Jerusalem Can Be Open to Jews and Arabs

Tuesday, 11 May 2010 10:16 AM

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Here's my advice on how Israel and the Palestinian Authority should proceed with their so-called “proximity” talks mediated by George Mitchell.

Instead of putting the hot-button issue of Jerusalem last on the agenda, the issue should be addressed first. If the Jerusalem question is solved, everything else should fall into place more easily.

I believe there is a way to keep Jerusalem unified. I am talking not only of the old walled city, which is a very small part of the city of Jerusalem, but the whole city, east, west, north, and south.

All three major faiths see Jerusalem as special. It makes no sense to say it is more sacred to one group than another. But, we know that when Jordan controlled that city after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Jordanians made the old walled city of Jerusalem and the area called East Jerusalem "Judenrein," a Nazi term meaning "free of Jews."

The Jordanians destroyed every synagogue and residence in the Jewish quarter of the old walled city. They expelled its Jewish inhabitants to Israel and even destroyed parts of the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives using the ancient tombstones as building material for the Jordanian army’s latrines.

In contrast, after Israel captured all of East Jerusalem, including the old walled city, during the 1967 Six-Day War, Arabs were permitted to remain and those of every religious and non-religious persuasion were given access to the whole city of Jerusalem, including the walled city with its holy places.

Jews now pray at the Western Wall, having been denied the right to do so during the 19 years of Jordanian rule. Christians have access to and control all of the ancient sites holy to them. Muslims continue praying at their two mosques built on the site where Solomon built and Herod rebuilt the Jewish Temple.

Jerusalem has never been more accessible since the ancient days of the Kingdom of Judea when the city was the Jewish capital, having been so designated by King David who won it by defeating the Jebusites.

But reciting history does not solve the current problems facing the negotiators representing Israel and the Palestinian Authority in their newly begun indirect talks.

Almost everyone believes Jerusalem must remain open to all. Can that continue to exist if both Israel and the Palestinians want their national capitals to be located in Jerusalem? The answer, I believe, is yes. East Jerusalem is now shared by Jews and Arabs. There are 280,000 Jews living in that part of Jerusalem, including in the old walled city.

My suggestion is to situate the new Palestinian capital in that part of East Jerusalem that is occupied overwhelmingly by Palestinians, allow the inhabitants of East Jerusalem — Jews, Christians, Muslims, and those living elsewhere in the city — to pick the state to which to pledge their allegiance and to cast two votes — one in municipal elections for one mayor to govern the entire city of Jerusalem, and a separate vote in national elections related to the Jewish and Palestinian states living peacefully side by side.

Jerusalem is now roughly two-thirds Jewish and one-third Muslim. The Christian population is about 2 percent. All under the proposal would be voting for a single city council and one mayor. Based on the current population, the mayor would be Jewish. If the demographics changed over the years in favor of the Muslims, a Muslim mayor could be elected.

New York City with its model of five borough presidents is a good model to emulate with Muslim and Jewish areas electing borough presidents to respond to the local needs of the inhabitants. If I could live and govern when I was mayor with Andy Stein as borough president of Manhattan, the mayor of Jerusalem can live and govern with a borough president elected in the Palestinian part of East Jerusalem.

As for the peace talks currently underway, I think that it is ridiculous that they are indirect, since heretofore, the talks were direct. Also, the fact that the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, is unwilling to say that he, on behalf of his people, recognizes the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel is grounds for understandable suspicion on the part of the Israelis.

What President Obama should do through Mr. Mitchell is ask that there be matching statements at the beginning of the talks and before the fate of Jerusalem is discussed, with Israel recognizing once again the need for a two-state solution, and the Palestinians publicly announcing in Arabic, Hebrew, and English their acceptance of the Jewish state of Israel living side by side in peace with a Muslim state.


Let me know your thoughts at eikoch@bryancave.com.

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