Geneva Initiative Annexes
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GI Conference: "Jerusalem: The Core of the Conflict, the Key to an Agreement"

Date: December 1st, 2008

On Monday, December 1st, Geneva Initiative held a conference of experts on Jerusalem as a core issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nearly 300 people attended the conference, which featured both Israeli and Palestinian experts, among them Rafiq al-Husseini, Chief of Staff of the Office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

16:30 Reception and registration

Facilitator: Gadi Baltiansky, Geneva Initiative Director General

17:00 East and West – the current situation
Amb. Jean-Daniel Ruch, Special Representative for the Middle East, Swiss Foreign Ministry
Adv. Daniel Zeidman, Founder of Ir Amim
Saman Khoury, Palestinian Peace & Democracy Forum Director General

17:45 Possible Solutions
Dr. Menachem Klein, Department of Political Science, Bar Ilan University
Nadav Shragai, senior columnist and reporter, Haaretz newspaper; researcher of Jerusalem
Col. (Res.) Shaul Arieli, former head of the peace administration under the Barak government

18:45 Intermission

19:00 The Real Interests
Amb. Jean-Michel Casa, Ambassador of France to Israel
Dr. Yossi Beilin, former Minister of Justice
Dr. Rafiq al-Husseini, Chief of Staff, Office of the Palestinian President

Below please find a summary of comments made by all speakers.

Session I: East and West – the current situation

Ambassador Jean-Daniel Ruch, Switzerland's special envoy to the Middle East, opened the conference by explaining that the issue of Jerusalem was of interest to parties across the globe due to its profound religious importance. Lately, he said, more and more people have begun doubting the possibility of reaching a two-state solution. But without a two-state solution, there will be no solution at all. He added that in Switzerland's eyes, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be a top priority for all major international players, as political progress in this region would have a dramatic affect on other regions as well.

Adv. Daniel Seidemann opened his statements with the assertion the Jerusalem is already a divided city, and that it is separated into two cities along a route that currently fits the logic of the Geneva Accord's suggested border. Therefore, the decision-makers need only recognize the current reality to reach an agreement on Jerusalem. He said that it is clear to all involved that within five years, the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem may no longer be under Israeli control. He explained that his statements are based on an understanding of the current consensus within the political establishment regarding the division o Jerusalem. The consensus applies to the act of dividing the city, but there is no consensus on the route of division—the center-right approach mandates only the return of the farthest neighborhoods (Um Tuba, Kafr Aqeb, al-Jib, Arab al-Sawahra, Wallaja, Jabel Mukabar, a-Ram).

In the past year—the Annapolis year—efforts to undermine the political process came in the form of expedited building in East Jerusalem settlements. The past year saw 1,800 tenders for housing units, alongside efforts to advance the construction of 8,000 future housing units. Seidemann called this a deliberate effort to preclude political progress, but stated that no such efforts can create conditions that would prevent a final status agreement from being reached, even if they serve to undermine the credibility of negotiations. Seidemann said Israel would have to take massive action to ensure the territorial continuity of each part of the city. Several plans, such as E1 (for the creation of Jewish territorial continuity between West Jerusaelm and Ma'aleh Adumim), would preclude an agreement if implemented. E1 is currently on hold due to rare U.S. intervention, but other projects as harmful as E1 are in the planning. Seidemann added that "quiet" and destructive actions by extreme rightists in the Old City, such as the takeover of institutions in the Old City and the Silwan neighborhood, may preclude a political solution.

Saman Khoury explained that without a solution to the issue of Jerusalem, there can be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Geneva Initiative set out to ensure that Jerusalem, namely the Old City, would be part of the solution. Agreeing on neighborhoods outside the Old City was less challenging. It was clear to oth sides that there would be no choice but to make an "open city" of the Old City. Among Palestinian, Khoury added, the most flexible public is the refugee population. Ending the conflict and solving the issue of Jerusalem must be done while respecting the national ambitions of both sides. All the efforts to "suffocate" parts of Jerusalem have only cause its Palestinian residents to be less compromising over their rights there. He added that the access to the mosques was among the most important things to Palestinians, and that Jerusalem's residents have proven that they can live side by side. All that is needed, he said, are courageous leaders in the region and in the U.S..

Session II: Possible Solutions

Dr. Menachem Klein explained that the prevailing attitude during the negotiations in Camp David was that Jerusalem would have to be divided, as it had become too big of an issue to contain. Israel's position on Jerusalem in the current round of negotiations is not much different from its position in 2000. Ariel Sharon attempted to change the reality on the ground by building the separation barrier, with the goal of re-conquering East Jerusalem. The route of the fence, therefore, is not incidental—it was meant to dissolve the East Jerusalem metropolitan area and bring it back to containable dimensions. In effect, this has cause a situation in which the 1967 border is being erased, but so is the border of annexation, as East Jerusalem is becoming more and more like the West Bank. As for the historic Holy Basin, Dr. Klein said there are attempts to change reality by infiltrating the Silwan neighborhood. Klein also said that a recent Shin Bet report found an increase in terrorism in Jerusalem and stated that the separation barrier is not effective in preventing attacks. Likewise, East Jerusalem is becoming more radical, a trend that is not blocked by the barrier. Therefore, the annexation failed and places West Jerusalem at risk. The alternative, as Klein sees it, is to create a smaller, more containable city. In any case, no matter where to border will pass, Jerusalem would be a border city.

Jerusalem owes its status to its religious sites. If it realizes its calling of being a holy city for all, it will manage to attract even more tourists. In this respect, a political agreement won’t change the city's character but will preserve it. Fewer people will want to live in Jerusalem, but many more will want to visit it. A political solution is necessary for creating the Arab-Jewish coexistence required for this purpose. Additionally, once the issue of sanctity is separated from the issue of sovereignty, Jerusalem becomes a less contentious issue. While sovereignty will be determined by the parties in an agreement, it should have no affect on the sanctity and religious rights.

Klein explained that Jerusalem, as a binational city (the number of Palestinian residents is nearing the number of Jewish residents), embodies the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, a solution in Jerusalem can lead the way to a full solution, while not reaching a solution could prevent any agreement from being reached.

Nadav Shragai argued against the division of Jerusalem, stating that the route of separation would include friction points where motivation to carry out terrorist attacks would be high. Israel, he said, has prevented terrorist attacks by fully controlling East Jerusalem. Under an agreement, however, Shragai believes East Jerusalem would become like Bethlehem, and the IDF would continuously be entering it for operations. Shragai added that the residents of the border neighborhoods in a divided Jerusalem would not want to remain in their homes, as they would be open to attacks and the property value would decrease. With Jews fleeing these neighborhoods, the demographic gains would be countered. Additionally, he said, many Jerusalem Palestinians don’t want to be separated from Israel—the separation barrier has caused many Palestinians to move into neighborhoods west of the fence. He said that there's a risk or large Arab immigration into the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Additionally, Shragai said that the division could negatively affect the holy sites and presented the case of Bethlehem as an example—the city has become Muslim despite its holy Christian sites.

Col. (ret.) Shaul Arieli explained that East Jerusalem is already the capital of the West Bank. Its Arab neighborhoods are disconnected from its Jewish neighborhoods, forming two cities with separate realities. Unfortunately, Israel has maintained its policy of building in expanding Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem throughout the entire political process. A solution for Jerusalem must be reached in the context of a final status agreement, but until such an agreement can be implemented, an interim solution for Jerusalem must be found to stop the current deterioration. Unilateral action is not an option. The interim solution need not drastically change the route of the barrier or dismantle those parts that have been completed. Such changes are the exclusive territory of final status solutions. Additionally, an interim solution need not change the status of Jerusalem. Instead, it needs to include security presence and a "soft" barrier between the Arab and Jewish neighborhoods. Additionally, the main routes that pass through the current barrier must be opened to ensure freedom of movement between the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The division of Jerusalem in the context of a final status agreement will be on a demographic basis, with Arab neighborhoods going to Palestine and Jewish neighborhoods to Israel. An agreement will include a mutual recognition of both capitals: Jerusalem and al-Quds. The special arrangements in the Old City will include a suspension of sovereignty and maintenance of the religious and administrative status quo of the holy sites, as well as cooperation on other aspects of life.

Session III: The Real Interests

Ambassador Jean-Michel Casa congratulated the Geneva Initiative on holding a courageous conference on an extremely important issue. He expressed an appreciation for the people behind the Geneva Accord and for the organizations ongoing activity to promote peace. Casa stated that France's position is that the only way to reach an agreement is through direct negotiations between the two sides—the international community can help, but it cannot impose peace. On Jerusalem, the international community must also be part of the solution. No peace can be reached until Jerusalem is recognized as the capital of both states with a guarantee of freedom of access to its holy sites. This position, in international consensus, will change neither after Obama becomes president nor after the elections in Israel. The EU will be willing to provide and international umbrella for the division and will also help facilitate joint access to the holy places.

Dr. Rafiq al-Husseini, who was born and lives in Jerusalem, explains that President Abbas win the battle for peace only with an agreement that addresses Jerusalem. The city's 250,000 Palestinian residents have historical roots in the city, and Israelis must account for the current state of affairs in Jerusalem. The Palestinian residents will not leave the city, but by allowing the settlers to torment them, Israel is in effect trying to Judaify the Aran neighborhoods and create racist facts on the ground. He presented the devastating stories of some of the cities Arab residents.

Al-Husseini stressed the Israel was now facing the most moderate Palestinian leader it can ever hope to face, but has nonetheless continued expanding settlements and closing Jerusalem off throughout Abbas's four years in power. If the two-state solution disappears, we will remain with a one-state solution. The Israelis would learn that good neighborly relations would have been the better solution.


Dr. Yossi Beilin, who was recently named Chair of the Geneva Initiative, agreed with Al-Husseini on the hardships caused by the occupation, and explained that the only way to combat these hardships is to end the occupation itself. The difficult question is "How?", but the Geneva Accord provided the answer. One of the things that became clear during the negotiations over the Accord was that Israel's interests in Jerusalem were not as well-defined as one might have assumed. A division of Jerusalem, with an open Old City, is the only positive solution if we do not want the entire city to be an open city. Israelis want Jerusaelm to remain Israel's capital, and the state would like to see foreign embassies moving to Jerusalem. Israel would also like to ensure a stable Jewish majority reached without causing any harm to other people. Moreover, Israelis want access to the holy sites, and know that access and sovereignty are not equivalent terms. The Geneva Initiative provides a good answer for all of these interests, with a compromise—relinquiqhing the Arab neighborhoods—that is not "painful" for Israel.