A Palestine-Israel Journal roundtable discussion took place in Jerusalem on 19.2.01 on the subject of Jerusalem, with the participation of Prof. Menachem Klein, senior lecturer in the political science department at Bar-Ilan University and research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies; Ibrahim Dakkak, an engineer and specialist in Jerusalem affairs; Prof. Nazmi Ju’beh, lecturer in the department of history at Bir Zeit University; and Dr. Shmuel Berkovitz, an attorney, an expert on Jerusalem and a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. His last book The Battle for the Holy Places recently appeared in Hebrew. The latter two participants took part only in the first part of the discussion. The moderator was Dan Leon, co-managing editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal.
Dan Leon: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been, and remains, primarily a national conflict over the realization of national aspirations. Jerusalem is part of the conflict, but it is different. Is this because of the religious dimension? For Muslims, Jews and Christians, how would you define the role, both locally and worldwide, of the religious dimension in the future of Jerusalem?
Jerusalem has increasingly become a hot political issue and, in our political experience, a political conflict. For most people the conflict over Jerusalem is a conflict on the geography of Jerusalem. For others, it is a religious issue. For the world, especially for the West, it is an issue that threatens the stability of a highly sensitive area. For the Palestinians, the geopolitical and religious dimensions are intertwined. When I speak about the geographic dimension, I draw attention to the official Israeli policy regarding the West Bank, and its implementation of plans to separate the northern part from the southern by creating “an Israeli-Jewish belt” around Jerusalem and connecting Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. As we, the Palestinians, are aspiring to establish a viable independent Palestinian state, we need continuity between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, which can only be achieved by freeing Jerusalem, and the area extending from it to the Jordan River, from Israeli occupation. Jerusalem’s religious dimension, irrespective of its authentic significance, is over-utilized by Israel to justify its geopolitical expansionism. It should be noted that the question of Jerusalem is a Palestinian issue; nonetheless, it is, at the same time, a Palestinian-Arab-Islamic-Christian issue.
I think it is very difficult to separate national from religious dimensions in Jerusalem. They are so mixed that one cannot solve one without also touching upon the other. The three religions have clearly major interests, just as there are two national groups with major aspirations in the city. The connection between the religious and the national in Jerusalem is also supported by the international dimension. The international dimension for the Palestinians is the wider Arab interest in the city, and both the other religions have the character of international dimensions in the city. These dimensions, religious and national, with their international aspects, have to be respected and recognized by the three religions and the two national groups. It is not enough to have a solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians without taking into account the international religious dimensions. The combination is highly problematic and so would be any separation of religious and national aspects.
The conflict over Jerusalem is a conflict over symbols and over what one might call real estate — land — as well as over power and control. Symbols include the religious as well as the national. In measuring the two components, the national is the more important. The conflict is between national, not religious institutions, a state against other national institutions. The common denominator is the national origin and conflict between national institutions, while religious symbols are used in order to promote national goals. It is very dangerous to play with religious sentiments and this is particularly so in Jerusalem. Up to now both sides, more or less, succeeded in controlling their religious elements, though there were moments when this was challenged. But religious institutions have been generally placed under national supervision. Otherwise, there would be a grave danger and this could ignite the whole Israeli–Palestinian and Jewish–Muslim conflict.
I hesitated in coming here as regards the question of whether this is the right time to start our peace path. It is different when we meet Palestinians in time of regular war in which Palestinians fight Israeli soldiers. These are the rules of the game and I accept them. I don’t accept the principle that you don’t talk when shooting is going on, but it is difficult for me to talk of Jerusalem when Palestinians are shooting at Israeli settlements or carrying out terror acts aimed at hurting women and small children, or the terrifying example of a Palestinian girl seducing a sixteen-year-old Israeli boy to Ramallah and his shooting, and then the last incident of the killing of eight soldiers who were waiting for lifts. It’s difficult for me to be here, and before speaking of Jerusalem, I must tell you, Palestinians, that during the last four months you have broken all the rules of war. It’s surprising and disappointing for us Israelis to see that in spite of the fact that our prime minister offered you the most gratifying compromise that was ever proposed by an Israeli prime minister, your reaction was not to continue the talks, but shooting and bombing and terror and so on. You agreed in the Oslo Accords to reject terror and violence and to conduct peace negotiations. However, whenever the negotiations got stuck, you started a campaign of terror and violence.
Do we have to continue hearing this? The subject is Jerusalem. We Palestinians don’t have to listen to a lecture by you. In your ignorance you talk of your being victims, while over 200 Palestinian children have been killed by your soldiers. You’re going to lecture me on morals? (Leaves the room).
I have a battery of answers to your remarks. If you want to talk about Jerusalem, this is not the way to address the subject. Directing such accusations at us, means ending the discussion. You say you were hesitant to share in this roundtable discussion; I personally was doubly hesitant. Nonetheless, I had hoped that there would be a rational discussion among responsible participants and not mere political rhetoric.
In your thesis, you are ignoring international resolutions. You attempt to build a solution on the issue of Jerusalem on an Israeli-formulated basis. This flies in the face of international consensus.
There is freedom of speech and you are entitled to your views. The background to Jerusalem is political and religious, and I tried to say that Barak offered a radical compromise and Jerusalem cannot be separated from the general situation. It was not the Jews who started the recent Intifada.
I think Dr. Berkovitz did a grave disservice to the cause of peace in giving this propaganda speech. Whatever you believe, to come to a Palestinian audience and put what you did on the table at the beginning of a discussion is scandalous. I think you should apologize because no Palestinians coming to a panel sponsored by a joint organization can continue with the discussion after what you said.
Maybe I am not a welcome guest and you don’t like my opinions. I voted for Barak. I respect the Palestinians and their right to sovereignty. In my opinion, in the framework of a real and final peace arrangement, Israel must consider handing back to Palestinian sovereignty a considerable part of East Jerusalem outside the Old City and its surroundings, including the Temple Mount. If the Israelis don’t like this idea, the only solution will be division of sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Had I not supported compromise (or any term you prefer), I wouldn’t have come here in the beginning.
You are forcing your views on us, and expect us to accept your accusations, which are baseless. This is unacceptable. I am aware that an aggressive culture toward the Palestinians has been brewing in Israeli society, and you now have demonstrated that to me.
I think that Shmuel Berkovitz confuses two topics — the Intifada and Jerusalem. I think he is wrong, but his perception is accepted by the majority of Israelis, including Labor people. They see the Intifada as a response to Barak’s proposals; the Intifada and Jerusalem are related, but must be treated differently.
Leila Dabdoub (co-managing editor, PIJ):
We are a journal that is open to all opinions, and we hoped to have a civilized discussion. But it started with our being showered with insults and our dignity being affronted. That is very difficult for us.
The best thing is for you to continue without me, as I’m not useful here. I feel that I harmed the good atmosphere and, while I don’t regret what I said, I am prepared to leave. To discuss Jerusalem we need a peace process and not an Intifada. (Leaves the room).
There was a discussion as to whether the roundtable should continue and, after a break, it was agreed to do so.
What could be a possible solution for the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in a peace agreement?
The basic solution should rest on the status quo ante. In other words, we have to go back to the pre-1967 situation. The other alternative is to go back to the 1947 UN Resolution 181 (corpus separatum). Both cases respect the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount as a Muslim sanctuary, and the other holy places in Jerusalem, historically established. These two approaches are the only legalities that address the Jerusalem issue and receive international recognition. For fifteen centuries the Haram has been owned and run by the Muslims. Any change in its Islamic status the Muslims will definitely consider a desecration. For the Christian Palestinians, it is also important. It is part of their Arab Palestinian national heritage. The Palestinians, for their part, refuse any compromise along Israeli terms. From a political and religious perspective, this is a Palestinian Arab-Islamic sanctuary.
The question was about possible solutions and I would differentiate between this and the subject of how the negotiations developed on the ground. In these negotiations, all sides involved, including the Americans, made mistakes. Both sides discussed only one option of Clinton’s proposals. The possible solutions are varied and more than one might be acceptable to both Palestinians and Israelis.
At Camp David one mistake was that the Israelis developed what I call a “hegemonic discourse,” meaning maintaining Israeli sovereignty and demanding its official recognition, while agreeing that the management would be that of the Palestinian Waqf. Then the Israeli delegation came up with the proposal of building a synagogue at one of the edges of the Haram. Later, the Israeli government opened a more balanced discourse that they should, in my view, have done from the beginning.
A discourse between equals calls either for sharing sovereignty, or for postponing it, or for accepting “God’s sovereignty.” Unfortunately, these ideas were passed over by all sides and Arafat came up with the idea of Islamic sovereignty, initially rejected by the Israelis, then for full Palestinian sovereignty. I believe, like Clinton, that the gaps between the sides are related to the symbolic issues and to respect for religious beliefs of both sides. There have been a number of formulations guaranteeing effective Palestinian control and sovereignty over the Haram while respecting the religious convictions of the Jewish people.
If one checks in both religions, it was holy to the Muslims under Israeli occupation and under the Crusaders and in Jewish tradition, too, it was always the gate to Heaven. It was God’s home where both religions shared the same sort of holiness. It has nothing to do with sovereignty, though both national movements have to come to terms as political entities and it is not a fight between religions. I see Arafat as a national not a religious leader. I understand the importance for the Palestinian national movement of ruling over the Haram, not for Islamic reasons but because of their national interest. With this rule it would be a totally different state from a Palestinian state without it.
Let me go back to a statement I heard from Teddy Kollek. When I was in charge of the restoration of the damage caused by arson to al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969, Mr. Kollek came with some people, mainly Jews, to visit al-Haram. The guests asked Mr. Kollek about the rebuilding of the Temple. His answer was “Let us wait for the Messiah.” This was a sort of pragmatic compromise. And we, Palestinians, accept the compromise and are ready to wait for the coming of the Messiah.
Prior to 1967, the Jews were requesting to be allowed to pray at the Western Wall. They never mentioned any other request, let alone ask for the control of the Temple Mount. After 1967 the position changed dramatically. At that time, what you call the “national ideology” vis-à-vis Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount developed despite the Rabbinate’s insistence that Jews are not permitted to go up to the Haram. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the chief chaplain of the Israeli army at that time, singled himself out by demanding that Jews be allowed to pray there and that the Haram be administered by Israel. Moshe Dayan, then minister of defense, refused Goren’s demands and ordered the Israeli flag to be removed from the Dome of the Rock; he then asked the Muslim leadership to discharge their traditional duties as usual.
In Zionist ideology, Jerusalem was not a focal point — Herzl didn’t see Jerusalem as the potential capital of the Jewish state and neither did Ahad Ha’am. Weizmann lived and built his research institution in Rehovot. Even Ben-Gurion was not interested in the Old City. Therefore, speaking of Israeli sovereignty over the Haram is relatively new.
Concerning Clinton’s suggestion that the Palestinians retain sovereignty over the Haram provided that they respect the convictions of the Jews, I as a Palestinian Muslim share Clinton’s idea. Islam has never said that the Jews shouldn’t have their own beliefs and convictions, nor prevented the Jews from practicing their religious duties. On the contrary, Islam is the only religion of the three monotheistic religions that does not deny Christianity and Judaism.
At this juncture, let me clarify the following points:
* The status quo I refer to stands for regulating the rights of the Jews, the Christians as well as the Muslims. Israel, making use of its dominance over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, has been trying to exercise sovereignty over Jerusalem, in violation of the status quo.
* Israel, I claim, is trying in that sense to collect the spoils of its victory in the 1967 war.
* Arafat has been compliant with international legality when he demanded the withdrawal of Israel to the June 1967 borders. Equally, his demand for Palestinian Jerusalem to be the capital of the forthcoming Palestinian state and to exercise Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram are firmly anchored in international legality.
I see an option of separating the Haram, which is a holy site and not a residential area, and other urban municipal issues. The Haram is very special, unlike other residential areas in Jerusalem, even the Old City. It is the most important symbol and the core of Jerusalem for both sides and for millions of believers, Jews and Muslims. There is an option besides full Palestinian sovereignty, and as an exercise or test, we should measure its cost and benefits. The way the negotiations proceeded on both sides was in my thinking wrong. The holiness of the place to Judaism is because there was once a Temple there. But it was a mistake in the negotiations to combine the concepts of holiness and of the Temple.
By raising the issue of the Temple, the Israeli delegation immediately raised Palestinian, Muslim and Arab fears. President Clinton wisely disconnected the two. In history there were according to Jewish belief two Temples. For Islam, it is quite different: the holiness of the Haram is not because of the Temple but because of al-Aqsa etc., and this for them is also true of the Western Wall. If the discourse is about Temples and rebuilding them, there is total conflict. If it is about the issue of accepting the legitimacy of the other to have his/her own view, without imposition but with two different narratives, it is a different story. Each side legitimizes the right of the other to its own narrative. This could be achieved between national movements, but not by the vast majority of religious leaders or institutions, for whom it is either my God or narrative, or your God or narrative. If we disconnect any future plan to rebuild the Jewish Temple from giving legitimacy to the other side to have its own narrative, or if the Palestinians accept the Jewish historical and religious attachment to the place, this could be a kind of solution. Otherwise, ignoring any Jewish historical or religious attachment to the place would be unacceptable to the vast majority of Israelis. Now you, Ibrahim, said that you accept the Jewish attachment and that’s OK.
For many centuries, Jerusalem was under Muslim rule and the Jews used to come to the Wailing (Western) Wall to pray. This means that Muslims have accepted the Jewish right to their own narrative. What you are referring to now is a new narrative, a political narrative that emerged after 1967. We disapprove of such a narrative. On the other hand, the present-day Jews who are ruling Israel are denying the Muslim-Arab-Palestinian narrative. If we are to resort to reciprocity, then it is incumbent upon Israel to accept our narrative.
You know better than I that there are different ways to read history. But here, by re-discussing history, we can find common ground for an agreement. This is one example of a possible solution to the controversy over the Haram. There are radical elements that need, and have, a totally different approach to history; like the Temple Mount Faithful [an extremist Jewish group that wants to pray on the Temple Mount and build a Third Temple there — ed.] but they are not accepted by the general public.
Let us forget about these different factions. In the end, we have to come to a compromise as accepted by Mr. Arafat, by the Arabs, by the Palestinians and by the Muslims on the questions related to the Western Wall (though it is part of the Haram compound) and the Jewish Quarter. In fact, it is up to the Israeli Jews to allay the fears of Muslims over the Mosque, and to let them pray freely and peacefully there.
How do you see the political future of Jerusalem, bearing in mind factors such as: the proximity in which the two communities live and the difficulty of separation, as viewed by Meron Benvenisti; the expropriation of Palestinian land in both West and East Jerusalem; and the persistent slogans of Israeli politicians about a “united, undivided capital of Israel for eternity”?
Basically, I think that Clinton’s proposals are very good. We have in Jerusalem three cities: the religious, holy city; the political city; and the urban city, that of the residents. We spoke of the first. As for the second and third, in principle, as regards the division of sovereignty, management, and law, there must be special arrangements in daily life in various fields. Both sides need this. For the benefit of all, the city must remain physically open, with free access for each citizen to his/her own capital and to the other. These principles, in spite of the difficulties, were largely agreed at Camp David (not in writing) as helping both sides find a solution for Jerusalem.
There is no way to divide the infrastructure. Where necessary, there must be special arrangements for cooperation, but cooperation between equals, not a dictate of one side over the other. In light of the Intifada, from which Jerusalem fortunately escaped, the problem of how both peoples maintain security in an open area with free coming and going, needs better answers. There is no guarantee that Jerusalem will continue to be relatively calm when the storm is raging around us, and there may be escalation. Both sides have to develop plans for dealing with security — while on other issues, like superstructure, economy, building, housing, sewerage, water and tourism, plans are already more highly developed.
I used to argue with Meron Benvenisti, because I see that there is a way to divide the area, and we have to bear in mind two conclusions resulting from the facts on the ground, which both sides accepted at Camp David. One, there is no return to the pre-1967 situation, and two, that in no way can the present municipal boundaries become the final-status borders. Basically the principle of two capitals was accepted at Camp David.
This is a complicated issue and all the many proposals suggested by so many amateurs on the future of Jerusalem are ideas that cannot hold water when tested on the ground. Let me mention some of the difficulties:
First, we have two different cities: the old and the new. Each of the two cities is different from the other. Let me focus on the Old City. There we face the problems of Christians, the Jewish quarters, the holy sites and their specific management. There were lines drawn to divide the Old City according to denominations. The Vatican, on the other hand, has been talking of an internationalized administration. None of these suggestions can solve the problem emanating from the absence of confidence between the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews.
Second, the pre-1967 Palestinian Jerusalem was seven square kilometers in area. Now Israel speaks of a “unified” Jerusalem of about 170 square kilometers. We have to agree on the area of Jerusalem. UN resolutions 242 and 338 (the basis of my argument) speak of Palestinian Jerusalem — East Jerusalem of July 4, 1967. Jewish neighborhoods and settlements built after 1967 are considered, according to international law, simply illegal.
Third, the salient problem is the question of how to restore confidence between Palestinians and Jews, to convince them to live together peacefully (I won’t use the world “friendly”) after so many years of enmity, animosity and Intifadas.
Fourth, the management of the city is complex in terms of municipal services. Such a complexity is to be addressed in terms of expenditures and property rights parity.
Fifth, how can we regulate the accessibility of the Palestinians from the Palestinian state and the Israelis from Israel to the separated/unified Jerusalem? Likewise, how do you manage the accessibility of the Palestinians and Israelis from Jerusalem when entering each other’s sovereign state?
I agree that when we speak of two sovereignties in one city, there are many potential problems. If both parties have the will to find the proper ways to solve them, they will find a way.
When we speak of dual sovereignty and an open city, it seems to me that we have kept West Jerusalem out of bounds and we are just discussing East Jerusalem, how to share it and administer it. Before 1948, many of the inhabitants and eighty percent of the property in West Jerusalem were Palestinian. How do the Israelis view this basic problem, in addition to the problems of accessibility?
The fears are on both sides. I have heard Palestinians express fears about the attractions of Jerusalem to people from their more conservative society. About residential and property rights, basically there are two options: the principle (as Clinton suggested) of Arab areas being Palestinian and Jewish areas Israeli, with nobody buying property on the other side; or all the Jerusalemites sharing the same Jerusalem. In my view the Israeli Jerusalem is not only Rehavia or Kiryat Yovel (which are very new areas), but also East Jerusalem. As you Palestinians have historical memories, properties and origins, in Lifta or Baka’a, Jews have attachments not only to new West Jerusalem.
This sounds as if “what is ours is ours, and what is yours is ours.”
No, I can’t ignore history, like the Palestinian attachment to Malha, Lifta, or Ein Karem. A person can be allowed to live in an area where he feels he belongs according to his personal history. The question is how to do it so as not to harm good neighborliness. In the Muslim Quarter, the Jewish settlers are not good neighbors but enemies. One has to find a principle that accepts the right of each Jerusalemite to live in all of Jerusalem, because Jerusalem is not east or west but both, historically. There are different communities and one should let people live in different neighborhoods as long as one accepts living in peace with one’s neighbors. Basically, after all, we have two national movements sharing the same area.
Oversimplification is as dangerous as is overtheorization. These are wonderful concepts on paper, but, in reality, you have the actual problem of a Jew living in Baka’a on some Palestinian’s property; or a person whose property was expropriated in French Hill and finds no place to build a house for his family. Despite all these difficulties, we, as responsible persons, should do our utmost to find rational solutions to the many problems, in order to avoid creating a city bereft of peace, or separating its two parts by a “Berlin” wall.
About expropriated lands, as you know the Palestinians wanted to include the Jewish settlements in Jerusalem among those settlements for which there would be a land exchange, or swap. The Israelis spoke of neighborhoods, not settlements, and, in terms of the whole area, this is a very small percentage.
A peaceful solution in Jerusalem calls for parity between Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis have left very little land for the expansion of the Palestinian population and responding to our natural increase. If we are kept within the ring of Jewish settlements around Jerusalem, the intolerable housing shortage and overcrowdedness will worsen. We must be allowed to retrieve our expropriated land or be compensated for it in kind in order to build. In principle, I am not against land exchange, as long as it is fair. In all circumstances, settlements around Jerusalem should be evacuated in order to provide place for the Palestinians.
There is no doubt about the shortage of housing. Basically we should think about the bulk of the built-up area and not the existing master plan. There is plenty of land, for example, between Ma’aleh Adumim and Anata and it should be planned together by both municipalities, bearing in mind the Palestinian shortage of housing. I am against all unilateral planning. There are empty lands and green areas suitable for Palestinian building, according to decisions by Palestinian or joint bodies.
Sound planning neither accepts nor rejects the status quo but responds to the need of the people. This was not followed by the Israeli administration. It calls for a response to the needs of the population in terms of sewerage, water, recreation, preservation areas, etc., and that is why it cannot be taken for granted that settlements are fixed and cannot be moved. I think part of the settlements probably have to be moved.
I want to thank the participants and I apologize for what happened earlier in the evening, which is very much against the spirit of the Palestine-Israel Journal.
Dr. Berkovitz requested that, apart from the protocol, we publish his views on the subjects under discussion, as follows:
The Palestinians agreed in the Oslo Accords to reject terror and violence and to conduct peace negotiations. However, whenever the negotiations get stuck, you started a campaign of terror and violence and found artificial pretexts for this. This is what happened in September 1996 when you started bloody disturbances seemingly because of the opening of the northern entrance of the Western Wall tunnel, and in September 2000,when you started a new Intifada seemingly because Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount.
I respect the Palestinians and their demand for sovereignty. In my opinion, in the framework of a real and final peace arrangement, Israel must hand back to Palestinian sovereignty a considerable part of East Jerusalem outside the Old City and its surroundings (outside the Ophel, the City of David, the Mount of Olives, and Mount Scopus) and in security range of the new Jewish neighborhoods established after June 1967. The Jewish Quarter, The Western Wall, the Ophel, the City of David, the Shiloah spring, the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus will be territorially contiguous and under Israeli sovereignty. In other parts of the Old City, special guardianship will be necessary, with international involvement.
On the Temple Mount, I suggest handing over to Palestinian sovereignty the area of the mosques. The remaining part of the Mount will remain under Israeli sovereignty. A wall would be built separating the two sections and an international force should look after security. No excavations should be carried out anywhere in the Temple Mount area except by mutual agreement and with international supervision.