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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 20

Jerusalem Update:
An Israeli View

by Yossi Alpher

Every Israeli government since 1967 has worked to settle Jews across the green line in Jerusalem, building huge neighborhoods and settlements to the north, east and south of Arab East Jerusalem. The objective, a noble one from the Jewish point of view, is to fortify and aggrandize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Unfortunately, the strategy selected for this enterprise has been faulty, most recently bordering on pure folly of the sort once described by historian Barbara Tuchman in her landmark The March of Folly.

The point of departure for the expansion of Jewish Jerusalem was the decision, in June 1967, to enlarge the city by annexing not only the Old City and (what came to be called) the Holy Basin, from the City of David to the Mount of Olives, but all the rural villages on the hills surrounding the city, and a long finger of territory reaching north to encompass the airfield at Atarot/Kalandia, just south of Ramallah-Al Bireh. At the time the logic seemed sound: Israeli security planners were certain the superpowers would soon demand massive withdrawals from the territories conquered a few weeks earlier in the Six-Day War, and the region would revert back to a reality of prolonged hostility; Jerusalem needed an airfield for re-supply in case of 1948-style siege, and a protective range of hills to its east, north and south to avoid the pre-June 1967 situation of Jordanian Arab Legion snipers shooting at Israelis from these hills.

No one took into account that the US and USSR would not demand an immediate withdrawal and that the Jordanian option would be replaced by that of a demilitarized Palestinian state that sought Jerusalem as its capital. Within a few years, Israeli thinking proved to be totally anachronistic, but nobody ever bothered to reconsider the direction chosen.

Next, in an obvious act of folly, Israel built Jewish neighborhoods precisely on those newly annexed parts of the city that were supposed to form a protective belt. Hence, in the recent intifada, while Palestinian snipers did not shoot at Ramat Rachel, they were able easily to fire at Gilo.

But the principle act of folly was the total lack of thought given to the fate of Jerusalem's Arab residents and its Muslim holy places. Now more than 200,000 strong, the Arab residents of the city are increasingly cut off from the rest of the West Bank by Jewish neighborhoods. To compound the folly, the Sharon government is routing the fence/wall along the annexation borders rather than the demographic borders, thereby further detaching this Palestinian population from the rest of Palestine and embittering Palestinians on both sides. The fence/wall is needed for the security of Jews; its current path is counterproductive to that objective.

Two aspects of current government policy are worthy of mention because they show how different things could be. First, at the northern end of the Jerusalem "finger" the fence is being built south of Kafr Aqab and the Atarot/Kalandiya landing strip, both within the city's expanded municipal borders. In effect, Israel is giving up on a portion of "united Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel". Yet no one objects, because that slogan has long been understood to be a can of worms of contradictions. Why not move the fence elsewhere in accordance with demographic, security and, yes, political logic?

Secondly, the E1 construction project, which has attracted heavy pressure from Washington, is part of the paradox of Maale Adummim. That settlement town of 30,000 residents will be part of Israel; even the Geneva Accord recognizes that reality. But from the start it was clear that attaching it to Jerusalem would be problematic because it cuts the West Bank in two and seals off yet another area where Arab Jerusalem could still be attached to the West Bank as part of a final status agreement. This is a topic par excellence for creative negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians; its solution could be a major confidence builder. The Sharon government prefers to establish its own facts on the ground, however erroneously.

Israel does not want the Arab residents of Jerusalem as full-fledged citizens because of demographic fears. The Arab residents refuse to cooperate with the municipality for reasons, largely misplaced, of Palestinian nationalism. By voting and running for municipal office they probably could have thwarted many of the Israeli acts that have made their lives so difficult, but here the PLO's mistakes equal those of Israel.

Israeli strategic planners have no idea what to do with the city's Arab residents, some one-third of Jerusalemites. So they ignore them in terms of municipal development and services. Until lately this situation was somehow tolerable, in that Palestinians were able to move back and forth fairly easily between the city and the West Bank for purposes of work, education, health care, commerce, etc., while Palestinian Jerusalemites enjoyed relatively generous Israeli social security and health benefits.

Now the critical mass of the fence/wall and ongoing settlement of Jews on every flank of the Arab city is liable to turn Arab East Jerusalem into a powder keg. At the state political level Israeli construction is, deliberately, foreclosing any option of attaching the Arab city to a Palestinian state as its capital. At the personal level the fence/wall is cutting off more than 200,000 Palestinians from the rest of Palestine, and vice versa. At the religious level, every step Israel takes to isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank also isolates the Haram Al Sharif (Temple Mount) mosques from Muslim believers, to the detriment of any future chance for peaceful coexistence with the Muslim world.

The last intifada began in Jerusalem. I fear the next one will also erupt there, and then focus heavily on the city.- Published 13/6/2005 (c)

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak. is an internet forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at and, respectively. 14-06-2005

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