Do We Divide The Holiest Holy City?
“Jerusalem contains more different versions of Heaven than any outsider can imagine,” Israeli writer Amos Oz once told the late American author Saul Bellow. Despite, or perhaps because of this, its geopolitics have posed a sort of diplomatic hell for millennia. Holy to Islam and Christianity and central to Judaism, the so-called “City of Peace” has been “destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked an additional 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times,” according to Eric H. Cline’s tally in Jerusalem Besieged.
Jewish Jerusalem was founded 3,000 years ago when King David took a hill town from the Jebusites. Solomon built his temple there atop Mount Moriah, on which the Bible says Abraham offered Isaac up to God. In 70 C.E., the Second Temple was sacked by the Romans, leaving only the platform known to Jews as the Temple Mount. Arabs revere it as Haram el-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), home to the Al Aqsa Mosque: Muhammed is said to have ascended from there to heaven in the seventh century. A short walk away through narrow and unchanging stone passages stands the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century on the spot that his mother named as the site of Christ’s martyrdom.
Other holy cities have complicated religious histories but few find themselves in the center of a modern struggle over sovereignty between two warring peoples. When the United Nations voted in 1947 to create separate Arab and Jewish states in Palestine, it set aside Jerusalem as a corpus separatum to be governed by a UN administrator. After 10 years, the plan held, a referendum could determine the city’s future—an intention that became moot when UN members failed to intervene as Arab troops swept in; East Jerusalem and the Old City fell to Jordan.
Holy sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank were immediately closed to Jews and, in some cases, Christians; synagogues and Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. When Israel won the Six-Day War of 1967, the city was again united—this time under Israeli rule. Jews surged to the Western Wall to pray at a spot revered since the first century. As a gesture of tolerance, Israel ceded control of the Temple Mount to the Muslim collective known as the Waqf, which continues to administer the site today.
Central Jerusalem’s barbed wire and concrete walls are gone. But divisions persist: Jews rarely cross into Arab sectors and, although Jerusalem’s Arabs move fairly easily within Jewish neighborhoods and shopping districts, both groups go home to sleep among their tribal brethren. The boundaries of Jewish neighborhoods—or “settlements,” as they’re often called when they encroach on West Bank land—seem gerrymandered to exclude Arabs from Jewish community services and institutions. Resident Arabs at all levels of society describe unequal economic opportunity and inferior city services; but most also decline to vote in municipal elections, considering participation a tacit recognition of Israeli sovereignty. At the same time, among Jews, West Jerusalem has taken on an increasingly Orthodox character as the young and secular decamp to other Israeli cities.
Despite passionate promises by political and religious leaders on both sides never to cede their claims to the Holy City (and official Israeli insistence that the city’s future be treated as a “final status” issue in U.S.-brokered peace negotiations), Jerusalem has been part of peace discussions since 2000. As part of non-binding talks at Camp David, Israel’s then prime minister Ehud Barak quietly broached the possibility of creating two capitals there, “Yerushalaim” for Jews and “Al Quds” (the Holy) for Arabs. Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat rejected the plan, the Second Intifada began and in February 2001, Barak’s government fell. No Israeli politician dared touch this “third rail” again until October 2007, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert—boldly or foolishly, depending on the point-of-view—suggested that Jerusalem could be divided in a peace settlement.
Under political pressure, Olmert has backtracked, but public opinion polls on both sides show fatigue with hard-line policies and a resigned awareness that sacrifices—of land, of rights, of historic claims—will have to be made for peace to come.
What should Jerusalem’s future be? How can the Old City and the much larger new one around it be shared? Should Jerusalem be divided or unified? To whom should it belong? To foster dialogue, Moment asked writers and journalists—Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, both secular and religious—for their visions of the future of the world’s holiest metropolis. Their answers, often at odds but sometimes surprisingly alike, evoke Oz’s “different versions of Heaven.”—Mandy Katz
is the author of 12 novels, including the 2007 A Pigeon and a Boy. Born in 1948 in the Nahalal agricultural collective in Israel’s Jezreel Valley, his mother’s home, he was raised in his father’s city of Jerusalem. He writes for Yediot Aharonot and divides his time between Jerusalem and a village near Nahalal.
Herman Melville said Jerusalem is surrounded by cemeteries, and the dead are the strongest guild of this town. He’s right—Jerusalem is run by dead people. You feel the town doesn’t have any interest in the future. We have politicians, we have scholars, we have writers, but historic figures determine our politics: Salah al-Din, David, Jesus Christ—these are the people who run the city.
When I compare Jerusalem to the other two great cities of the Mediterranean, Athens and Rome, I am jealous because they handle their history with ease. When you stroll the Parthenon and the Foro Romano, you don’t have the same dangers, the same feeling of fanaticism you have around the holy places of Jerusalem. The Holy Basin is like a nuclear reactor that we cannot control. It keeps radiating all the time. We call Jerusalem the eternal city of peace, but this is a great lie.
Until 1967, there was a wall of concrete and barbed wire cutting Jerusalem north to south, soldiers on both sides. When I was 7, my father used to take us on a political walk along this wall every second Saturday. He would tell me that I would have to be a soldier when I grew up and redeem the other part of Jerusalem. We used to go to the Monastery of Notre Dame de France where, if you stood in a certain corner of the roof, you could see part of the Wailing Wail. He wrote a poem about it: “The roof of Notre Dame for me is like Mount Nebo. I see the holy places which I cannot reach.”
He was a non-religious person, mind you, and this was the way he was thinking. For him, having grown up in Jerusalem in pre-Israel times, it was a very different experience. I’m much less connected to Jerusalem than he was.
When a Palestinian state is established, we should allow Palestinians to have Jerusalem as its symbolic capital, to have their parliament in Jerusalem. But dividing Jerusalem physically with a wall, as it used to be in my childhood, is impossible now—impossible socially, politically and economically.
It would be a good solution for Jerusalem if some international entity would take care of the holy places and make them accessible to all visitors. This is when the vision of Isaiah will come, of Jerusalem as a beacon for all peoples. But this won’t happen; none of the three religions would agree to such a proposition.
Jerusalem is a Jewish invention. If the Temple had been in another city, Jesus would never have come, and the Islamic presence is much later than that. But now we have three religions in Jerusalem and the Jewish people should be pioneers again: We should be first in telling the world and ourselves and the other religions that this town should start to behave. Some responsible grownup from another religion or from a non-religious side should take over, because all three religions somehow lose their morality here. They become quarrelsome, possessive, jealous, obsessive. It’s time for these holy places to become a place to visit, not a place to fight for.
I once met the Dalai Lama for breakfast here in Jerusalem—him and the late poet Yehuda Amichai—and we were talking about Jerusalem as a place of conflict. I unofficially invited him to become the mayor of Jerusalem and take care of the holy places for us. He just smiled. I guess he had other worries on his shoulders.
is a professor of anthropology at Al Quds University and a painter who writes for This Week in Palestine. He was born in 1953 in the Herod’s Gate neighborhood just north of the Old City walls, which his great-grandfather, the mufti of Jerusalem, first settled in 1750. He lives in Shofat, Jerusalem’s first Arab suburb built after 1948.
I live a Jerusalem ideal. I have alien residency in Jerusalem, which allows me many elements of free movement, and I have my Jordanian passport, which protects my cultural identity. Like all alien residents, I am a beneficiary of the Israeli medical system, social security and social services. But, unlike Israeli citizens, I can move freely to Jericho and throughout the West Bank.
I have adjusted to the suburban lifestyle. The Old City for me is a place to pray, to take walks and write poetry. But if I want to go to a restaurant, I go to West Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. When you live with the highway at your door, your territory expands.
Still, we remain a people under occupation. It’s very irritating: My mother’s clan, the Nusseibeh family, has carried the keys to the Holy Sepulcher church since the 7th century. My father’s family were the first converts to Islam in Palestine. And then, overnight, I’m an “alien resident” through just one war? It’s absurd after all this history to be reduced to foreign guests in our homeland.
My daughter Aida goes to sixth grade in the Jewish part of Jerusalem, at the International School. If they were to cut up Jerusalem again, I don’t know what I would do. I’m a single father and my Jewish friends help take care of my daughter. They give me emotional support. I go for Pesach dinners.
My life is enriched by my Jewish friends, and I hate to say “Jewish friends” because I do not think of them that way. When I take my daughter to buy a pet from my friend in Netanya, she will not think, “This is a ‘Jewish friend’ of my father.” She will think, “This is my father’s nice friend who is helping me find a pet bird.”
And Arabs are largely dependent on the Jewish sector for their consumer lifestyle. Today we are going to see Atonement in a big shopping center in West Jerusalem. There will be Arabs there, Jews there, all shopping, sitting in cafes or eating Chinese, going to McDonalds.
A number of Jerusalem Arabs have given up their Jordanian passports and taken Israeli ones. But these are street cleaners, blue-collar workers dependent for their livelihoods on the Israeli sector. For them, it’s pragmatic to accept Israeli citizenship, but for us, it’s not that simple. My family has prestige. We have a historical responsibility. We cannot compromise our identity.
Paradoxically, we remain neither Jordanians nor Israelis. The passport we have does not permit us to live in Jordan; it is a courtesy but not a right. The Israelis in turn have given us residency but not citizenship. Yet this dual status, despite its precariousness, allows us a lifestyle we are not willing to forsake. Ultimately, we need one document that honorably combines our privileges and our historic rights in a way that preserves our dignity and our Arab integrity.
A separation wall is not a solution. It will be inconceivable to think of living as Arabs alone and Jews alone. All the scenarios are so black and white—there must be flexibility. The Jerusalem that I envisage will retain its unique international status. People like me, who are not politicians, who write, who think, who live their lives without fanaticism, feel that the city should remain open and be given a special form of government. Any political solution that ensues would have to be sufficiently imaginative, sufficiently flexible to maintain free movement.
Peace with walls is not peace, really.
has written numerous books, including Letter to an American Friend and is a regular contributor to Commentary and The Forward. Born in New York in 1939, he first visited Israel in 1957 and immigrated in 1970. After living in Jerusalem for two years, he moved to Zicharon Yaacov, north of Tel Aviv.
Whether one believes as an Israeli in redividing Jerusalem is, I think, a function of whether one believes in the desirability of a Palestinian state. Is it in Israel’s interest to have such a state by its side? If the answer is yes, the division of Jerusalem is unavoidable. If not, it should be avoided at all costs. Retaining Israeli control over all of Jerusalem is the best way to prevent a Palestinian state from coming into existence. Jerusalem is necessary to the Palestinians both as a symbol and as a political, economic and geographic reality if they’re going to have a state. I’m not sure such a state would be viable even with East Jerusalem, but it certainly wouldn’t be viable without it.
I find myself believing less and less in the desirability of a Palestinian state from an Israeli point of view. The best option is for Israel to withdraw from most of the West Bank—I don’t think there’s any choice about that—and for the Palestinians to join up with Jordan again. Not that the Jordanian ruling class wants them, but if the choice Jordan faced was either to assume responsibility for the West Bank or face chaos and the likelihood of a complete Hamas takeover, it might find it was in its own interests to move in.
A mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza, even with Jerusalem as the capital, won’t satisfy Palestinian aspirations. When you look at what the Palestinians lost in 1948, such a state would give them back very little. The Palestinian strategy, once a state was established, would be to continue to contest Israel’s legitimacy and to hope that Israel could be progressively weakened and eventually dismantled or nibbled away at.
I didn’t always think this way. Until Oslo, and maybe even for a few years after, I believed the solution lay in a federated arrangement between Israel and a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and a shared Jerusalem, with citizens of each allowed to live on the other side so that the Jewish settlements could continue to exist. The borders would have been open to free movement in either direction. Today that seems to me a utopian fantasy.
was born in Nablus in 1943 and is the author of The Palestinian Hero in the Folkloric Tale. Editor for 20 years of the daily newspaper, Al-Fajr (“The Dawn”), he later directed the Palestine National Authority’s Ministry of Culture. He lives in Ramallah.
I don’t accept that Israel says it is a Jewish state. There are one million Arabs, Christians and Muslims who are Israeli citizens. It is a state for all its citizens. You cannot say America is a Christian state. In Palestine, we cannot say Palestine is the state of Muslims; we have more than 100,000 Christians. In Nablus, we have Samaritans—a small sect that broke off from Judaism 2,700 years ago.
Israel should be a state where all Jews can come, but there are a million Arab Israelis, Muslims and Christians. Are they not Israeli, too? It’s very dangerous because, this way, you can just say, “Transfer all the Arabs.” Israeli Arabs have been there for thousands of years but they are not Jews. At the same time, for 60 years, they are Israelis.
For Jerusalem, I dream of having one city for two nations—the Arab-Palestinian and the Israeli. We can study other countries for models. In Belgium, there are two or three different nations or peoples and also in Switzerland, Canada, even America. Even here in Palestine, we will one day live together.
If we want Jerusalem as one city, we would have to return to the old dream: one state, not just one city, for the different religions—Jews, Christians, Muslims, non-religious. One state, democratic, choose any name. But this dream cannot be now. I think maybe one in 10,000 people would accept it.
So there have to be two states—a Palestinian state and an Israeli state. And Jerusalem has to be divided into two capitals as it was before 1967. It’s difficult, I know, for us and for the Israelis. Still, after 60 years of war, of bloodshed, of disaster, maybe there is a hope. Maybe.
If we accept that there is a democratic Palestinian state beside a democratic, peaceful Israeli state, we can find a solution. We have to use our imaginations, be creative. I don’t think there can be one municipal unit for Jerusalem but I hate walls. Maybe the Palestinian Arabs have to pay their taxes to their municipality and their government and the Israelis have to pay to theirs.
But the problem is not only Jerusalem. The bigger problem is the settlements. The settlements are a new Israel created and established in the West Bank. This is a different Israel, an ideological Israel. The settlers believe this land has been given them by God thousands of years ago. This is crazy thinking. By this thinking England will not be England; America would be given back. By this thinking, Palestinians could go back 6,000 years to before Abraham!
As for the holy places, we should find a creative solution that will be accepted by Muslims, Jews and Christians. Jerusalem is not a commercial city or an industrial city. No factories, no farms, no big markets are in Jerusalem. It is a holy city and these holy places are contained within one kilometer—how would we divide the holy wall of the Jews from the mosque, Al Aqsa, from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher?
That place can make very, very good money for the two nations because of religious tourism. Millions of Muslims will come; millions of Christians—Arab Christians and European Christians and American Christians—will come; millions of Jews will come. And they will shop, they will sleep there and they will spend money.
This is the real oil of Israel and Palestine. If there is peace.
is the author of a novel and 10 books of nonfiction, including the 1989 Jerusalem: City of Mirrors. Born in Vienna in 1926, he has lived in Jerusalem since 1972. He now divides his time between Jerusalem and Tuscany.
Practically speaking, Jerusalem’s always been a city with two nationalities, Arab and Israeli. They are not mixed. They have lived in isolation, not at all glorious, in different quarters for many years. It’s gotten worse since I moved there, because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become much more violent.
The city does not necessarily have to be divided physically as it was prior to 1967, but one can imagine a situation where two administrations with good relations administer a joint city with a Palestinian capital in the eastern part and an Israeli capital in the western part. It will take a degree of sophistication and mutual tolerance, but technical governance problems could be addressed. There are already cities that are jointly run—for example, cities along the French-German border that have grown together over the years.
Nobody has proposed divided governance at the moment; no Israeli party has ever come out with such a program, let alone a government ministry. They all stick to the old notion that Jerusalem is forever Israel’s national capital. But I’ve heard quite a few people in Jerusalem who will tell you that it should happen.
The Temple Mount is sacred for Jews but only in terms of memory, not practice. At the moment, it is a Muslim holy place. It cannot be considered as the Wailing Wall is, because you cannot practice its sacredness as a Jew—there hasn’t been a Jewish temple there for 2,000 years. The Waqf should continue to govern it, and every religious community in Jerusalem should administer its own holy places.
was born in 1975 and writes a satirical column in Ha’aretz. He is the author of two Hebrew-language novels translated into English, Dancing Arabs and Let It Be Morning and created the situation comedy Avoda Aravit (“Arab Labor”) that centers on an upper-middle class Israeli Arab journalist and his family. Kashua grew up in the Arab village of Tira in northern Israel and began at 15 to attend boarding school in Jerusalem where instruction was in Hebrew. He lives in Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem.
I started out at a Hebrew newspaper in West Jerusalem and wrote my novels in Hebrew; I’ve never done anything in Arabic. My show is on Israeli TV and some Arabs call me a Zionist for writing it. They don’t understand my work—I’m just confusing them. When Jews think you’re acting out of place, they call it m’shtaknel, meaning “trying to be like the Ashkenazim.” Arabs just call it “collaborator.”
Jerusalem is always the wonderful city, but there are two different lives here and two different economic levels between east and west. It’s different from the situation of immigrants in other parts of the world, because we didn’t move here from any place. It’s not just about “minorities”: There’s a national war and a religious war between two nations.
Most Arabs in Jerusalem carry a sort of temporary citizenship, something between being Israeli citizens and Palestinians. Being from the north with full citizenship, I play the part of the missing link between the Palestinians and Israeli institutions.
What do I think will happen in Jerusalem? There are things I hope will happen—just to forget about who belongs to which religion and nation and, of course, to stop living in “Arab” neighborhoods and “Jewish” neighborhoods. And to share economically. To be just a normal country where you have the right to believe whatever you want. I don’t know why the rest of us can’t be like me and my—well, my “Jewish” and “Arab” friends. Or like my daughter’s school, where everything and everyone is bilingual, Arabic and Hebrew.
is a filmmaker, short story writer and author of nine books including The Nimrod Flipout: Stories. He and his wife co-directed Jellyfish, which won the 2007 Camera d’Or for Best First Feature at Cannes. Keret was born in 1967 in Tel Aviv where he lives today.
There’s a psychiatric condition called Jerusalem Syndrome—people come to Jerusalem and suddenly believe they are Jesus. There is something about Jerusalem that gives people a feeling of righteousness, that puts 2,000 years of history on their shoulders. You almost feel obliged to build the Third Temple when you’re there. Many writers live in Jerusalem, but I’m not one of them. I’m very Tel Avivian. I grew up in Ramat Gan, outside Tel Aviv, but I have good memories from childhood of spending time in the Old City. Now I go to Jerusalem about once a month mostly to see my sister, who is ultra-Orthodox and lives in Mea Shearim.
The difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is that Tel Aviv doesn’t have a lot of history. Tel Aviv is a new city that re-invented the Israeli identity. When I lived in Jerusalem, what was typical was that you had separate neighborhoods and each of them had a very concrete profile: Mea Shearim is ultra-orthodox; you have Arab neighborhoods, right-wing neighborhoods, left-wing intellectual neighborhoods. Everything is separate. When people meet across these lines, they do it with some suspicion. In Tel Aviv, you can live in an apartment building, and in one apartment there will be a right-wing religious family and next door will be a gay couple. Integration is a given in Tel Aviv—it’s something you have to live with and people do live with it.
Of course, nobody in Israel would like to give up half of the most holy city for Jews. And for Palestinians, the idea of a two-state solution itself is a kind of compromise. But a two-state solution is the kind of compromise that the two sides will have to swallow to allow them to stop killing each other and live. The alternative is either to occupy a large segment of the Palestinian people or to be part of a one-state solution, which would mean the end of the Jewish state.
What you’re asking in negotiations is not, “Is it a good solution?” It’s, “What other solutions do you have?” Religious fundamentalism on both sides could endanger any kind of process. The question is not really what those people are interested in but in what the majority of people are interested in—and what’s in the interest of the majority.
For a two-state solution to work, Jerusalem has to be split. I don’t think Israel will be able to find any Palestinian partner who would agree not to include that. The eastern part of the city will be part of a Palestinian state. The dividing should be done in a way that holy places for the Jewish religion will stay in the Israeli state. It’s not like we’re going to give the Wailing Wall to a Palestinian country or build a new Disneyland on the Temple Mount.
is the author of seven English-language novels of which the latest is The Saturday Wife. Her play, Women’s Minyan, recently completed a five-year run at Israel’s National Theater. Ragen was raised in New York and emigrated to Israel in 1971; she has lived in Jerusalem ever since.
Jerusalem was not chosen by the Jews; Jerusalem was chosen by God. The Bible says again and again that the only place you can build My Temple is in Jerusalem. So we don’t have a choice. This is His chosen spot for us and there’s nothing we can do about that.
I find it very difficult to believe that any Jew would tell you that Jerusalem is not the heart of our country. Even Jews who are not observant will tell you that their hearts beat a little faster when they come to Jerusalem. You have to be very, very far removed from everything Jewish not to feel that way.
Whoever says that the division of Jerusalem is a progressive thing either is deluded or a liar. You’ve got to be crazy, suicidal or immoral: That’s what I say about anyone who would divide Jerusalem. It’s very nice for people to “want peace,” especially the ones who live in America. They want me to risk my life and the lives of my children so they can feel good about themselves. The pressure also comes from within—you have a government that does not represent the majority of the people. A lot of these people—Peres, Olmert—their own children don’t live in Israel any more. They all have their passports ready to go. I have four children and three of them live in Israel.
There is no reason for anybody to ask Israel to turn over Jerusalem. Every religion has access. No one stops the Muslims from going to the Holy Mount. No one stops the Christians from going to their holy places or the Jews from going to theirs. To say you’re going to improve things by taking an open city and giving it over to a religion that has no respect for other religions is capitulation to the worst possible forces.
Everyone knows what the city was like when the Muslims were in charge. You can still see the Jewish gravestones that were used to pave their roads. They desecrated the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They insist on dividing the city simply because they cannot live in peace with it as an open city.
You would be giving territory to people who are going to use it as another area from which they can attack Israel. I was at a rally where a laser show showed how close rocket launchers in East Jerusalem will be to the Knesset, how easy it will be to bomb the Kotel. To hand over municipal authority and make it official that Israel has no right to check on terrorists coming into East Jerusalem, that’s like cutting your veins.
If you hand over East Jerusalem, who is going to benefit? The most radical forces in the Palestinian community. The Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem and have Israeli identity cards are begging, begging the authorities not to hand them over to the Palestinian Authority. In every other place under Palestinian control, there’s been rampant corruption and strong-arm thugs coming in to take over legitimate businesses. You can’t just hand people a state where no one’s interested in running it, where no one’s prepared to pick up the trash and take care of the sewage.
There’s only one solution to the current crisis and that is for a process of re-education to begin among Palestinians that can prepare them for statehood and democracy and a real understanding of what it is to live in the modern world and have a relationship with their Jewish neighbors. A denazification period was required in Germany before the country could be handed over. The brainwashing of the Palestinian people by the Palestinian Authority has been so rampant and so corrupting that we would need at least five years.
But what I foresee is that Israel is going to be pressured into making all kinds of land concessions and this will lead to war, not peace. I don’t see anything that resembles any kind of historic reconciliation. I see only two opponents, one of whom has been giving things up again and again while the other has not changed its rhetoric or demands. If you take away Jerusalem, you would be tearing the living heart out of Israel; I don’t remember reading about Tel Aviv in the Bible.
was born in 1954 in Nablus and is the former president of Bir Zeit University, where he lectures in cultural studies. In 2003, as a representative of the leftist Palestine People’s Party, he served as the Palestinian National Authority’s labor minister. Khatib directs the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center and co-founded bitterlemons.org, an online Palestinian-Israeli political magazine. He lives in Ramallah.
I worked in Jerusalem for years but, when restrictions began on the movement of Palestinians into Jerusalem in the early 1990s, it became difficult to go there and now it is impossible. Since 2001, I never go unless I get invited to meet with a foreign delegation or something like that. Before the checkpoints, driving from my home in Ramallah to my office in Jerusalem took 10 to 15 minutes. Now it ranges from an hour and a half when I have a permit to infinity when I don’t.
To get a permit, there has to be a reason. For example, if I have an appointment at a hospital or an invitation from a foreign consulate, I send an application for a permit for the specific hours of the meeting and accompany it with the invitation. It doesn’t always work, though. It takes one week to get the permit and sometimes the invitation comes just two days before the meeting. Twice, I failed to get a permit in time to meet with Tony Blair.
There are only two options for Jerusalem that I can live with. The first is if we go back to the 1967 borders and divide Jerusalem so that the eastern part—legally part of the occupied territories—becomes the capital of the Palestinian territories and the western part, which legally belongs to Israel, becomes the capital of Israel. The second option would be to keep the city unified and allow free access to Palestinians and Israelis and allow each side to have this unified city as its capital.
At the same time, political sovereignty and legal sovereignty should not automatically follow religious beliefs. If a Jewish holy site happens to be in an area that is legally Palestinian, then it has to be under Palestinian sovereignty, but it should be under Jewish management. And if there is a Muslim holy place that happens to be on the Israeli side of the legal border, then the Palestinians should accept that it has to be under Israeli sovereignty but the Israelis have to allow Palestinian Muslims free access and management. I think this is acceptable to most Palestinians.
Of course there are details to be worked out; a joint governance system could be in charge, like a joint municipal council with Palestinian government offices in East Jerusalem and Israeli offices in West Jerusalem. There have been lots of attempts to draft such arrangements. There’s no lack of studies and plans.
is a journalist and television producer, and the former director of the Palestinian Peace Coalition/Geneva Peace Initiative. He is now its media advisor. A lifelong East Jerusalemite, he was spokesman for the Palestine National Authority’s Ministry of the Interior.
To me, Jerusalem means not only the past but the future.
Though I am not the kind of Christian who goes to church every Sunday, the mere fact of living minutes from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and a few miles from the Nativity Church in Bethlehem gives me a sense of being special, certainly when I see tourists coming from all corners of the universe to visit my city. But on top of all of this, Jerusalem is important for me as the city of the Al Aqsa mosque and the political capital of the future independent state of Palestine that I hope will finally emerge.
Jerusalem is one of the hardest issues of the final-status agreement. Through this city, one can see the emergence of a long-waited-for peace agreement. Or, through this city, one can see the continued scenario of mutual destruction between Arabs and Israelis if they fail to reach an agreement.
There should be a way for people living here to co-exist in full dignity, respect and equality. The best option I can see is a united open city encompassing the whole of Jerusalem. The Palestinian state will have its capital on the eastern side that was conquered by Israel in the June 1967 war, while Israel will have its recognized capital on the western side that remained under Israeli control between 1948 and 1967. An open city means free access to all religious sites without any party’s having a monopoly and a free city where all live equally.
If such an arrangement turned out to be too difficult for the two parties to agree on, then the Holy Basin on its own could be the only open area, with free access to all without any discrimination. But I would hate to see borders or walls erected again in Jerusalem. My view of Jerusalem would satisfy demands of both parties and yet resemble the international status that Jerusalem was accorded under the 1947 partition scheme. The only difference would be that in today’s—or rather, tomorrow’s—Jerusalem, overall control would be shared by the Palestinian and the Israeli states and not an international body.
was born Amos Klausner in Jerusalem in 1939, and has written 34 novels and nonfiction works as well as a memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, issued in English translation in 2004. Oz’s most recent book is the 2006 How to Cure a Fanatic, a collection of essays. He lives in Arad, in the Negev Desert.
I don’t see much point in arguing that Jerusalem should be divided because Jerusalem is divided. There is Arab East Jerusalem, where very few Jews go unless they have special business, and there is Jewish West Jerusalem, where very few Arabs go unless they have some business, usually jobs. It is a divided city in more than one way—it is also divided among the Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox and the secular. Being an old-time Jerusalemite myself, almost part of Jerusalem archaeology, I can tell you there is nothing new about this. The Jerusalem of my childhood, late in the 1940s, was a loose federation of neighborhoods—communities both ethnic and religious. Sooner or later the political division will occur whether we like it or not. Or Jerusalem may eventually become a kind of autonomous Jewish Vatican City.
Jerusalem is not Israel. Jerusalem is Jerusalem.