Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Prospects for Palestine and Jerusalem

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Prospects for Palestine and Jerusalem

Article excerpt


The American Committee on Jerusalem (ACJ) hosted a panel on the future prospects of a Jerusalem shared by both Palestine and Israel, April 5 at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC. The panel was moderated by Ziad Asali, chairman of ACJ, introduced by Phil Wilcox of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) and David Mack of the Middle East Institute (MEI). Speakers included Rashid Khalidi, president of ACJ and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago, Alon Ben-Meir, a professor at the New School for Social Research in New York City, Daniel Seidemann of the Pro-Jerusalem Society based in Jerusalem, and Salim Tamari of the Institute for Jerusalem Studies--also based in Jerusalem--and a professor at New York University. FMEP, MEI, and the Pro-Jerusalem Society cosponsored the event.

Despite the cordial atmosphere of a learned debate, the deep divisions in ideology and perspective between Palestinian and Israeli views were very much in evidence. Though all the speakers involved acknowledged the necessity of arriving at some mutually agreeable plan for sharing Jerusalem, their routes to such a destination varied widely.

Alon Ben-Meir stressed that Jerusalem is a special city, holy to many peoples, and as such cannot be treated as merely a geographical claim by either side. He focused on areas of agreement between Palestinians and Israelis regarding the indivisibility of the city, that freedom of worship must be guaranteed, and that people and goods must be able to move freely through the city, thereby assuring a stable economy for Jerusalem. The status quo, he maintained, practiced many of these ideals. Ben-Meir averred, however, that none should question Jews' historic claim to Jerusalem, as it dates back thousands of years. He acknowledged only a political claim by the Palestinians, dating back a few hundred years. Furthermore, Ben-Meir spoke only of sharing and negotiating on the question of East Jerusalem--implying that Israeli sovereignty over West Jerusalem was not open to question

Salim Tamari addressed just that assumption, saying that "Israelis insist that they have a substantial claim to the Arab city while the western part shall remain uncontested." He further claimed that this was the underlying premise of Barak's proposals at Camp David: "What is ours will remain ours and let us have compromises over sharing your part of the city."

Tamari emphasized the changing demographics of Jerusalem resulting from the Israeli policy of annexation and settlement. He agreed with Ben-Meir that all citizens of Jerusalem should be able to move freely through the city, but maintained that would not be feasible without rethinking the contested territory based on U.N. Resolution 242, and on mutual respect and recognition of one another's claims.

Rashid Khalidi reminded the audience that in the present situation the idea of a shared Jerusalem was a prospect that is less likely today than it was in the past 10 years, and that Oslo prevented any real discussion of the fundamental issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, sovereignty, settlements, and water--while the occupation expanded. As for future prospects, Khalidi stated that unless negotiations take place within the context of the principles of equality, equity and international law, any prospects were bleak at best. …

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