Sunday, June 14, 2009

Oy Jerusalem

A Palestinian neighhbourhood in East Jerusalem. Click not to see details like paved roads, public transportation, pavements, sewage and refuse collection.

A few days ago I took leave of Tel Aviv for a rare visit to Jerusalem , or more specifically to what is normally called 'East' Jerusalem (despite much of this being in the north and the south of the city) The occasion was a tour with the Ir Amim NGO whose optimistic motto is: 'An Equitable and Stable Jerusalem with an Agreed Political Future'.

Thus, only a 90 minute drive from the fleshpots of Tel Aviv, I found myself meadering (in a van) through the potholed roads of Um Tuba and Jabel Mukabar, Suhr Bahr, Ras el Amud and Silwan - in other words, places that most Israelis have barely heard of, let alone visited. There were no pavements, the garbage was collected only infrequently and some 9,000 children would not be going to school in September because of a chronic lack of classrooms. This is what Israel's 'eternal capital' looks like from the Palestinian side. To cap it all, the security fence (in some places an 8 metre high wall) snakes around most of 'east' Jerusalem cutting off hospitals from patients, children from schools, farmers from fields and customers from businesses. As much as it protects Israelis from terror attacks it seems also to demarcate which part of 'Jerusalem' Israel intends to keep for itself.

Here and there in the heart of these Palestinian neighbourhoods (some of them former villages annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 war) , settler organisations with complete governmental collusion are buying out Palestinian houses and land to set up difficult-to-move Jewish "settlements" - 20 units here, 150 there. This is the same tactic the settlement movement has always used. Establish enough "facts on the ground" and they will never be able to budge us. This sort of activity has been stepped up in recent weeks and months.

The wider picture is of course Obama's renewed effort to jump start negotiations between Israel and the PA, negotiations that will never be concluded positively without a resolution to the status of Jerusalem. If there are to be two states, then Jerusalem is to be the capital of both of them. This demands redrawing the map of Jerusalem and dividing the city into sections of Israeli , Palestinian and probably some form of international sovereignty. The clumps of Jewish settlement inside densly populated Palestinian neighbourhoods are designed to place physical spokes in the wheels of this plan by further complicating an already complicated situation.

Under various peace plans, the 'holy basin' containing Temple Mount/Haram el sharif as well as the Mount of Olives and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (among others) would fall under international sovereignty and administration.

Indeed, even without this sort of malicious sabotage it is hard to fathom how the city can be both divided yet remain open and maintain several sovereignties without them continuously clashing.
President Clinton's "parameters" of 2001 talked of freezing a snapshot of the status quo: neighbourhoods containing Jews to Israel, Palestinian neighbourhoods to Palestine and the holy places under a special regime. But few other practical details of how all this might work in practice have emerged. For example there would have to be some sort of external barrier that would prevent militant Palestinians from exiting Jerusalem to carry out a terror attack in Tel Aviv or zealous settlers from doing the same in Ramallah.

But all of this is speculation, a long way down the road. Tonight at 8pm Netanyahu will address the world and we will have a better idea of whether he will submit to the American demand and say out loud that the goal of the process is a two state solution. If he does, Obama wins. If he doesn't Obama still wins because his confrontational position with Israel will raise his standing in the Arab world. Knowing Bibi's coalition contraints and sincere world view, the latter scenario is the more likely .

We - here on the rooftop and in other reasonably sane households throughout Israel - feel that entering a confrontation with our greatest friend and ally over semantics and settlements is lunacy but have also always belived that the entire settlement enterprise is lunacy.
This certainly feels like the beginning (if we're not already in the middle) of Israel's gradual decline to the status of international leper.

A Palestinian boy in the Old City of Jerusalem. What future for him and Jewish children in west Jerusalem?

For balanced information on the Jerusalem question:

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