Israel can’t have it Both Ways

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"The Old City? Uh, no we can’t deliver there because of security reasons," the clerk at the delivery desk of IKEA said when asked where in Jerusalem he should deliver the furniture. Sheikh Jarrah? Also a problem. "How about the King David Hotel?" he asked, obviously a spot smack in the middle of west Jerusalem. "Or the YMCA", also on the west side of the city", he inquired. His point was clear. Nowhere in east Jerusalem was "safe" for the delivery trucks to park, nowhere in this self-proclaimed "eternal and undivided capital of Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not miss an opportunity to reiterate his position on Jerusalem: it is the eternal capital of Israel, settlements will continue to be built there and it will not be divided. The Palestinians can just forget about claiming the eastern sector as their capital, at least the center. As far as leaked proposals have stipulated, Israel may be willing to relinquish some Palestinian-populated fringe areas of the city like parts of Beit Hanina and Shufat to the Palestinian Authority, but the key areas –” the Old City, Sheikh Jarrah, Ras Al Amoud, will certainly remain in Israel’s clutches.

But it is not undivided, at least in the practical sense. The invisible seam line between east and west is palpable, not in an actual border but in the sudden drop in economic prosperity visible to the naked eye. Trash piles up along the sides of potholed east Jerusalem streets and store fronts are drab and in need of renovation. Cross over to the west and the scenery changes in an instant. Clean, well paved roads lead to prosperous shopping malls and ritzy walkways with European-like cafes and pastry shops. According to a report published by the Global Policy Network, Palestinians’ per capita income is less than eight percent of Israelis’. Another study shows that Israel’s GNP (Gross National Product) is higher than the combined GNP of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.

Hence, it is a city divided, economically, if not physically. However, perhaps if we are smart, we can play Israel’s game. While the Palestinians will never accept the premise that Jerusalem is the eternal and united capital of Israel, they can demand that since Israel insists on maintaining both sectors of the city under its sovereignty, it should at least treat Palestinians there equally. That is, if Israel does not want to divide Jerusalem, then it should treat it as an open city, free for all to live and prosper.

Primarily, this can be used as a change of tactics in negotiating over Jerusalem. That is, the Palestinians and those involved in the peace process should call Israelis out on their repeated insistence that Jerusalem is the unified and eternal capital of Israel. The Palestinians should respond to this claim in one of two ways: either call their bluff and maintain that either Israel treats all of Jerusalem the same –” providing the same services to its Palestinian residents as it does to the Jewish Israeli residents of the city –” and thus accept Jerusalem as one city for all; or accept the status of Jerusalem as the rest of the world views it –” as an occupied city, the status of which must be determined in final status negotiations. Israel cannot have it both ways.

The most glaring evidence of the asymmetry of the city is the illegal settlement construction and settler takeover in the east. It would be a cold day in hell when Palestinians can show up at the doorstep of a Jewish home with ownership deeds and literally kick them to the curb. That is exactly what happens in east Jerusalem, with Jewish settlers bearing shady deeds demanding homes inhabited by Palestinians. At least if a Palestinian wants to reclaim his/her home, the deed to the home is authentic, having been snatched from them in 1948. However, it is a well-known fact that Israel’s justice system caters primarily to its Jewish citizens and not to the Palestinians, even those with permanent residency in the city. Israel’s high court is responsible for such injustices as the demolition of homes, the confiscation of land and the eviction of families for the sake of Israeli settlers even though, unlike these foreign squatters, the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem dates back centuries.

Israel’s division of the city is also visible in its military presence. While west Jerusalem malls and restaurants may be manned by less than vigilant security guards, east Jerusalem is swarming with Israeli police, border guards and soldiers. The premise espoused by the delivery department at IKEA that east Jerusalem is "not safe" is clearly manifested in the thousands of military men and women who patrol the city’s streets, making random ID checks, overturning street side stalls and cordoning off alleyways whenever there is a Jewish holiday or settlers decide to march through the Old City. Just yesterday, Israel’s public security minister called for an increase in the police presence in east Jerusalem to further "strengthen Israeli sovereignty" over the city.

So, really it comes down to this. If Israel continues to insist that Jerusalem is one city, then that is the premise on which negotiations should be based. We Palestinians accept it as one city, undivided and a capital not just for Israel but for all. But one city means it cannot treat its eastern sector residents as occupied people (even if they actually are) and must treat them on equal terms with the western sector.

The catch is, Israel will not have this. Still, this can actually be our ace in the hole rather than a hindrance. If Israel does not accept this premise, if it is not willing to treat those who live in east Jerusalem as equal, then it should be held accountable for this. That is, Israel must accept that east Jerusalem is occupied territory and in order for real peace to be achieved, it must be divided along the lines of this occupation –” that is the armistice line of 1949. This way, the diplomatic ball is thrown into their court.

International backing for this is key, however. Without the support of the United Nations, the United States and Europe in particular, the Palestinians will get nowhere. That is why it is up to the Palestinians to push this envelope and shift the paradigms of their argument. Accept Jerusalem as one undivided city, but as a city for all with equal rights. If Israel refuses, then give it the only other alternative in accordance with international law. End its occupation of east Jerusalem. Israel can’t have its cake and eat it too.

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