A city imprisoned together

The route of the barrier being completed around Jerusalem reflects primarily the policy of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The essence of this policy is the attempt to determine the final borders of the state of Israel by means of an act of settlement disguised as a security move and based on the argument that there is no Palestinian "partner" for a substantial political peace process. The outcome of this policy is liable to be tragic: absent the capacity to ensure the establishment of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem–a sine qua non for ending the conflict and resolving all claims–Sharon’s policy prevents any possibility of reaching a solution and perpetuates the confrontation and the violence.

The "seam" area approved by the government on October 1, 2003 in effect delineated the borders of the Jerusalem "corridor" that the government sought. To the north the government wished to include the future route of road #45, which is supposed to link the center of the country to north Jerusalem. To this end it was proposed to construct a "deep" or secondary fence some 3-4 km. north of road #443 (when asked about the purpose of the fence, the government replied that it was intended to defend road 443 from light-arms fire). The government assessed that some of the 90,000 Palestinians entrapped with their 14 villages between the central barrier and the deep fence and separated from many of their lands would seek their fortunes elsewhere–much in the way chosen by thousands of residents of imprisoned Qalqilya–while the remaining Palestinians would be annexed to Israel. To the south of Jerusalem the path of the barrier was planned south of the Etzion Bloc and east of road #! 60 and Efrata, condemning 17,000 Palestinians in five imprisoned villages to a similar fate.

An Israel High Court ruling in June 2004, together with international involvement, forced alterations to this plan. But in changing the plan in February 2005 the government also approved a new route that embraces 67 square km. between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim and an area east of Maaleh Adumim. This expanse (which is 10 times the size of the populated part of Maaleh Adumim) completes what is termed the "Jerusalem envelope" and is intended to ensure that Jerusalem does not remain a border town.

This plan, co-sponsored by the Jerusalem municipality, seeks to justify an Israeli demand to annex the area under final status. It would be realized in two ways: geographically, by establishing an obstacle that severs Palestinian East Jerusalem from the West Bank, of which it is the unofficial capital; and demographically, by constructing a "Jewish urban belt" around Palestinian East Jerusalem–building 1,200 housing units in Geva Binyamin to the north, 3,500 in E1 in the center, 200 in Kidmat Zion at Abu Dis, 350 at Nof Zion on Jebel Muqaber, and 13,600 at Nof Yael near Walajeh. The transportation solutions proposed by Israel–route 80, the "eastern ring" or a tunnel–could indeed ensure within a decade the passage of Palestinian traffic between Bethlehem and Ramallah, but would not preserve East Jerusalem as a political, economic, social and religious center for West Bank Palestinians.

This policy is currently generating an outcome completely contrary to that expected: thousands of Palestinians from the neighborhoods left outside the wall, who hold Israeli IDs, are making their way back inside the city and crowding together with the 200,000 Palestinians already there. This phenomenon reinforces the demographic trend of relative increase of the Palestinian population of Jerusalem, from 22 percent in 1967 to more than one-third today. The trend hampers the city’s capacity to function, insofar as the Palestinian residents boycott municipal elections and maintain almost entirely separate education, health, transportation, commercial and cultural networks from those of the Jewish population.

In contrast to the government’s plan, the Council for Peace and Security proposes a security solution based on a demographic separation barrier (between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods), without attaching additional territories from the West Bank. The alternative plan reinforces demographic separation as a means of maintaining the security of Israelis in their neighborhoods in both West and East Jerusalem. In this way the plan maintains the option for both sides to return to the negotiating table and realize a solution based on the Clinton Plan of December 2000.

Following the initiative of US President George W. Bush and his administration to oppose the establishment of an eastern barrier and the expansion of Jewish construction in the eastern city, the ministers of the government of Israel should also accept the redefinition of the borders of Jewish Jerusalem. The attempt to include Palestinian al-Quds within these borders not only imprisons a quarter of a million Palestinians who live there, but, primarily, precludes any chance of reaching a permanent solution and regional stabilization.