Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Mei Examines Jerusalem Problem

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Mei Examines Jerusalem Problem

Article excerpt


The Middle East Institute hosted a half-day conference entitled "Jerusalem: Images and Realities" at The National Press Club on Jan. 16. After opening remarks by MEI President Ambassador Roscoe Suddarth, the first panel, moderated by Stephen Rosenfeld of The Washington Post, considered "Developments in Jerusalem."

The first speaker, attorney Douglas Feith, said that Israelis do not trust Palestinian intentions. He charged that while Arabs discuss land-for-peace with the Israelis, among themselves they focus on armed struggle against Israel, even in schools. He charged that Palestinian school books still do not show Israel, which he said is evidence of anti-Jewish hostility. He further charged that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat at times invokes the 1974 decision of the Palestine National Council that diplomacy would not be a renunciation of the original goals of the destruction of Israel, but instead a tactical maneuver. Next, he said that the nature of the conflict is the same now as it has been for 80 years, which is not so much over Zion as over Zionism.

Feith attributed the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act to the belief of many members of the U.S. Congress that the legitimacy of Israel is still an issue. A move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would demonstrate U.S. support of this legitimacy and Israel's right to exist, Feith said. He added that the U.S. should not dispute Israel's claim to Jerusalem.

Summing up, he said that Arabs must change their attitudes toward Israelis before real peace can be achieved and that the Palestinians must no longer terrorize the Israeli people. He closed by charging that there are fatal flaws in the Oslo process and that trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by creating a Palestinian state will not work.

Panelist Rashid Khalidi of the University of Chicago said the U.S. image of Jerusalem does not correspond to realities on the ground. The first popular misperception is the notion of Jerusalem as a united, whole, completely normal Israeli city, according to Dr. Khalidi. The next three misconceptions are that there is a consensus among Israelis that all of Jerusalem will be forever under Israeli control; that Jerusalem is somehow not as important to Arabs and Muslims as it is to Jews; and that peace is attainable only if Arabs concede control of Jerusalem to Israel forever.

The reality, Khalidi said, is that Jerusalem is one of the most deeply divided cities in the world, with segregation of Arabs and Jews the norm in both residential and commercial districts. He described large-scale discrimination against Palestinians living within the city, including home demolitions. The Israeli government refuses to grant any building permits to Palestinians for additions or alterations to their homes to accommodate their expanding families, he said. When the Palestinians proceed without permits the Israelis demolish the entire home.

Khalidi also cited the arbitrary nature of the city limits of Jerusalem since the Israeli government expanded them after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Fewer than half of all Israelis see these Arab areas outside of the Old City as important to the state of Israel.

In order for peace to have a chance, Dr. Khalidi stated, all parties must realize that East Jerusalem is occupied territory, with international law, United Nations resolutions and stark reality attesting to this fact. He concluded by stating that all myths regarding Jerusalem must be destroyed for peace to have a realistic chance to succeed.

The final speaker on the first panel, former U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem Philip Wilcox, said that Israelis and Palestinians must realize that the city will have to be shared. While the physical unity of the city must of course be maintained, according to Wilcox, two governments on two sides of Jerusalem should be pursued. Wilcox stressed that a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem should not cause fear among Israelis, pointing to the current coexistence of the Muslim-administered Haram Al Sharif and the Jewish-administered Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. …

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