by Khaled Abu Toameh
The future status of Jerusalem is back on the negotiating table between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and Israel. It is being described as one of the "core issues" in the US-sponsored direct talks that were launched in early September.
Both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators need to take into account that it's completely unrealistic to talk about restoring the pre-1967 situation where Jerusalem was divided into two cities.
The division was bad for Jews and Arabs back then and it will be worse if it happens once again.
Jerusalem is a very small city where Jews and Arabs live across the street from each other and on top of each other. Since 1967, Israel has built many new neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, rendering it impossible to imagine a reality where Jerusalem would exist as a divided city.
Redividing Jerusalem will turn the lives of both Jews and Arabs into a nightmare, especially with regards to traffic arrangements. Every day, tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs commute between the two parts of the city freely.
Redividing Jerusalem will result in the establishment of checkpoints and border crossings inside many parts of the city. Jews and Arabs will find themselves confined to their homes and neighborhoods, which will be surrounded by security barriers and checkpoints.
In addition, the negotiators must concede the possibility of asking the Arab residents of the city about their preferences. There is no reason why more than 200,000 Arabs in Jerusalem should be denied the right to voice their opinion on a matter that has a direct affect on their lives and future.
This can be done through a referendum where the Arab residents would be asked if they would like to live in a divided city under the rule of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. Most likely, a majority of the Arab residents would say that they prefer the status quo to the other options.
Most Arabs in the city prefer to live under Israeli rule for a number of reasons. First, because as holders of Israeli ID cards they are entitled to many rights and privileges that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip don't enjoy. They include freedom of movement and social, economic, health and education services that Israeli citizens are entitled to.
Redividing Jerusalem means bringing either the Palestinian Authority of [or] Hamas into the city. The Arab residents of Jerusalem have seen what happened in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past 16 years and are not keen to live under a corrupt authority or a radical Islamist entity.
Over the past few years, many Arab residents of the city who used to live in the West Bank have abandoned their homes and returned to Jerusalem. They did so mainly out of fear of losing their rights and privileges as holders of Israeli ID cards.
But many of them also ran away from the West Bank because they did not want to live in territories controlled by militiamen, armed gangs and corrupt leaders and institutions.
These are only some of the reasons why Jerusalem can't be redivided, at least not under the current circumstances. Instead of talking about tearing the city apart, it would be better if the negotiators started thinking of ways that enable Jews and Arabs to share, and not divide, the city.
Those who think that Jerusalem can be split into two are living in an illusion and clearly do not know what they are talking about. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, like most Palestinians, is aware of this reality. However, that is not going to stop him and others from continuing to demand that eastern Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state.No one asked the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before signing the Oslo Accords on 1993; will everyone really continue to ignore the opinion of the Arab residents of Jerusalem?
Khaled Abu Toameh
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