Views on a new Near East
Thursday April 17th 2014

Supporting Jewish-Arab Relations – The Case of Jerusalem

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 By Shlomo Hasson


Shlomo Hasson is a full professor at the department of Geography, School of Public Policy, and Leon Safdie Chair at the Institute of Urban and Regional Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published 27 books and monographs and about 100 articles. He was involved in preparing the national master plan for Israel (Tama 35) and the metropolitan plans for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Among his books are: “State, Religion and Society in Israel”, “Sustainable Jerusalem” and “Arabs in Israel: Barriers to Equality”.

Divided cities are quite often a microcosm of much larger geopolitical conflicts. They are, as Fred Boal writes, encapsulation of the broader geopolitical conflict and its different political, economic, spatial and cultural dimensions.1 This is particularly true of cities like Jerusalem, Sarajevo, Mostar, Nicosia, Belfast or Beirut. What then is the role of urban processes and the larger geopolitical forces in shaping relations between Israeli-Jews and Palestinian-Arabs (henceforth Jews and Arabs) in Jerusalem?

Over the years Israelis and Palestinians approached this problem in two radically different ways: One approach, which is the dominant one, argues that the final shape of Jerusalem, including cross-border relationships will be determined by the macro political forces. This consideration has guided most peace initiatives until now, including the Oslo Accord and the Road Map initiative. Another approach, sometimes described as ‘thinking the unthinkable’, assumes the opposite. It states that resolving the Jerusalem problem is largely dependant upon local developments, including already existing cross-border relationships, which may act as a precondition for any resolution of the macro geopolitical conflict.

The first approach might be termed the dependency approach in so far that it views the nature of social relations and the shape of the urban borders as dependent upon decisions made at the macro political level. The second approach, which argues just the opposite, might be termed the relative autonomy approach in so far that it views social and economic interactions at the urban level as relatively independent and crucial for conflict resolution.2

Recognising the importance of the macro forces in shaping relations between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, I, nevertheless, wish to complement this argument by claiming that the nature of the cross-border relations between Jews and Arabs is largely dependent on social and economic interactions taking place within Jerusalem itself. In that sense the relationships between Arabs and Jews are partly autonomous from and partly subordinated to the macro political forces.


Theoretical considerations

The literature lends some support to this argument. It clearly shows that cross-border relations are multi-dimensional, and may take different forms at the political-institutional and socio-economic spheres. In a comparative study of European cross-border regions, Perkmann observed the existence of policy-driven and market driven relationships.3 Policy-driven relationships relate to cross-border interactions between different policy actors who seek to exploit new opportunities created by regionalisation and globalisation. Market-driven relationships, on the other hand, concern social and economic interactions between individuals and social groups. In another study on metropolitan integration in Europe, Sohn, Rietel and Walther draw an interesting distinction between institutional and functional relations.4 Institutional relations concern the interactions between actors who have political, technical or social responsibility (representatives of civil society), whereas functional relations reflect the socioeconomic interactions between individuals and groups.

In my view the concepts provided by these studies complement each other to a large extent, and could be very helpful in analysing the specific case of Jerusalem. Policy-driven relations could be complemented by institutional relations, while market-driven relations have close affinity with functional relations. Inspired by these observations and concepts, I wish to analyse the current relationships between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, to reflect on the future of these relations, and to conclude with some proposals regarding the city’s future.


Current relations

The relationships between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem vary across the policy-institutional and market-functional spheres. At the policy-institutional sphere these relations are characterised by a deep-seated ethno-national conflict that revolves over strategic and symbolic issues. At the market-functional sphere, the relations are much more complex, reflecting a unique combination of hostility, accommodation and passivity.


The policy-institutional sphere

Israel’s major goal is to keep Jerusalem united under Israel sovereignty, and to maintain Jewish demographic majority in Jerusalem. This form of policy has been defined as partisan, in the sense that it gives priority to the interests and values of one party over the other.5 To achieve its goals in Jerusalem, the State of Israel has adopted a series of strategies that aim to strengthen the Jewish presence and restrict the Palestinian population. Four main strategies can be identified in this regard: (a) territorial annexation, (b) zoning regulations, (c) residency and access restrictions, and (d) demographic control.6


Territorial annexation

In the aftermath of the 1967 war, Israel expanded the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem by annexing the territory of East Jerusalem and surrounding territory. Of the 70,500 dunams incorporated into the city, the Israeli government expropriated 24,000 dunams to build new Jewish neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods, which encircle the city and delineate its new boundaries, are home to 200,000 Israeli Jews, that is, nearly one-third of the Jewish population of the city.7


Zoning and building regulations

To curtail Palestinian growth and expansion, large tracts of land in East Jerusalem, as yet undeveloped, have been zoned as ‘green areas’. In these green areas construction is prohibited. Currently, the Palestinian population that forms 34 per cent of Jerusalem’s population occupies only 13 per cent of the city’s area. Restrictions on Palestinian residential building took the form of municipal measures which withheld permits for new or expanded construction, and demolished illegal building.8


Ethnic residency rights and denial of access

Since the first Gulf War in 1990, restrictions of movement into and out of Jerusalem have been imposed, and any such movement requires a special permit. Following the Oslo Accords that divided the West Bank into three distinct areas, new border checkpoints were established separating the city from its Palestinian hinterland. By separating Jerusalem from the West Bank, access to the city was denied for Palestinians living in the greater Jerusalem area as well as those in the West Bank and Gaza. Within Jerusalem, residency rights were restricted to those who were registered in the census of September 1967. Movement into the city, as well as benefits and property rights, was effectively barred to all Palestinians, including those who were born in the city but who failed to be present there when the census took place. Facing a wave of terror that turned Jerusalem into the premium target, the State of Israel imposed restrictions on Palestinian access to the city, and since 2004 started to build a separation wall that surrounds the city from north, east and south. The wall separates Palestinians from Palestinians and severely affects Palestinian access to educational, health and other services.


Demographic control

Politically motivated figures have occasionally been regulated by the Israeli authorities to determine the higher ceiling for Palestinian demographic growth in Jerusalem, ranging from 24 per cent in the 1970s to 34 per cent at present.9 Unlike most Palestinian residents of the city, Jewish residents, by virtue of being Israelis, can move in and out of the city without losing their residency rights. A Palestinian resident, on the other hand, is faced according to the “Centre of Life” law, passed in 1997, with the threat of losing the residency permit if he/she moves temporarily abroad or, indeed, even a few kilometres outside the boundaries of the municipality.

The Palestinians major goal is to have an independent Palestinians State with its capital in East Jerusalem. To realise this goal different Palestinian actors assumed a variety of policies, including civil disobedience, political mobilisation, holding on to the land and violent resistance.


Civil disobedience

The Palestinians have never recognised Israel’s authority over East Jerusalem. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem entitled to take part in the municipal elections opted by and large not to do so.


Political mobilisation

During the first decade of Israeli rule, Palestinian activists led grassroots mobilisation through the network of underground political parties and professional groups based in Jerusalem. The forum that undertook this mobilisation was the National Front and the Association of Professional Unions. Another vehicle for confrontation was the Higher Islamic Committee, also based in Jerusalem, which relied on religious sentiments and the spiritual status of the city to galvanise public opinion.


Holding on to the land

In the struggle against the Israeli efforts, the Palestinians developed an endurance policy of holding on to the land known as summud. The most visible feature of the summud strategy is the extensive spread of illegal building activities inside Jerusalem and on its outskirts. With no safe housing options many Palestinians were forced to resort to illegal construction and today approximately 20,000 illegal homes in East Jerusalem are under threat of demolition. This summud strategy may partially explain why the Palestinian population more than tripled between 1967 and 2010, from about 70,000 to 240,000, climbing from 24 per cent of the total population to 34 per cent in spite of Israeli policies to reduce their growth. As part of this strategy, holy places and historic sites have been transformed into major national symbols, serving as a statement of resistance and political control. The Al-Aqsa Mosque has become a major symbol of resistance and defiance of Israel’s authority.10


Violent resistance

In addition to these piecemeal strategies, militant Palestinian organisations transformed Jerusalem into a major target for terror attacks. Between the years 2000 and 2004 over 70 terror attacks were launched against Jewish civilians in the city, in which 2,200 people were injured and about 300 were killed.11


The market-functional sphere

Beside the conflict oriented strategies that characterise the policy-institutional sphere, both parties developed some accommodation mechanisms. Since 1967 Israel refrained from any symbolic act in the area of Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and the Wakf administration was allowed to run the holy place. Moreover, the Muslim community through the Waqf Administration was involved in restoration and innovation of commercial centres, monumental buildings and selected courtyards, thus maintaining a Muslim presence and ambience in the Old City.

In the practical sphere, the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are entitled to Israeli social security benefits, health insurance and have access to Israel’s labour market. They enjoy autonomy in education; the curriculum is set by the Palestinian Authority. At the legal level, the situation of the Palestinians in Jerusalem is rather complex. They are considered by the Israeli authorities as residents of the city and as such are entitled to participate in municipal elections. However, they are not citizens of Israel and therefore cannot vote in representatives to the Israeli Knesset. As Palestinians they are entitled to take part in the Palestinian general election: electing the President and the Palestinian Legislative Council. In reality, however, only a small minority of the Palestinians participated in the municipal elections and only one third participated in the general election to the Palestinian Legislative Council carried out in 1996 and 2006. It seems that, politically, the Palestinians in Jerusalem live between two political systems, avoiding a clear and overt identification with any of them.


Where are you going, Jerusalem?

The processes and relationships reviewed so far clearly show how complex the relations between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem are. Intense policy-institutional conflict dwells side by side with market-social accommodation. The intense conflict breeds extremism on both sides. On the Israeli side, current governmental activities have become associated with housing demolition and restrictions on Palestinian building. Planning has been characterised by a partisan and exclusionary approach, which has fostered inequality and alienation. West Jerusalem is deserted by affluent and secular groups, the demographic presence of ultra-Orthodox Jews is increasing, and the city is becoming one of the poorest in Israel. On the Palestinian side, a lack of leadership has allowed extremists and fundamental groups to take the upper hand in local politics. In the 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, Hamas won all the four seats allocated to the Jerusalem District. Members of the Palestinian middle class chose to leave Jerusalem. It is estimated that between 1996 and 2006 about 8,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites migrated to Ramallah.12 Urban deterioration and the rise of extremist groups on both sides are leading to intensification of conflict, domestic and public violence, which affect and reflect on the city as a whole.

Parallel with the intense policy-institutional conflict, there is another process associated with accommodation at the market-functional sphere. At the individual level, the benefits associated with free movement and work within Israel, higher salaries compared with earners in the West Bank, social welfare and health services have contributed to social interaction across ethno-national borders. At the communal level, as Hillel Cohen points out, several Palestinian groups and think-tanks have been involved along with Israeli organisations in joint activities in the spheres of research and planning.13 Caught between institutional affiliation and market needs, many Palestinian Jerusalemites chose to sit on the fence, one leg in the Israeli side and the other in the Palestinian side. This may account for the high degree of passivity, noted by Salim Tamari, among Palestinian Jerusalemites.14 The relationships between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem thus stretch over a wide spectrum, ranging from conflict and hostility in the policy-institutional sphere to passivity and accommodation in the market functional sphere.

The question is which form of relations will be predominant in shaping Jerusalem. Conventional wisdom, associated with the dependency approach, argues that the fate of the city will be decided from the top, by policy-institutional interactions between senior policy makers. Successful interaction may lead to the two-state solution desired by many Arabs and Jews. However, given the weakness of the two governments in terms of willingness and capacity to negotiate and implement an agreement the prospects of such a solution are slim. Continued political stagnation, may lead to further deterioration, and a downward spiral of violence, hatred, injustice and misery for all Jerusalem inhabitants. Market and social interaction, associated with the relative autonomy of local processes, may draw the two communities closer, bringing in its wake a bi-national city. Thus, what is desired for Jerusalem cannot be realised, and what seems to be realised is not desired.

Against this backdrop, there is an urgent need for intervention. While the preferred solution is political agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, the future of Jerusalem also depends on initiatives taken by civil society and the private sector. Such an intervention requires equal involvement of both Palestinians and Israelis. In other words the dependency approach alluded to at the beginning of the paper should not be accorded a monopoly over Jerusalem life for both practical and ethical reasons. Practically, political dependency on upper level actors have proved to be quite frustrating, in so far that these actors have failed to provide adequate answers to the city’s current problems. Ethically, dominance of the dependency approach irresponsibly abandons the city to a miserable fate. It is precisely for these reasons that the relative autonomy approach seems to be relevant and constructive.

In the absence of political progress made at the institutional-policy dimension, policy initiatives from below, and social interaction based upon market and functional considerations can help in alleviating some of Jerusalem’s major problems. In other words, what seems to be needed today are bottom-up solutions initiated by groups within civil society with some coordination with upper political levels. Indeed, several groups within civil society are already active in Jerusalem, mainly in the spheres of housing and planning, for instance: the International Peace and Cooperation Center, the Futura Institute, Ir Amim and Bimkon. Although some of these activities would have to be coordinated with upper political levels, some can be advanced autonomously: influencing the attitude toward public spaces, housing and infrastructures planning, inter-faith arrangements in the holy places and free enterprise zones in contested areas. No doubt, such initiatives are expected to encounter political opposition on both sides. For this reason joint Palestinian and Israeli initiatives must convince people internally through marketing and education, enlist the support of the private sector and civil society, and finally mobilise the assistance of friends and allies from the international community.

1. Fred Boal, “Encapsulation: urban dimensions of national conflict,” in Managing divided cities, ed. Seamus Dunn (Keele: Keele University Press, 1994), 30-40.

2. Shlomo Hasson,”Jerusalem: the challenge of transition,” in Jerusalem in the future: the challenge of transition, ed. Shlomo Hasson (Jerusalem: The Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies, 2007), 9-12.

3. Markus Perkmann, “Policy entrepreneurship and multilevel governance: a comparative study of European cross-border regions,” Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 25 (2007): 861-879.

4. Sohn, Cristophe,  Bernard Rietel, Olivier Walther. “Cross-border metropolitan integration in Europe: the case of Luxembourg, Basel, and Geneva,” Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 27 (2009): 922-939.

5. Scott A. Bollens, On narrow ground: urban policy and ethnic conflict in Jerusalem and Belfast (Albany: SUNY Press, 2000).

6. Shlomo Hasson, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem: the challenge of transition,” in Jerusalem in the future: the challenge of transition, ed. Shlomo Hasson (Jerusalem: The Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies), 12-38.

7. Rassem Khamaisi and Rami Nasrallah (eds.). Jerusalem urban fabric (Jerusalem: International Peace and Cooperation Center, 2003) 5-6. Shlomo Hasson, “Local politics and split citizenship in Jerusalem,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 20 (1996): 123.

8. Nathan Marom, The planning deadlock: planning policies, land regulation, building permits and house demolitions in East Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights and Ir Shalem, 2004).

9. Moshe Amirav, Jerusalem syndrome: The Palestinian-Israeli battle for the holy city, (Brighton and Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2009).

10. Ziad Abu-Amr, “The significance of Jerusalem: a Muslim perspective,” Palestine Israel Journal 2 (1995): 23-31.

11. Hank V. Savitch and Yaakov Garb, Journal of Planning Education and Research 26 (2006):152-173.

12. Rami Nasrallah of the International Peace and Cooperation Center, personal communication with the author.

13. Hillel Cohen, “The rise and fall of Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital,” in Forty years in Jerusalem, eds. Ora Ahimeir and Yaakov Bar-Siman-Tov (Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies, 2008), 97-114.

14. Salim Tamari, “Conflictual and consensual social patterns in Jerusalem: an essay on social infrastructure,” (Paper presented at the Jerusalem Seminar, Stockholm, July 28, 1998).

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