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What I am writing I know is very controversial, even more so because it will not only appear here in English (The Jerusalem Post) but also in Arabic (Al Quds Newspaper) and on a Hebrew website (D’yoma). My proposal that I am presenting here is controversial for Israelis and Palestinians. What I propose focuses on Jerusalem, but has deep repercussions on the entire Land of Israel/Palestine and all who live here. My proposal is based on parity, equity and mutuality, but it does not presuppose a particular political outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, this proposal is entirely relevant for whether we end up with: one state, two states, a federation or a confederation.
The adoption of my proposal could have a direct impact on every single resident of Jerusalem, making it a much more open and peaceful city, but I am also aware that the proposal itself could also spark a very emotional discussion and public debate that could be less than peaceful. There is no expectation that this proposal would be accepted by either side now, but one of the purposes of this column that I have been writing since 2005 is to trigger new ideas and to challenge us all to look forward.
In 1967, when Israel annexed an expanded the territorial area of Jerusalem to the east, north and south of west Jerusalem, the area now called east Jerusalem, it unilaterally issued Israeli identity cards to all of the Palestinians living in those areas. Until then, from 1948 until 1967 they held Jordanian identity cards and Jordanian passports, as citizens of Jordan. Jordan had annexed the West Bank and east Jerusalem against international law, just as Israel did in the area of east Jerusalem in 1967. Israel did not automatically grant Israeli citizenship to the Palestinian Jordanian citizens of east Jerusalem. In principle, Israel claimed that the Palestinian Jordanian citizens of east Jerusalem could become Israeli citizens if they applied for citizenship. Jordan threatened the Palestinian Jordanian citizens of east Jerusalem that they would lose their Jordanian citizenship if the agreed to become Israeli citizens and then they would not be able to travel in the Arab world, including in Jordan, where many of them have direct relatives.
Israel also never really intended to grant citizenship to masses of Palestinians in east Jerusalem and made it quite difficult to actually receive an Israeli passport. When the Palestinian Authority was created in 1994, the PA issued Palestinian passports to all of the residents of the West Bank and Gaza, but they were not allowed to issue Palestinian passports to the Palestinians in east Jerusalem. The Palestinians in east Jerusalem have to exit and enter Israel with an Israeli-issued travel document and then they usually travel around the world on their Jordanian passport.
Unlike the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians in east Jerusalem can travel via Ben-Gurion Airport. The Jordanian passport that Palestinians in east Jerusalem hold is not recognized by Jordan as a document of full and equal citizenship; it is merely a document that enables them to travel. Today, the majority of Palestinians in east Jerusalem have no real connection to Jordan.
MANY ISRAELIS, such as myself, have more than one passport. There is nothing that makes me less Israeli because I also hold an American passport. I have lived in Israel for 42 years, two-thirds of my life. My proposal is that Israel should issue Israeli passports to all of the Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem. Many may reject this. Many will see such a move as an attack on their Palestinian national identity. This is why I also propose that the Palestinian Authority, or the Government of the State of Palestine (as they refer to themselves) issue Palestinian passports to all of the Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem. It is true that traveling abroad on a Palestinian passport is not easy and a visa is required for entering most countries – the Jordanian passport is much better than the Palestinian passport and combined with the Israeli passport there are many countries that one can enter without a prior visa. Israel has occupied and controlled east Jerusalem for 52 years.
Most of us living here in Jerusalem today do not remember a different reality. Israel has refused to recognize that the Palestinian of east Jerusalem are part of the Palestinian nation and may one day become citizens of a future Palestinian state. Israel also refuses to grant the Palestinians of east Jerusalem full equal rights – including the right to vote for the Knesset. The Palestinian of east Jerusalem should be granted full equality – in Israel and in Palestine. They should have the right to vote for the Knesset and for the Palestinian Parliament and president.
Why can’t the 350,000 Palestinians of east Jerusalem hold both an Israeli and a Palestinian passport? This does not preclude any of the possible permanent status solutions for Jerusalem, but it does treat almost 40% of Jerusalemites with respect, dignity and equality. It also opens the door to create new models of relations between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples – based on equality and a shared future. This could be appropriate for a two-states solution based on borders of peace, not walls, fences and barbed wire.
It could also be appropriate for a one democratic state option as well as any federal or confederal arrangements. This proposal ensures that Jerusalem will remain one open peaceful city regardless of the political framework that is agreed to in the future. This proposal also contains within it the possibility of developing a new relationship which could be the catalyst for adopting new paradigms for peace.Throughout the failed peace process of more than two decades, the “wisdom” of the decision makers was to leave Jerusalem until the end of the process. This, in my mind, proved to be a false and dangerous premise. I have always believed that Jerusalem should be first based on the belief that if we can solve the Jerusalem question, all of the other questions will be easier to resolve.
And so, I return to Jerusalem first and offer a suggestion which could relaunch a discussion of how we can truly make Jerusalem the city of peace and the core of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Gershon Baskin is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press. It is now out in Arabic and in Portuguese as well.