The national effort to unify Jerusalem has already stretched over 40 years and is unprecedented in scope and political vision. In 1967 Israel decided on the "unification of Jerusalem," declaring that this was the political translation of the military victory in the Six Day War. In the years after the war, a series of unrealistic, utopian "national" objectives were set in the wake of this policy.
All the studies dealing with Israel policy in Jerusalem since 1967 relate to six national objectives. The accomplishment of these objectives, or at least most of them, was always presented as a condition for the full "unification" of the city.
The resources that were invested in unification were much greater than those Israel invested in the whole settlement project in the territories. More resources were ploughed into just one of the six national objectives - the territorial objective - than were devoted to other important national missions such as population dispersion, Judaization of the Galilee, development of the Negev and so on. In order to further the territorial objective, billions of dollars were spent in settling about 200,000 Jews in the eastern part of the city. The scope of the infrastructure that was built in the eastern neighborhoods and surrounding settlements was greater than the infrastructure of all the development towns in Israel. The extent of the sums invested in the other five national objectives cannot be determined. In view of this enormous investment effort, the lack of success in accomplishing even one of the six national goals "to unify Jerusalem" has proved to be a massive failure.
1. International Recognition of Israeli Sovereignty in Jerusalem
The first of the objectives, and perhaps the most important from Israel's point of view, was diplomatic recognition of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.
Until 1967 when East Jerusalem, including the Old City, was under Jordanian control, 24 states agreed to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and established their embassies there. However, the U.S. and important European states did not.
With the conquest of the city in 1967, Jerusalem once again became a topic of discussion at the United Nations. UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947 (the Partition Plan) had envisaged an international status for Jerusalem.
The Israel government believed that it would achieve legitimacy by its policy of "establishing facts on the ground," just as in the '50s when Ben-Gurion's government declared West Jerusalem to be the capital. From Israel's point of view, the time element was critical - the thinking was that time was working in Israel's favor, and the policy was to gain time and in the meantime establish sovereignty in unified Jerusalem.
The "Jerusalem Law" passed by the Knesset in 1980, following the annexation of the Christian and Muslim holy sites in 1967, set the international community against Israel. The "Jerusalem Law," promoted by Member of Knesset Geula Cohen and supported by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, not only did not strengthen Israel's hold on Jerusalem at all, but indeed caused it harm. Of the 24 states that had recognized Jerusalem as the capital, 22 moved their embassies from the city. Only Costa Rica and El Salvador remained. Last summer, the embassies of last two states departed Jerusalem. This was a diplomatic blow to Israel. Now, not one country recognizes Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Even Israel's greatest friend, the U.S., made it clear that without a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, which would mean a divided city, it would not recognize Israel's sovereignty and would not move its embassy there.
From its 40 years of diplomatic effort Israel only managed to reap disappointment and failure. The assumption of Levi Eshkol's government that time was on Israel's side proved mistaken. Nor did the "facts on the ground" that Israel established persuade the international community to come to terms with the unification of the city. Israel's most important objective regarding Jerusalem - achieving international recognition - was not attained.
2. Settlement in All of East Jerusalem
The second objective of Israeli policy in East Jerusalem was the territorial target: settlement as a means to control East Jerusalem.
A decision by Golda Meir's government in the early '70s led to a significant, and unnecessary, expansion in the size of the city - from 7 square kilometers (the Jordanian city) to 70 square kilometers. The intention to settle in all of this area was a utopian dream right from the beginning. It led to the building of a belt of surrounding neighborhoods, which created an unprecedented stream of criticism against the government. The fiercest critic was Mayor Teddy Kollek. He believed the construction effort was politically totally unnecessary. Indeed, not only did the building not achieve the territorial objective, but it also impeded the demographic objective and increased the percentage of Arabs in the city. Today, Jewish neighborhoods occupy only one-third of the eastern area; in the other two-thirds the Arab neighborhoods, where most East Jerusalem Arabs live, have expanded greatly. The territorial struggle produced an Arab counteraction - illegal construction. In the '80s and '90s the construction of some 20,000 unlicensed housing units turned the eastern part of the city into a "Wild West," with attendant severe urban damage. The attempt to separate territorially the East Jerusalem Arabs from their West Bank brothers did not succeed: East Jerusalem joined up with the West Bank and became its political and economic center.
3. A Uni-national City
The third objective of Israeli policy in Jerusalem was the demographic target: expanding the Jewish percentage to 80-90% to create a "uni-national city."
If the Israeli government had only annexed the area of Jordanian Jerusalem in 1967 the percentage of Jews in the unified city would today be 82%. The decision to annex large chunks of West Bank land, including 28 villages, increased the number of Arabs within the municipal boundaries by 40,000-68,000 and raised their percentage of the population to 24%.
Ironically, the government construction of surrounding suburbs in the '70s created employment opportunities for Arabs. The by-product of Israel's liberal policy toward East Jerusalem's Arab residents was that they acquired advanced health services, and social welfare benefits from National Insurance. Jerusalem became a magnet for West Bank Arabs, and the migration trend from the city, which had characterized the Jordanian city, was reversed. The proportion of Arabs in city increased continuously to reach 34%.
Paradoxically, the rise to power of the right-wing Likud party under Menachem Begin in 1977 hampered the drive to expand the Jewish majority in Jerusalem. While encouraging efforts to boost the number of Jews in the capital, the Likud also attempted to expand settlement on the outskirts of the city. Thus the construction of Ma'ale Adumim, Betar Illit, Givat Ze'ev, Efrat and other settlements surrounding the capital, led to the migration in the '80s and '90s of some 120,000 Jews from the city to the settlements. In retrospect it became apparent that the national goal of expanding settlements upset the national goal of expanding Jerusalem's Jewish majority.
The capital gradually, but consistently, turned into a bi-national city. The annual population increase among Arabs was about 3.5%, while it was only around 1.5% for Jews. Indeed, if Jerusalem's Arab citizens, who number about one-third of the population, were to decide not to boycott the municipal elections, they could theoretically elect their own party to the City Council and even elect an Arab mayor.
4. Prosperous Economic Center
The fourth objective was an economic one: a drive to strengthen and develop the city; the capital would not only be an administrative center, but also the economic center of the country. The decision-makers, in the euphoric period following the Six Day War victory, believed that Jerusalem could replace Tel Aviv as the economic capital of Israel. In this vision negative migration would be reversed and "within a decade or two Tel Aviv would become a suburb of Jerusalem." They believed that the preeminent status that the city had enjoyed during the British Mandate, when it was the capital of the whole country, would be restored. No idea was too grandiose to be considered.
However, as we have seen, in the '80s investment began to be siphoned off to the settlements and government investment dropped to one third of what it had been in the '70s. Despite the fact that territorially, Jerusalem became the largest city in Israel, three times larger than Tel Aviv, its economic situation worsened. By the end of the '90s it had the worst economic rating of large and medium-sized cities in the country. It became the poorest city in Israel, and the economic gap between Jews and Arabs widened. In 2006, 36% of the city's families lived below the poverty line - 23.2% for Jews and a shocking 63.5% for Arabs.
Haram el-Sharif/Temple Mount - the holy places became the heart of the conflict .
(Photo: Mahfouz Abu Turk)
5. The "Israelization" of the City's Arabs
The fifth, and political, objective was to bring about "Israelization," equality and coexistence with the Arabs of the city. Foreign Minister Abba Eban declared in an appearance before the UN after the unification of the city that Israel pledged equality, full rights and services to the Arab minority. In contrast to its unclear attitude towards the status of West Bank Arabs the Israeli government policy towards East Jerusalem residents was unequivocal - they were an inseparable part of the unified city.
The government earmarked funds and enacted legislation to promote the status and rights of East Jerusalem Arabs. However, it soon became clear that the resources were being directed to the Jewish majority. Instead of advancing the Arab minority, government policy began harassing Arabs to force them to leave the city.
One of the main instruments of this policy manifested itself in construction. Jerusalem's municipal planning policy created two standards: urban planning for Jews and political planning for Arabs, whereby planning possibilities for them were considerably reduced. The Arabs reacted by holding desperately onto the city from which the Jews were attempting to drive them.
Then the first intifada broke out and further divided the two populations: Arab residents joined the protests, the stone-throwing and the violence and became part of the Palestinian civil rebellion in the West Bank and Gaza. East Jerusalem's political, religious and economic elites, who were supposed to lead the effort for coexistence in the city, became the leaders of the intifada against Israel.
East Jerusalem Arabs identified with the objectives of the intifada, with the struggle for national liberation. They sought to separate from Israel and establish East Jerusalem as their capital. The city was, in effect, divided between east and west by the "geography of fear," and even Kollek, the incurable optimist who had promoted coexistence for two decades, admitted: "Coexistence is dead!"
6. Separating the Holy Places from the Political Struggle
The sixth and final objective of Israeli policy in Jerusalem dealt with the holy sites: separating the holy places from the Israel-Arab conflict.
The problem of the holy places has always been the most sensitive and difficult to solve. The Zionist movement had always attempted to separate the issue of the holy places from the other aspects of the struggle with the Arabs and had never been overly concerned with the Holy Places. Zionist leader and Israel's first President Chaim Weizmann put it thus: "I would not accept the Old City, even if they gave it to me for free." Even after Israel's War of Independence in 1948, official policy supported internationalizing the holy places, instead of the internationalizing the city as set out in the UN Partition Plan of 1947.
After the Six Day War in 1967 Israel missed the opportunity to allow the internationalization of the holy places. In the euphoria following the victory it imposed sovereignty on the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall and refrained from taking control of Muslim and Christian holy sites, but did not go one step further to internationalize and thereby take the holy places out of the Israel-Arab conflict.
The most obvious expression of Israel's failure to separate the Temple Mount (Haram el-Sharif) from the Israel-Arab conflict can be seen in the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000, where contrary to Israeli policy, the holy places became the heart of the conflict.
Soul-searching: Rethinking Jerusalem
"Soul-searching" requires rethinking and drawing conclusions from failure. The roots of the failure lie partially in the setting of policy and partially in the implementation. The commitment to a concept, which turned into an ideology, and to territories that turned into sacred sites, created a mindset that prevent policy-makers from rethinking the issues. It is possible to understand the initial impetuous, flawed official policy on Jerusalem that the officials adhered to despite the advice of experts and the warnings of Kollek. However, it is impossible to understand or to forgive the strange intransigence of policy-makers and those who continued to carry it out despite its evidently destructive results.
Perhaps now, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the unification of the city, policy-makers will implement a national soul-searching and ask themselves: "After trying practically everything, and after practically everything has failed, perhaps we should cease and re-think Jerusalem?"
Today, after not succeeding in turning Jerusalem into a uni-cultural, uni-religious, uni-national city, the question arises with greater force: Why? Perhaps the opposite is the right way? Perhaps by adopting a different, unconventional approach, we can succeed in achieving was we have not achieved so far? Perhaps instead of trying to change the face of Jerusalem to establish new facts and to expand it, we should simply try to change ourselves and free our minds from the previous mindset?
Perhaps we should accept Jerusalem as it is, multi-cultural, bi-national and with three religions - concepts that scared us in the past? Perhaps Jerusalem secretly laughs at us, and from the heights of history mocks the new Israelis, who seek to turn it into something that it is not, and never will be? Perhaps, indeed "the division of Jerusalem" as a political approach will accomplish more for us Israelis than the anachronistic political approach of the "unification of Jerusalem?" And how will we be adversely affected if the Old City - some 1% of the area of the capital - becomes an area where we are partners rather than owners? And how bad would it be if such a small part were to be internationalized? What would happen?
This is what would happen: Jerusalem would be transformed from "the problem" to "the solution." If we turn Jerusalem into the "the great key" to the conflict, in its wider meaning, not only political - new gates will open before us. Jerusalem could be the key to the heart of the Muslim world, to reconciliation with the Arab states and to peace with the Palestinians.
* This article is based on Moshe Amirav's new book The Jerusalem Syndrome: The Israeli Unification Policy Delusions, 1967-2007, which analyzes the failure of Israel to unify its capital from 1967 to 2007.