The Urban Challenge of Dividing Jerusalem

How could Jerusalem best be divided as part of a two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

How could Jerusalem best be divided as part of a two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

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One border, two future realities / SAYA

The Atlantic's new special report "Is Peace Possible?"  features multimedia presentations on the four core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Borders, Security, Refugees, and Jerusalem. These are complex issues, so post your questions in the comments section of each chapter, send them via email (to, or tweet them to us at @IsPeacePossible.

9-11 Ten Years Later

The divisions of Municipal Jerusalem shown in your Jerusalem presentation had quite a bit of "salamandering," meaning long extensions of Israeli territory into East Jerusalem in order to include the few Jewish neighborhoods there. How does that affect the Palestinians living along those narrow corridors? Will they be able to easily "cross over" the Israeli corridors? An analogy I can think that's closer to home might be: Will San Francisco residents be able to "cross over" the Golden Gate bridge? Or would they be forced to go all the way around through Oakland?

The most realistic way of resolving the final status of Jerusalem in an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement was first laid out in December 2000 by President Bill Clinton, in what became known as the Clinton Parameters: A border through the city that aims to include all Jewish neighborhoods within the final and recognized borders of Israel, and all Arab neighborhoods as part of the future Palestinian capitol.

Politically, Clinton's principle makes sense: Almost 200,000 Jews live in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem beyond the 1967 lines, and their inclusion within Israel's new borders would make an agreement significantly more likely. Practically, however, the intertwined nature of the city's geography does not easily lend itself to a straightforward East-West division of sovereignty. To deal with this challenge, Clinton (and most negotiators at the time) envisioned a Jerusalem that would remain an "open city" -- with a border through it delineated on a map, but largely absent actual barriers on the ground. Such a system has political and symbolic merit, and seemed feasible at a time when violence was sporadic.

The situation changed significantly with the onset of the second intifada -- which reached its height in 2001-2003, when scores of Palestinian suicide bombers entered Israel with ease and targeted its major cities, most notably West Jerusalem. Under these new circumstances, an "open city" model would require the erection of a security envelope around greater metropolitan Jerusalem. The entrance and exit points would have to serve masses of people and provide diverse services, a logistical challenge that would force Israelis to choose between securing Jerusalem or maintaining its economic viability and links to the rest of Israel. Indeed, it is Israeli security experts -- for many years against the idea of dividing Jerusalem -- who are now leading the charge for a physical barrier along the borderline. (See the Jerusalem chapter of "Is Peace Possible?" for more on the Clinton Parameters and the challenges of an "open city" model.)

Situating the physical border in between the two capitols could address many of these challenges. But even though Jerusalem largely operates today as two separate cities (one Arab, one Jewish), such a border would require a fair amount of "salamandering" -- particularly, drawing narrow corridors through Arab neighborhoods to connect Jewish neighborhoods to West Jerusalem. These corridors would disrupt the contiguity of the new Palestinian capitol. (See image above.)

We have developed, in collaboration with Palestinian planners, numerous proposals to address this problem. We propose creating two independent transportation networks, operating at different elevations, that would enable contiguity under or over the problematic corridors. At the French Hill junction, for example, a corridor connecting central Jerusalem to Jewish neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze'ev and Neve Ya'akov would interrupt the road connecting the Arab neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Sheikh Jarrah. Our team has designed three possible solutions for the challenge of this junction: an elevated bridge, an underground tunnel, or an over-pass -- each option with its own advantages and shortcomings. (See illustrations of these proposals below. In-depth explanations appear in the Jerusalem annex of the Geneva Initiative.) These solutions can be applied to other points of collision, and can be adjusted to accommodate future transportation volumes and urban routines.

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Creating contiguity in the intricate geography -- French Hill Junction, Jerusalem / SAYA

"Salamandering" is not the only problem created by drawing a physical border through Jerusalem. While a border must effectively separate the two populations in order to satisfy security needs, it must also provide efficient connections between the two sides. This is crucial for the city's tourism infrastructure, which will likely be a major part of both countries' economies. It is also especially important for Palestinian Jerusalemites, who will likely rely on the Israeli capitol for employment and services.

This challenge is particularly salient along Road 60, the main north-south artery through Jerusalem that is used by both East and West Jerusalemites. Most proposals suggest splitting the thoroughfare into two parallel roads in order to enable both sides to maintain north-south access and movement. But drawing a border through the road would prevent vital crossings between the two capitols.

In order to address this, we designed a pedestrian border crossing for the area of the American Colony Hotel, which abuts Road 60 slightly north of the Old City. The crossing, which would be located in what is currently a vacant lot, would be composed of two structures, east and west of the road, and connected by a bridge. The crossing would not only create a physical link between the two sides of the crossing, but also connects two main urban routes -- Derech Shechem/Salah Ad-Din in the east to Shmuel Hanavi/Shivtei Yisrael on the west. This proposal would create a centrally located, flexible crossing that maintains security but enables economic and social links between the two sides.

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Proposal for a border crossing at the American Colony junction, Jerusalem / SAYA

Creating a border though Jerusalem that connects the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem would require roads and corridors that cut through Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. But designing border crossings that are sensitive to the city and its routines, including crossing structures and procedures that allow varying degrees of permeability, can allow for the formation of two viable capitols, with effective separation and connection between them. Jerusalem can transform from a city bound by its fabricated unity to a city liberated by well thought-out separation.

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The future Israeli-Palestinian border as a network of connections / SAYA

This article is part of "Is Peace Possible?", a special report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by The Atlantic and The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.