For centuries, Jerusalem has been the geographical, political, administrative and spiritual center of Palestine. It is, in all regards, the symbol of Palestinian nationality and identity. An acceptable agreement on Jerusalem is a necessary condition for the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
In the trauma arising from the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine and the ensuing hostilities, Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestine mandate, was divided, its Western half falling under Jewish control and its Eastern half under Jordanian control. In the 1967 war, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Shortly afterwards, the government of Israel illegally expanded the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to 71 square kilometers. Approximately 6 square kilometers had previously been part of the Jordanian municipal limits. The remaining 65 square kilometers had belonged to 28 Palestinian villages. In most cases, the agricultural land of these villages was annexed to Jerusalem while the populated areas were excluded.
The redefinition of the municipal boundaries is a classic example of ethnic gerrymandering. The purpose of this new configuration of municipal Jerusalem was to include the maximum contiguous territory with the minimum Palestinian population in the city’s boundaries. Israel then extended its domestic laws to the territory included within the municipal boundary, thereby annexing that territory in all but name.
As has been repeatedly acknowledged by the United Nations Security Council and virtually all national governments, East Jerusalem, like the rest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is occupied territory. Israel’s extension of its domestic laws and regulations to East Jerusalem is therefore illegal. These and other efforts to change the status of Jerusalem—including Israel’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—have received universal condemnation. A long line of United Nations Security Council resolutions, specifically U.N SC Resolution 252, expresses the international consensus in this regard.
In order to bring Jerusalem under Israel’s exclusive control, the Israeli government adopted three interrelated sets of policies after 1967 which have been systematically pursued: the creation of exclusively Jewish settlements in Jerusalem; the instigation of discriminatory practices against the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem; and the closing of Jerusalem to the Palestinian population of the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In the first decision of the Israeli Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem, established after the 1967 war, the Committee decided to create and preserve a 76:24 (Israeli: Palestinian) demographic ratio in Jerusalem. In order to accomplish this ratio, the Israeli government encouraged Israeli Jewish immigration into the city through the establishment of Israeli settlements and the provision of good quality housing, jobs, and services. It also located much of this new Jewish housing on the eastern and Palestinian side of the city while not locating any Palestinian housing in the Israeli side of the city. At the same time, the government devised an array of legalistic measures to restrict building by the Palestinian population of Jerusalem.
Israel also began the construction of Jewish settlements (and a massive road network to serve them), which now form a ring around the entire northern, eastern, and southern perimeter of the city. The settlements form two rings around the city: the first, consisting of ten settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem, isolates East Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland, while the second, outer ring of 20 settlements splits the West Bank into northern and southern halves. In 1967 there were no Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem. Today, there are over 180,000 in the expanded borders of the municipality. The presence of these settlers is illegal according to international law, as the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the transfer of the population of an occupying power into occupied territory.
Moreover, since 1967, the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality did almost nothing to equalize the level of services to the Palestinian part. To the contrary, the discrimination against Palestinians in Jerusalem that followed was striking. For instance, although Palestinian Jerusalemites contribute 26% of the municipal tax revenue, only five percent of this revenue is spent in Palestinian neighborhoods.
At the time of the 1967 war, nearly all of the land in East Jerusalem and the surrounding villages was Arab private or communal property. Discriminatory zoning policies made it extremely difficult for Palestinian owners to build on the vast majority of their land, keeping Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem empty until they could be expropriated for the construction of exclusively Jewish housing.
Since 1967 Israel expropriated more than 33 percent of East Jerusalem's land area from Palestinians. Another 54 percent of the land owned by Palestinians has been set-aside for “public purposes.” Palestinians in East Jerusalem can therefore live and build on only 13 percent of their land. In addition, the issuance of building permits to Palestinian for the remaining land was largely barred. Palestinians who, lacking any other alternative, built without permits have been subject to forced evictions and home demolitions.
Since March 1993, Israel has enforced a closure on Jerusalem, isolating Jerusalem from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and eliminating free access to Jerusalem by Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Any Palestinian residing in the West Bank or Gaza Strip wishing to enter Jerusalem must use a temporary permit that is extremely difficult to obtain. This closure policy has resulted in the denial of hundreds of thousands Christian and Muslim West Bank and Gaza Palestinians access to their holy sites in Jerusalem, even during religious holidays. It has also isolated Jerusalem, an important economic, transportation and cultural center, from the rest of the West Bank.
The Security Council has repeatedly declared that all measures taken by Israel to change the geographic, demographic and historical character and status of Jerusalem are null and void and must be rescinded as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 252. Despite the international community’s repeated declarations condemning and deploring such measures as violations of international law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has not desisted from carrying out these practices.
Thirty-three years of Israeli occupation have thus transformed the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem into a persecuted people in their own city—with vastly insufficient lands, without rights, without security. Now the government of Israel seeks to use the permanent status negotiations to turn the “facts on the ground”—as determined by bulldozers and discriminatory legislation—into a justification for its claim of sovereignty over the occupied city. It wishes to establish its claim to the land of East Jerusalem and has attempted to seize it from the indigenous Palestinian population and sever Palestine from its geographical, political and spiritual center.
The Palestinian Position
The Palestinian position on Jerusalem is straightforward:
The Palestinian position is based not only on the legal, religious, and historical rights of the Palestinian people, but also on their concrete needs and interests. Jerusalem is of strategic importance to Palestine and it is of sacred importance to Christians and Muslims alike. It connects the northern region of the West Bank to the southern, and it is the hub of the main transportation network of the West Bank. Jerusalem is situated near the only airport in the West Bank. One-third of the West Bank’s population resides within Jerusalem’s daily commuting orbits. If a just and lasting peace is to be realized, Jerusalem, the vital center and future capital of Palestine, must be reconnected to Palestine and its residents – politically, geographically, and spiritually.
Courtesy of the Palestinian Negotiations Department.