Transcript for 'Is Peace Possible?' Chapter 4: Jerusalem

The text for the final installment in our four-part series on the key barriers to peace in the Middle East

Jerusalem is embedded in the national narratives of both Israelis and Palestinians. Its historic and religious significance make it a particularly heated issue at the negotiating table.

9-11 Ten Years LaterAccording to religious traditions, Jerusalem was the site of both the first and second Jewish Temples and the capital of the ancient Israelite kingdom; where Mohammad ascended to heaven; and where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The Old City of Jerusalem is home to sites of key religious importance, among them the Temple Mount, Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Dome of the Rock, and al-Aqsa Mosque.

Today, Jerusalem is the self-declared capital of Israel, and Palestinians expect the city to be the capital of the future Palestinian state. So the core question is whether Jerusalem can somehow serve as the capital of both Israel and the future state of Palestine?

In order to begin answering this question, it is helpful to distinguish between the historical city of Jerusalem -- which carries the bulk of the historical and religious significance for both parties -- from the modern day city of municipal Jerusalem, whose boundaries were delineated by Israel in 1967. The historical city of Jerusalem -- the Jerusalem of the Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, and Koran, and even as recently as the early 20 th century -- represented a tiny sliver of the city that today bears the same name.

Thus, most of the land with religious and historical significance is located in the Old City and the area around it known as the Historic Basin. The challenge of running a border through Municipal Jerusalem, largely devoid of contentious sites, is an urban problem: How to create two viable and contiguous capitals whose geography has become intertwined over the past 45 years. The Clinton Parameters, outlined by President Clinton after the 2000 Camp David negotiations, proposed that the Arab neighborhoods of Municipal Jerusalem be part of the future state of Palestine and the Jewish neighborhoods be part of Israel. How feasible is this formula today?

One factor that makes such a division possible is that most neighborhoods in Jerusalem have largely uniform Arab or Jewish populations. In fact, the vast majority of Jews in Jerusalem live in Jewish neighborhoods. So the ability to delineate a border based on the existing spread of neighborhoods -- one that would separate Israelis from Palestinians along demographic lines -- indeed exists. The Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are also largely contiguous with West Jerusalem -- allowing for the creation of two separate and internally contiguous capitals for each country. And while Jerusalem has technically been unified since 1967, there is still little interaction and few shared public institutions between its Jewish and Arab communities. Most Israeli Jews have little familiarity with the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and splitting off these Arab neighborhoods would do little to alter their daily routine - Jerusalem is already a divided city.

The Clinton formula would therefore allow for the capital of the state of Israel to consist of the entirety of West Jerusalem and all the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem - creating Yerushalayim, the Hebrew word for Jerusalem. It would also allow for the capital of the State of Palestine to consist of the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem -- Al-Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

Dividing municipal Jerusalem outside the walls of the Old City is thus a feasible option for both sides. As captured by Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann, "193,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem don't move, they get international legitimacy, they don't change the way they go to work, do their shopping, live their lives. They lose nothing.  There are 2,000 Israelis living inside Arab neighborhoods -- they have to move. 193,000 Israelis in for 2,000 Israelis out."

Despite the relative separation of Jerusalem's Jewish and Arab residents, the city is one urban unit, which presents a challenge for drawing a border straight through it. The prospects of maintaining Jerusalem as an "open city," with unimpeded movement between its Israeli and Palestinian parts, was a guiding spirit of the 1999-2001 final status negotiations. This model would avoid the need to erect physical barriers and border crossings in the densely populated urban areas -- constructing a border outside the city instead.

But the "open city" model creates numerous challenges, including the need for a security envelope around Jerusalem; maximal cooperation between the two countries inside the city; and a special economic regime within the city.

The other option is a divided city, which often brings to mind the Berlin Wall. In order to avoid that scenario, the border would have to provide adequate security while preserving both cities' urban fabric and quality of life, and also facilitating the movement of people and goods across the border. In other words, an effective border would have to simultaneously separate and connect the two cities.

The Geneva Initiative, a joint Israeli-Palestinian civil society initiative, proposed a separation barrier that blends in with the built urban landscape. Conceived by the Israeli architecture firm SAYA, the proposal uses familiar urban objects for security measures instead of barbed wire and concrete. Its multi-tiered security infrastructure includes iron fences, trenches, earth barriers, water ditches, cameras, and sensory detector cables.

In order to create effective junctions between Yerushalayim and Al Quds, SAYA has proposed channeling people and goods to selected crossings at various points in the city. The ones in the dense urban parts of the city would serve pedestrians, while cars would be directed to crossings that are located toward the outer, less crowded areas. Their proposed border crossing near the American Colony Hotel would create a link between the urban centers of East and West Jerusalem in an area where none currently exists. Architectural and technological innovations can thus create a border that both separates and connects -- that creates two viable cities with effective security measures that do not compromise the urban fabric of either side.


The Old City of Jerusalem is more complicated, for numerous reasons. Approximately 3,500 Jews and 33,000 Arabs live in an area less than 1-square-kilometer inside the Old City's walls. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of significant religious and historic sites located within this small area -- with no clear way to divide them up based on the demographics of residents. The Old City is a focal point of Israel's tourism industry, and likely will be for the future state of Palestine. Any border scheme in or around the Old City would have to cater to the complex needs of different constituencies with different interests.

Various groups have proposed different models for how to resolve Israeli and Palestinian demands for control and sovereignty over the Old City. The proposals generally fall into three categories: Territorial Sovereignty, Special Regime, and hybrid models.

The territorial sovereignty model divides the control over the Old City between the two sides. The Geneva Initiative, for example, places Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter and parts of the Armenian Quarter, as well as the Western Wall, with guaranteed access to the Temple Mount and the tunnels beneath it, as well as other Jewish sites in the area. It places Palestinian sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian quarters, the remaining parts of the Armenian quarter, and the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount. It proposes free movement within the Old City, with a color-coded scheme to denote the sovereign areas of the each country.

This model has numerous advantages: It is compatible with the underlying logic of the two-state solution, with a binary division that lends itself to an end of claims. It requires minimal Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, and provides clear legal authority on sensitive issues like property claims and residency rights. Lastly, the clear separation minimizes Palestinian fears that Israel is going to exert its control over the whole area, and it minimizes Israeli fears that Palestinians will try to shift its demographic balance.

This model also has a number of disadvantages: Because of the hard division, it requires each side to waive its sovereignty and control over key religious and historical sites that will wind up on the other side of the border. This also allows each side to inflict pain on the other without crossing the border -- such as by restricting access to or threatening the integrity of the other side's holy sites. It will also require some elements of a physical boundary in the Old City, which may disrupt its urban fabric and symbolic cohesion. It also creates immense logistical challenges for border crossings and tourism needs, as well as special arrangements for access to holy sites.

The Special Regime model preserves the Old City as a single entity within the boundaries of the Old City walls, managed by an international body or joint management between the two sides. The Jerusalem Old City Initiative, developed at the University of Windsor, envisions a third-party administrator with a multilateral governing council and police force, and the parties themselves taking over some of the less-sensitive governing duties.

The Special Regime model avoids many of the pitfalls of the Territorial Sovereignty model, such as physically dividing the Old City, relying on cooperation between the two sides, and the waiving of sovereignty over key assets. The Special Regime model also allows for creative solutions to the question of sovereignty, such as "deferred," "shared" or "divine sovereignty."' That said, this approach does clash against the tendency toward separation that will likely define the broader agreement. The arrangement requires complex legal and administrative mechanisms, and would embroil an outside third-party in sensitive issues such as residency disputes and administration of holy sites. Creative attempts to defer resolution of sovereignty issues could also undermine the "end of claims" goal of an agreement as well.

The Hybrid model attempts to take the best from both of the previous models. A proposal by Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem envisions a clear division of territorial sovereignty in the Old City, as in the territorial sovereignty model, but without physical boundaries within the Old City walls. It provides for international involvement, like the Special Regime model, but limits it to focused, sensitive areas like security and holy sites, with all other sovereign powers vested in the respective states.

This model satisfies the sovereign urges of both sides, creating a clear political border that is conducive to an end of claims, and creating effective third party involvement that will assure stability while being compatible with claims of sovereignty. It also avoids creating a mini-state in the Old City, while still guaranteeing the integrity of and access to holy sites.

But like the Special Regime model, it requires rather complex legal and administrative mechanisms albeit with a more limited third-party role. And though both sides will have access to all holy sites, they will have to waive sovereignty over some of their equities that will fall on the other side of the border.

All three of these models present useful tools, with their own strengths and weaknesses, for how to potentially resolve competing Israeli and Palestinian demands regarding the Old City.

Any border scheme for the Old City would essentially turn its gates into complex transit points, in some cases even international Israeli-Palestinian border crossings. This is a difficult task given the area's dense geography and sensitive archeology. SAYA, the Israeli design firm, has proposed numerous architectural solutions that aim to balance the complex logistical and security needs of these crossings with the religious and historical sensitivities of the sites.

Another issue for a special regime or special arrangements, is where it would apply. While the majority of historic and holy sites lie within the walls of the Old City, there are a number of them that are outside -- in the surrounding region known as the Historic Basin. Limiting a special regime to the Old City gives it a natural, pre-existing boundary, within a small space, easily isolated from its surroundings. But excluding sites outside the Old City -- a potential source for future conflict -- would deny them the protection of the special arrangements, and also misses the opportunity to create a richer set of trade-offs at the negotiating table.

There are various ways to extend the political solution devised for the Old City to the Historic Basin. If executed wisely, these would not harm the fabric of the adjacent Palestinian or Israeli neighborhoods; avoid disruptions to major Israeli and Palestinian transportation arteries; and limit the physical separation between included areas and the rest of Jerusalem.

After examining the realities on the ground today in Jerusalem and evaluating the various proposals for Municipal Jerusalem and the Old City, let's return to the question we asked at the beginning of this presentation: Can Jerusalem serve as the capital of Israel and the future state of Palestine?

See the video here for 'Is Peace Possible?' Chapter 4: Jerusalem.