. A very vague agreement on principles could be signed at present with a long transitional period in which the peoples of the city can themselves begin the process of reconciliation and search for a lasting solution.

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Daoud Kuttab, a resident of Jerusalem, is a Palestinian journalist and television producer. He is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. Mr. Kuttab is co-founder and co-chairman of the Jerusalem Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization aimed at informing the public of the situation in Jerusalem.

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