Israeli Greater Jerusalem, An Obstacle to Peace?

AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
By Andrea Dessi

In the forty-three years since Israel occupied and annexed East Jerusalem in June 1967 the cardinal principal guiding Israeli policy towards the city has been that of ensuring it never again be divided. 

As a natural extension of this principal the Arab-Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem, which today account for one third of the city’s population, came to be considered as a threat to Israel’s aim of maintaining Jerusalem “complete and united” as the capital of the Jewish State.

Due to the higher Arab birth rate and the fact that Israel’s 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem brought an estimated 69,000 Arab-Palestinians under Israeli rule, the Jewish State has had to dedicate enormous resources in order to create a solid Jewish majority throughout all areas of united Jerusalem and, more importantly, within its eastern section. This policy, which aims to preserve the “demographic balance” in the city at roughly the same level as it was in 1967 (i.e. 72 per cent Jewish and 28 per cent Arab), has been pursued by every Israeli government since 1967 and has gradually translated into a state-sponsored policy of discrimination against the Palestinian sector in Jerusalem.

The total population of Jerusalem, East and West, is today estimated at 796,600 residents. Of these, 64,7 per cent are listed as “Jews and Others” while the remaining 35,3 per cent are Arab-Palestinians. These numbers indicated that Israel is slowly losing the “numbers game” in Jerusalem, and according to estimates by the Jerusalem Institute for Israeli Studies by 2020 the Palestinian sector in Jerusalem is expected to rise to 38,8 per cent. If we take into account that the Palestinian population of Jerusalem is growing at a much faster rate than the Jewish inhabitants of the city, Israel’s emphasis on maintaining the “demographic balance” can clearly be described as a policy of discrimination against the city’s Palestinian residents. Furthermore, while Israel claims to be pursuing a policy of “demographic balance” in Jerusalem the reality is quite the opposite. The term “balance” is in fact grossly misleading since Israel is not striving for a balance of forces in Jerusalem but is rather pursuing policies aimed at maintaining an artificial Jewish majority throughout all areas of the city while implementing strategies aimed at "containing" the growth of the Palestinian sector in Jerusalem.

As was clearly stated in a document entitled Local Town Planning Scheme for Jerusalem prepared by the Israeli-run Jerusalem Municipality in 1978: “The first and cardinal principle in the planning of Jerusalem is to ensure its unification. … The second is to build the city in a manner that would prevent the possibility of its being repartitioned along the line that divides the two communities. … The principle of building the city as a mosaic devoid of polarizing elements has had a substantial effect in determining the location of the new Jewish neighbourhoods [i.e. settlements]. Every area of the city that is not settled by Jews is in danger of being detached from Israel and transferred to Arab control”.

As a result of this policy, between 1967 and today, Israel has settled an estimated 200,000 Israeli Jews in a network of Jewish-only settlements/neighbourhoods built throughout occupied East Jerusalem, where about 281,800 Arab-Palestinians also reside (there are 314,800 Israeli Jews living in West Jerusalem). Jerusalem and its environs have in fact been among the most prolific sites for the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and as of 2010 well over 60 per cent of Israel’s settler population is located in those areas communally referred to as Greater Jerusalem by the Israeli government. This area, which covers about 259 square kilometres of land and extends well beyond the official municipal boundaries of Jerusalem (which total 126,4 sq Km), also includes the major Israeli settlement blocs of Givat Ze’ev (north-west of Jerusalem), Adumim (east), and Gush Etzion (south-west) which are currently being annexed to the city by Israel’s Separation Barrier. Known as the “Jerusalem envelope”, this section of the Barrier proves beyond doubt that Israel is intent on maintaining its exclusive control over yet another expanse of land surrounding the Jerusalem Municipality. If completed in its present form, the Barrier will physically detach the city from its West Bank hinterland and thereby severely infringe on the chances of creating a viable and contiguous Palestinian State centred on the West Bank. By annexing Israel’s outlaying settlement blocs Israel is adding an estimated 96,000 Israeli Jews to Jerusalem, thus bringing the total Jewish population of Israeli “Greater Jerusalem” to 610,800. This would ensure a solid Jewish majority throughout all areas of “Greater Jerusalem” while presenting the world with what amounts to a fait accompli: that of a greatly enlarged and Jewish-dominated Jerusalem encircled by Israel’s Separation Barrier which will forever remain under Israel’s exclusive sovereignty.

The leaders of both people have repeatedly stated that competing claims to Jerusalem’s Holy Basin area can “make or break” any negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since 1967 however, Israel’s hold over the city has traditionally been portrayed as non-negotiable. While it was recognized as a “final status issue” in 1993, the Oslo Accords effectively postponed any decision on Jerusalem’s future until the year 2000. The Oslo years (1993-2000) witnessed the multiplication of Jewish settlement construction in and around Jerusalem, effectively allowing Israel to consolidate its hold over the city at precisely the same time when the two sides were meant to be building trust. When Jerusalem was finally put on the negotiating table at the Camp David Summit in July 2000, Israel offered to concede Palestinian sovereignty over some of the Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem but refused to endorse the dismantling of a single Israeli settlement/neighbourhood in and around the city. The Camp David Summit ultimately failed due to Arafat’s insistence on a full endorsement of Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount area, a concession that went beyond what Israel’s governing coalition was prepared to make.

In the wake of Camp David, and following the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000, Israel has again accelerated its efforts to cement its exclusive control over all areas of Jerusalem while planning a further expansion of the city in order to annex the large settlement blocs Israel has built beyond Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. Israel’s leaders appear to ignore the fact that by depriving Palestinians of a recognized presence in Jerusalem, the Jewish State is seriously undermining the chances for a two-state solution to the conflict. As Israel’s settlements in East Jerusalem continue to expand, with 625 housing units approved in December 2010 for the Israeli settlement of Pizgat Ze’ev in north Jerusalem and the further approval of 1,400 housing units in the south Jerusalem settlement of Gilo in early January 2011, the possibilities for an equitable sharing of Jerusalem are quickly diminishing. Israel continues to disregard International Law by establishing “facts on the ground” in and around the city with the clear intention of blurring “what is Arab” and “what is Jewish” in Jerusalem; a strategy which ultimately aims to make any ethnically based division of the city an almost impossible task. While in public Israel’s leaders continue to voice their support for a two-state solution, in private they are systematically undermining this formula by continuing with the Jewish State’s four-decade long policy aimed at preventing the emergence of Jerusalem as the shared capital of two states.


27 January 2011


AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti