Jerusalem won’t be resolved at Annapolis

Jerusalem and the refugee/right of return issue were the two principal areas of Israeli-Palestinian disagreement that caused the collapse of the Oslo process at Camp David in July 2000 and thereafter. Since that time, we have only moved farther apart on them. But while the refugee issue has been dormant during the current countdown to Annapolis–both sides appear to understand that the extent of disagreement precludes even preliminary maneuvering–PM Ehud Olmert’s government has publicly highlighted its plans for Jerusalem, thereby exacerbating tensions within Israel and between Israelis and Palestinians.

Olmert and Deputy PM Haim Ramon have spoken publicly about the need for Israel to divest itself of Jerusalem’s outlying Arab neighborhoods and refugee camps like Walaja and Shuafat that never should have been included within its borders in the first place. Even Avigdor Lieberman, another deputy prime minister and a right winger, has concurred. At the same time, and presumably as "compensation" for those who object to Olmert "dividing" Jerusalem, he has given the green light for construction at E1, thereby physically linking Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem, rendering any future solution that attaches Arab East Jerusalem to a Palestinian state that much more complicated and sabotaging Palestinian trust and confidence. Judging by the frontal attack against Olmert by the Likud-led opposition over his plans to "partition" Jerusalem, the prime minister’s critics are impressed neither by E1, the peripheral nature of the areas Olmert apparently plans to offer the Palestinians at Annapoli! s, nor by Olmert’s reassurances that Annapolis will not deal with "core" issues.

It is by now a familiar cliche that "all sides know what has to happen in Jerusalem": Jewish neighborhoods for Israel, Arab neighborhoods for Palestine, two national capitals and an international regime for the Holy Basin, including the Old City, Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, City of David and Mount of Olives. In short, the Clinton parameters or something like them. Yet at Camp David we realized just how far apart the two sides are regarding the religious/national issues of the Old City and the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. After years of intifada, including in West Jerusalem, we are no closer. Indeed, construction of the anti-terrorist fence/wall in and around Jerusalem has compounded the problem by "annexing" most of the city’s Arab population to Israeli Jerusalem and separating them from the West Bank.

Apropos the fence, it seems that only in Jerusalem has a hollow slogan ("united Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel") overshadowed the pragmatic enterprise that can be observed everywhere else in the West Bank of, roughly, separating Jews and Arabs into two separate states with a fence. The wall in Jerusalem is particularly grotesque insofar as the city is not in the least united, while Israel as a Jewish state needs neither the addition of 250,000 Arab residents nor Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods where Jews never set foot.

Ehud Olmert, who as mayor of Jerusalem and deputy prime minister contributed heavily to creating its current gridlocked political status, now appears to have at least partially seen the light. We can blame him for his past mistakes or welcome his change of heart. But we must also notice that, whereas some Israeli hard-line politicians have changed their views in accordance with their own and Israel’s changing circumstances, Palestinian politicians have not. There is not the slightest indication that President Mahmoud Abbas and his coterie are prepared to compromise on the Temple Mount or, for that matter, the right of return or that they seek to prepare the Palestinian public for even minor concessions. More broadly, Islam–Palestinian Islam, Arab Islam in general–has failed completely in the seven years since Camp David to make room for recognition of the Jewish link to the Temple Mount, a sine qua non for an agreed solution there.

The immensity of this gap between the two sides is only one of the reasons why Annapolis is a premature and badly-formulated idea. Annapolis will not solve the Jerusalem issue. Olmert, on the other hand, can begin making a serious contribution to a solution by moving the security barrier so that it protects Jews from Arab terrorists and leaves Jerusalem’s Arab population (with the exception of the Holy Basin, most of which–the Old City–is in any case walled) on the Palestinian side, and by putting a stop to provocative Jewish building projects in the heart of Arab neighborhoods. Arabs, and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, can view these with approval or anger as Israeli concessions. I would consider them necessary steps–regardless of the fortunes of the current problematic peace process–to maintaining Israel as a Jewish state and Jerusalem as its Jewish capital, backed by Israeli consensus and world recognition.