JERUSALEM: Jerusalem is revered worldwide as the cradle of the three monotheistic religions. Muslims, Jews and Christians — all view it as a holy ground. Thus, full respect for the rights of all three — one that is based on mutual understanding and recognition — is an inevitable requirement on the road to peace.
Until each of the parties arrives at the realization that the city cannot be solely “his” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain irresolvable. The past has proven that no one nation or one religion can claim sole ownership over Jerusalem and receive international recognition for it. Jordan failed to get such recognition when it ruled over East Jerusalem and the Old City between 1948 and 1967. Now Israel faces a similar response. In other words, international recognition will not be granted to one side at the expense of the other and will be given only to an arrangement whereby the local parties mutually agree to share this sacred city.
The late Feisal Husseini, perhaps the most important Palestinian leader of our age, scion of the Muslim Husseini family of Jerusalem, coined the term ‘Our Jerusalem’. “A day will come when a Jew speaking about ‘our Jerusalem’, will mean Israelis and Palestinians, and an Arab speaking about ‘our Jerusalem’ will mean Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. Husseini sought to tell Palestinians and Israelis that the claims of both nations should be fully recognized in this Holy City in order to reach a resolution to the conflict.
Despite extreme segregation of Jews and Arabs in the city and 43 years of efforts by consecutive Israeli governments to create a Jewish majority there is still scope for Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem. But with Israel continuing to create facts on the ground that would pre-empt the possibility of Jerusalem serving as capital to two states, time is running out. This is the reason why the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been insisting on freezing Israeli settlement building in East Jerusalem during the current proximity talks.
In a series of closed roundtable discussions conducted by the Israel/Palestine Center for
Research and Information (IPCRI) a group of Palestinian and Israeli experts on Jerusalem — many of them well-known public figures — was brought together for an in depth discussion on the future of the Old City within its historical walls.
The group arrived at the following conclusions: Israelis must recognize Palestinian sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian quarters, and the Palestinians must recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish quarter. The only area of dispute within the walls of the Old City for the group was the fate of the Armenian Quarter. Due to its unique population and its sensitive location near the Jewish quarter, both sides claim jurisdiction over it.
The competing claims to the Armenian quarter are, in my opinion, a challenge which is also an opportunity. The best compromise solution to it could be joint sovereignty. Whereas the rest of the city would be divided between Israeli and Palestinian rule, the Armenian Quarter would be ruled by a joint Israeli-Palestinian entity with both countries having equal rights in the quarter. Joint sovereignty over the Armenian Quarter could potentially facilitate opportunities for both sides to learn how to build trust and cooperation, essential ingredients for a stable future relationship.
Another conclusion reached by the Israeli and Palestinian experts had to do with maintaining the status quo with respect to Muslim and Jewish holy places. This means the Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary compound, known in the Jewish world as the Temple Mount, will fall under the sovereignty of the Arab nations and Palestinian administration. Until this moment Haram Al-Sharif has been administered by the Jordanian government Muslim trust (Jordanian Waqf) and this is recognized by Israel. The Western Wall (the Kotel in Hebrew) and the plaza facing it are under the Israeli sovereignty of the Kotel rabbinate and are administered by it. This status quo has been in place for the past 43 years and accords with mainstream Jewish Halacha. Perhaps only the will of God or the arrival of the Messiah can change the present set-up.
Beyond the Old City walls, the expert panel agreed that settlements around East Jerusalem, like Gilo, Pisgat Zeev, Neve Yaacov, Givat Zeev and others could be part of the agreed upon land swap that will compensate the Palestinian Authority with land of equal size and quality in the Jerusalem district.
Despite split sovereignty over the city, Jerusalem as a whole should be an open undivided city for all its citizens. Checkpoints, if needed, should be on the periphery of the city and not within the city’s boundaries.
Feisal Husseini felt strongly that the rights of both nations should be recognized in Jerusalem. His expression, “our Jerusalem” encapsulates his uniquely fair and humane approach. “Our Jerusalem”: one city split between two sovereignties yet geographically undivided with open borders.
Time is running out for making this vision a real possibility. The Israeli leadership must stop submitting to pressure by settler groups and realize that a two state solution with joint sovereignty in Jerusalem is the desired preference of both peoples and the international community.
Hanna Siniora is publisher of the Jerusalem Times, Chairman of the European Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, and co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).