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The Israeli government published tenders this week to build a new Jewish neighborhood in Givat Hamatos in Jerusalem. One thousand two hundred and fifty-seven new housing units will be built across the Green Line in Jerusalem. This is not new. Since June 1967, Israel has built Ramat Eshkol, Givat Hamivtar, Ramot Shlomo, French Hill, Neve Yaacov, Pisgat Ze’ev, East Talpiot, Gilo and Har Homa – all of them over the Green Line, with some 250,000 Israeli Jews living there.
What is new regarding the latest tenders is the decision to build a whole new neighborhood in Jerusalem over the Green Line. This has not been done since 1997 with the construction of Har Homa, an action that helped to serve as a death blow to the peace process. East and West Jerusalem no longer distinguish between Israeli Jerusalem and Palestinian Jerusalem. What distinguishes between the two national-ethnic population groups is that one is privileged, represented and in power while the other is disenfranchised, living in poverty and constantly facing the threat of being having their homes demolished and even being removed physically from the city of their birth. Jerusalem is bi-national, physically undivided, and the most segregated city in the world. Jerusalem is an apartheid city.
The Israeli decision to issue the new tenders is not only a slap in the face of President-elect Joe Biden, who while serving as vice president experienced Israeli arrogance in 2010 when during a visit in Israel, the Israeli government announced building hundreds of new units over the Green Line. There was a diplomatic brouhaha over it but eventually, of course, Israel completed the building without a second thought years later. It really doesn’t matter if this new decision was done to exploit the final days of President Donald Trump in office or to take action before Biden might place red lines in front of the Israeli government regarding settlement construction.
What we should care about is that it is becoming increasingly impossible to imagine that there will ever be a political agreement on Jerusalem regarding its place as the capital of two states. Palestinian east Jerusalem is encircled by Jewish east Jerusalem, with Givat Hamatos completing the circle that strangles any possibility of Palestinian east Jerusalem from expanding or from existing as a Palestinian capital. Without Palestinian east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, there is no two-state solution. “The Law of Unintended Consequences” is that Israel has determined that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has now moved from the phase of physical partition to the new phase of the fight for rights and equality. That struggle begins in Jerusalem.
Because Israelis in general, and Israelis in Jerusalem specifically are blind to the reality of some 350,000 Palestinian residents of the city, one-third of the city’s residents, it would be foolish to expect that the struggle for equality will begin on the Israeli side of the city. Israelis seem quite comfortable to accept Jerusalem as an apartheid city. For 53 years we have been living with the myth that there might be a solution to Jerusalem based on partition and a two-state solution. Perhaps until Oslo there was a myth that Israel could exchange territory for peace with Jordan and leave Jerusalem under full Israeli sovereignty.
After Oslo, Israel and the US hoped the Palestinians would agree to accept only parts of east Jerusalem and other areas outside of Jerusalem such as Abu Dis, call it Al-Quds, and feel that justice has been done and we could live in peace. This idea never had any hold on the Palestinian people and their leadership.
I THINK MOST Palestinians in Jerusalem recognize that Jerusalem will not be divided between a future Palestinian state and Israel. They don’t really know what to do with that realization. Many young Palestinians in Jerusalem are studying Hebrew in order to find employment. More young Palestinians in Jerusalem are attending the Hebrew University and Israeli colleges. This is called coping with reality, but it is not a political plan.
For the sake of Jerusalem, I hope that Palestinians in Jerusalem begin to plot a course and to implement a plan for their own empowerment. Palestinians in east Jerusalem have no national leadership and no one who represents them and their interests. They cannot depend on the Israeli government and the Knesset. They cannot depend on the Palestinian Authority. They have to look inward and empower their own leadership.
At the time of the last municipal elections in Jerusalem in 2018, a group of young Palestinians from east Jerusalem attempted to run a nationalist campaign for mayor and City Council. Their efforts were thwarted by an unorganized coalition of Israeli officials from the Interior Ministry and Palestinian thugs working on behalf of Palestinian politicians who wanted to maintain their imaginary control over the Palestinian people in Jerusalem. These young people had the right idea, however, hey didn’t have enough time or enough resources.
The next elections in Jerusalem will be in 2023. Whether or not those elections are used for empowering Palestinians in east Jerusalem, the date of elections is a kind of target for making an action plan and to begin to implement it. A non-governmental organization called Huquqana (Our Rights) was registered in 2018 to begin to engage by Palestinians in east Jerusalem with Palestinians in east Jerusalem about their rights and their struggle for equality in Jerusalem. This is a good platform, and now is a good time to continue that work. Whether through Huquqana or through another platform, the time to organize is now.
I believe that the struggle for equality in Jerusalem should be bi-national – Israeli and Palestinian. I understand if Palestinians want to begin the struggle on their own within their own community. Whatever they decide I personally support. I offer my advice in suggesting that they need to create their own Jerusalem voter registry. This can be done by offering all residents of east Jerusalem above the age of 18 to become a member of the organization. Membership could be offered with a token payment of 10 shekels and signing an online or paper membership form.
The campaign for membership should be out in the open, online and in every neighborhood of Palestinian east Jerusalem. The campaign should include the statement that all members will be invited to seek to be elected to a Palestinian Jerusalem Leadership Council and all members of the organization will have the right to vote. The campaign should aim to achieve political, social, economic, environmental and building rights for all Palestinians in east Jerusalem. Even if there is no intention to participate in the Israeli Jerusalem elections, the campaign to create democratically elected leaders in east Jerusalem should coincide with the Israeli elections because all of the public attention it will gain – locally and internationally.
Jerusalem has always been the window of the world to the conflict. Jerusalem can also be the window to the world of the struggle for equality in Jerusalem.
The writer 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.