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Michael bell. photo by Rhonda Spivak

Old City of Jerusaelm . photo by Rhonda Spivak

Tina Greenfield and by Rhonda Spivak


By Ran Ukashi, Special to the Winnipeg Jewish Review

One of the most recent proposed "solutions" to the issue of “Jerusalem”  has been offered by former diplomats  Michael D. Bell,  and Daniel C. Kurtzer in the  prestigious publication Foreign Affairs.
Bell, currently the Paul Martin Senior Scholar on International Diplomacy at the University of Windsor, is co-founder of the Old Jerusalem Initiative, a university-based attempt to find  options for governance of the walled city.

Currently, Israel claims sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, although its claim over the Old City and eastern Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community.
Last decade’s Geneva Accord, called for a division of Jerusalem, whereby certain streets would  be blue for Israel, green for Palestinian and there also would be streets with Palestinian sovereignty but Israeli police control. Bell, however, is of the view this would be too unstable a solution.

Bell and Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, put forward a proposal for an “Old City Special Regime”[OCSR]  that would act as a tentative administrative body that governs Jerusalem, independent of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It would involve a special council comprised of Israeli and Palestinian representatives, which would oversee Jerusalem affairs until a final agreement on the city would be finalized between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  The OCSR would have an "impartial" (which is impossible to guarantee) independent chief administrator with the ultimate executive authority to implement the OCSR's mandate.  The OCSR would be charged with everything- protection of holy sites, residency permits, utilities and infrastructure, and community policing.  The OCSR would require having third party assistance and much political will from Israel and the PA. 

The authors assure the reader that this would not be an international force, but in reality, it would be just such an entity. There is little reason to believe that such an OCSR regime would produce confidence building measures between Israel and the Palestinians leading to a final agreement on Jerusalem. The authors essentially admit that a shared governance scenario cannot work—at least not at the present time, when the historical "narratives" of both sides are so diametrically opposed. 

There are several reasons why the OCSR is doomed to failure. 

First, any third party intervention would, as has been historically the case, harbour political biases which would color the attitudes regarding any and all administrative issues of Jerusalem.    In the past, we have seen an utterly systemic failure by UN peacekeeping operations to secure any border on which they have been deployed.  In fact, there have been instances when UN peacekeepers have actively assisted Israel's enemies in doing her harm.  UNIFIL II, deployed following the 2006 Second Lebanon War has utterly failed in preventing Hizbullah's rearmament, leaving Hizbullah more powerful now than ever before according to some estimates.

Furthermore, involving any and all stakeholders interested in Jerusalem would only serve to sever Israeli legitimacy over Jerusalem and create an administrative nightmare resulting from the burden of trying to accommodate everyone. It is hard to imagine how this type of accommodation would not constitute an international administrative body.

Second, several of the administrative functions to be assigned to the OCSR would inevitably fall victim to political considerations.  If residency permits are to be issued by the OCSR, it is more likely than not, that UN resolutions, unduly critical of Israel, would form the basis for any decision making process regarding residency.  It stands to reason given historical precedent, that Israel would be on the unfavorable end of most decision making processes made by a regime that is dedicated to a particular "end goal" of how Jerusalem ought to look like, compared to what Jerusalem does look like.  This blind faith in achieving a prescribed end goal would create an unjust system, whereby political expediency will trump human rights, and undeniable Jewish claims to Jerusalem. 

Regarding holy sites, The Islamic Waqf which currently administers the Temple Mount or "Haram al-Sharif" in Arabic, has repeatedly permitted the excavation of sensitive archaeological sites of Jewish importance, in a calculated effort to destroy the ever growing subterranean evidence of ancient Jewish civilization in Jerusalem.  The Arab-Muslim World strongly seeks to de-Judaize Jerusalem, eliminating as much of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem as possible.  This is a long standing policy that has taken hold in Islamic theological thought for decades, and there is no reason to believe that mainstream Muslim thought will ever give credence to the idea that Jews have a legitimate claim to Jerusalem as their Holiest City. 

Third, the joint-policing initiative between Israel and the PA would be a farce.  The authors of the proposal make this suggestion with the assumption that both forces are qualitatively equal, but the PA police are plagued with corruption, contain many Hamas sympathizers, and release prisoners transferred to their charge in an infamous "revolving door policy" which plagued the previous Arafat regime.  This corruption is symptomatic of the PA regime as a whole. The Palestinians are "represented" by Hamas in Gaza and the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank, so which body will be given voice regarding the OCSR?  Can Hamas be seen as trustworthy?  It is hard to see any viable joint-policing operations  taking place in any truly effective manner in Jerusalem.

Fourth, this regime effectively ignores, or at least justifies, the vehemently anti-Semitic  propaganda and education that Palestinians receive. There is little reason to believe that a population that harbours such views as a direct result of the PA’s malicious education policy could come to an amicable, or at least functional, relationship with Israel surrounding the governance of a city that is at the heart of both national identities.

Lastly, although it may not be politically correct to say so, in my view, Jerusalem is more important for Israel than for the Palestinians for a plethora of reasons. For Jews, Jerusalem is the Holy of Holies, while to Muslims it is a distant third to Mecca and Medina. The OCSR would effectively equate the connection both peoples have to Jerusalem in an effort to "reconstruct" the "narrative" in order to convince both sides of the equal weight of the others’ claims.  This would compare the millenia long connection between the Jewish nation and Jerusalem to the generations long connection of Jerusalem to the Palestinians.  It would negate the massive archaeological and historical evidence of Jewish civilization which shows an undeniable longstanding Jewish connection and ownership of Jerusalem.  This would be an affront to history and any reasonable sense of justice.  A resolution to the Jerusalem issue must come about, but to do so at the expense of the Jewish people is an unacceptable avenue by which to pursue this path. 

Ran Ukashi has an MA in International Relations with a focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict from the University of Manitoba, and has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.