ISRAEL-PALESTINE: One Jerusalem for two nations
Danny Rubinstein

June 19, 2005


The scenery in the Old City of Jerusalem has changed in the last few months. After more than four years, we are once again seeing groups of tourists from abroad touring the city. These are not only Christian pilgrims bearing crosses and singing hymns as they walk the Via Dolorosa on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but rather ordinary tourists trekking through the markets and alleyways inside the walls.

Among the tourists are many Israelis, too. Early on Saturday mornings, it is already difficult to find parking on Mamilla Street, from which stairs lead up to the Jaffa Gate. Until not long ago, the road was empty. The markets are filled with many more shoppers than in the recent past, there are few incidents and tourists feel safe. Are the walls and fences constructed around East Jerusalem the reason?

Perhaps.

Sheikh Taysir Al Tamimi, the chief kadi (Muslim religious judge) of the Palestinian Authority, said in honor of Jerusalem Day (`Jerusalem Occupation Day,` to the Palestinians) last week that the Old City has been turned into a veritable military fortress, with many hundreds of soldiers and police officers constantly on patrol.

Cameras follow all movement in every alleyway and corner, in addition to the cameras trained on the city from a blimp that constantly hovers overhead on weekends. And of course, there are the dozens of checkpoints and improvised roadblocks at the entrance points to the city and on its streets. Tamimi called upon Israel`s Arabs (`1948 Arabs`, as he calls them) to mobilize and help stave off the Israeli assault to `Judaize` Jerusalem. And in fact, each weekend, many thousands of Muslims from the Galilee, the Triangle and the Negev throng to the Old City to pray at Al Aqsa and shop.

Saeb Erekat, the official negotiator with Israel for the Palestinian Authority, responded yesterday to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon`s declaration in honor of Jerusalem Day. Sharon said the city would remain eternally united under Israeli sovereignty.

`Only the Palestinians will determine the fate of the city, because they shaped its history, tradition and culture,` said Erekat.

We should not allow the relative quiet in East Jerusalem to mislead us.

Hardly a day goes by without Palestinian publications and activities warning against Israeli attempts to erase the Arab character of Jerusalem and distance its Arab residents. Conferences, sit-down strikes and even a few demonstrations are held. The Palestinian media is filled with discussions of the dozens of demolition orders issued in Silwan, the continued excavations in the Western Wall tunnels, the construction of the tall terminal building for the international crossing at Qalandiyah and the purchase of the Greek Patriarchate assets near Jaffa Gate by a settler organization.

From a Palestinian perspective, the Israeli facts being determined on the ground now in Jerusalem are completely destroying any chance of East Jerusalem ever serving as the capital of the Palestinian state. And without Jerusalem as its capital, there is no chance of such a state ever being established. That is a statement that no Palestinian would refute.

Most of the members of the Palestinian leadership agree that a Palestinian state can be established only if the right of return is relinquished by most refugees and with certain corrections to the 1967 borders. But no one believes that a Palestinian state can be established without Jerusalem and Al Aqsa.

Among the Palestinian public - just as among the Israeli public - public opinion surveys show that the majority still favors the idea of establishing two countries for the two nations. Eliminating the option of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem means the end of the two-state solution. If any possibility for a solution on the basis of this principle exists, what is being done now in Jerusalem is destroying it.

And if there are not two nations for two states here, the only other option is one state for two nations. There is nothing else.

Danny Rubinstein is the Arab Affairs editor for Ha`aretz newspaper. This article first appeared in Ha`aretz. Courtesy to Common Ground News Service.