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Settlements in Focus - Vol. 2, Issue 7: "Greater Jerusalem at the Crossroads: Sharon's Impact, Olmert's Vision"

Settlements in Focus Greater Jerusalem at the Crossroads: Sharon's Impact, Olmert's Vision (Vol. 2, Issue 7)A publication of Americans for Peace Now What is "Greater Jerusalem"? "Greater Jerusalem" generally refers to an area that encompasses about a 20 ...

Settlements in Focus

Greater Jerusalem at the Crossroads: Sharon's Impact, Olmert's Vision (Vol. 2, Issue 7)
A publication of Americans for Peace Now


What is "Greater Jerusalem"?

"Greater Jerusalem" generally refers to an area that encompasses about a 20 kilometer radius around the Old City. This area is home to around 600,000 Israelis and 600,000 Palestinians, and comprises two overlapping metropolitan areas - West Jerusalem and the Israeli built-up areas located inside and on the periphery of East Jerusalem; and the traditionally Palestinian East Jerusalem, including its adjacent neighborhoods on the edges of Jerusalem's municipal borders.

There is virtually no Palestinian presence in West Jerusalem. However, in East Jerusalem (within the city's municipal borders) there is nearly numerical parity between the Jewish and Palestinian populations. This is the result of Israeli policies that since 1967 have actively worked to create a large Jewish presence in East Jerusalem - in new neighborhoods intertwined with Palestinian neighborhoods - in order to ensure that the city would forever be indivisible.

In recent years, however, the political winds have shifted in favor of separation from the Palestinians. Israeli policymakers and planners dealing with Jerusalem are finding it difficult to reconcile the new demand for "separation" with the results of decades of policy that sought to make any such separation impossible.

What is the situation with the security barrier in this area?

The route of the barrier in the Jerusalem area reflects three simultaneous, often contradictory strategies:

Reinforce the Municipal Borders: A strategy of "pouring concrete" on the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem was one idea behind the barrier in Jerusalem. It reflected, at least initially, the views of Jerusalem's political leaders, including then-Mayor Olmert. This strategy is in evidence on the southern border of the city, as well as in areas of the north and east (see map). Two rationales underlie this strategy.

First, the municipal boundary represents, legally, the path of least resistance, since in the eyes of Israeli law it is the border between the West Bank and Israel. In reality, though, this line is generally oblivious to the patterns of life in the city, since for the past four decades it has existed for the most part only on paper, with little or no impact on the habits and movements of Israelis or Palestinians. As a result, placing the barrier on the municipal borders makes little sense in many areas (like the north and east of the city), where, rather than separating Israelis and Palestinians, it separates Palestinians from Palestinians, wreaking havoc on the lives of those left on both sides of the barrier. It should be noted that in some areas, like the southern part of Jerusalem, putting the barrier on this line actually does reflect geographic and demographic realties (and patterns of life). Thus, it should not be surprising that in such areas it corresponds closely to the borders delineated on the map developed as part of the Geneva Initiative.

Second, following Barak's breaking of the Jerusalem "taboo" at Camp David with open discussion about dividing the city, this approach represents an effort to reassert the hitherto sacred mantra of Jerusalem as the "eternal undivided capital of Jerusalem, never to be divided."

Alter the Demographics: Even as plans were being carried out to reinforce the municipal borders in some areas, in other areas politicians and planners saw an opportunity "improve" the city's demography. Thus, certain segments of the barrier represent an effort to gerrymander the borders of Jerusalem in order to maximize the city's Jewish population and minimize its Palestinian population. This strategy is in evidence in the north of the city, where the Kafr Aqab neighborhood has been cut off by the barrier, as well as in the east, where the Shuafat Refugee Camp has been left outside of the barrier.

However, this strategy has run headfirst into the "law of unintended consequences." Given a situation in which East Jerusalem residents have an annual income of around $3500, and West Bank residents have an annual income of around $1100 (compared to West Jerusalem residents, who have an annual income of around $17,000), East Jerusalem residents understand that ending up on the "wrong" side of the barrier would mean being plunged almost overnight into poverty, with their standard of living dramatically reduced and leaving them cut off from their center of life - such as schools, health services, sources of employment, and family. As a result, efforts to gerrymander the borders in East Jerusalem have resulted in Palestinian residents of effected and potentially effected areas moving to neighborhoods on the "right" side of the fence, thereby increasing the overall percentage of Palestinians in a relatively smaller Jerusalem. (Note: After the 1967 War, Israel granted Palestinian residents of the newly-united and newly-expanded East Jerusalem the status of legal residents in the city. Over the years their status has repeatedly come under attack, with efforts to revoke residency rights of Palestinians based, for example, on the claim that their "center of life" was not actually Jerusalem; or on the fact that they hold a dual nationality. In such cases, the "law of unintended consequences" yielded similar results).

Even more ironic, this unintended consequence has led to such a steep rise in housing costs in Palestinian neighborhoods that many East Jerusalem Palestinians are reportedly now renting housing in Israeli areas, in particular in the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev, where rentals are reportedly now cheaper than in adjacent Palestinian neighborhoods.

Demarcate "Greater Jerusalem": This approach, more than the others, represents the approach of former Prime Minister Sharon and the current approach of Prime Minister Olmert. It should be recalled that when the idea of a security barrier was first broached, then-Prime Minister Sharon strongly opposed it, both in Jerusalem and in the West Bank as a whole. Later he came to accept and even embrace the idea, recognizing how popular it was with Israelis. With respect to Jerusalem, Sharon ultimately viewed the construction of the barrier as an opportunity to achieve his longstanding goal of expanding and cementing Israeli control over Greater Jerusalem, with the implicit approval of the U.S. Administration.

This strategy is evidenced in plans for expansion of the barrier to the north (to include the settlement of Givat Ze'ev and most of the surrounding land up to the outskirts of Ramallah), to the east (to include Ma'ale Adumim and the E1 area), and the south (toward Bethlehem and the Etzion bloc of settlements). Sharon's Greater Jerusalem strategy is the genesis of the "cloverleaf" design of the barrier, with each leaf extending far beyond the municipal boundaries of the city to take in a settlement bloc and surrounding areas. Sharon's thinking evolved in this area as well, with his earliest idea of the cloverleaf including leaves that extending right up to the outskirts of Ramallah, the Jordan Valley, and Bethlehem.

Does Olmert share the same views as Sharon with respect to Jerusalem?

Looking at Prime Minister Olmert's statements on the issue of Jerusalem - dating back to years before the latest election campaign - it is clear that he and Sharon share similar views with respect to key areas that "resonate" for them in Jerusalem. Specifically, they both believe that Israel cannot ever give up control of the Old City, the visual basin of the Old City, and the East Jerusalem central business district (i.e., Salah Eddin Street, Zahra Steet, etc).

During a March 23rd debate on the future of Jerusalem held at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, the Kadima representative (Otniel Schneller, a former leader of the Yesha Council of settlements) was quoted in Ha'aretz as stating:

"The Old City, Mount Scopus, the Mount of Olives, the City of David, Sheikh Jarra will remain in our hands, but Kafr Akeb, A-Ram, Shuafat, Hizma, A-Zaim, A-Tur, Abu Dis are not part of historic Jerusalem, and in the future, when the Palestinian state is established, they will become its capital."

Schneller gave more details during interviews with the Associated Press the first week of May 2006, when he was quoted as saying that under the new Olmert government plan, the Old City and the Holy Basin "would become 'a special region with special understandings,' but remain under Israeli sovereignty."

How does Olmert differ from Sharon with respect to his views on Jerusalem?

When comparing Olmert and Sharon on Jerusalem, it is important to note the changing concept of the security barrier. In the 2003 Israeli election, what resonated among Israelis was the issue of security, and the need to build the barrier in order to achieve security. In the March 2006 election, the issue was no longer simply security but also borders, and more specifically, the need for Israel to define its borders. This reflected the growing Israeli desire for normalcy - to know "who we are" and "where we start and where we end." This changing concept of the role of the security barrier is the current "zeitgeist" and appears to have had a strong impact on Olmert's plans for Jerusalem.

In addition, Olmert's positions and views regarding Jerusalem differ from those of Sharon in several important ways:

Unilateralism: Looking at Sharon's long record in the military and in government, it appears clear that Sharon believed Israel's interests were best served by unilateral Israeli actions, rather than negotiations and agreements. In contrast, many observers believe that Olmert, while willing to engage in unilateralism, would be apt to pursue bilateral negotiations if the opportunity arose. With the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, this may be a distinction without a difference for the time being, but it is a distinction that bears keeping in mind nonetheless.

End Game: Olmert differs from Sharon in his conception of the optimal outcome for Jerusalem. While Sharon was devoted to the idea of a territorially maximalist Greater Jerusalem, Olmert is more focused on demographics - achieving a strongly Jewish Jerusalem. Thus, he is likely to be less interested in maintaining Israeli control in some areas of Jerusalem that do not resonate historically or religiously and have a large Palestinian population (e.g., the Palestinian neighborhoods on the northern, eastern and southern fringes of the current municipal; boundary).

Redrawing the borders: Olmert differs from Sharon on the key issue of re-drawing Jerusalem's borders. In the months leading up to Sharon's incapacitation, there were rumors that Sharon was thinking about the issue and might support such a move, but they were never substantiated. Olmert, on the other hand, has already made clear - in statements he began making in recent years, let alone recent months - that he is ready to re-draw the borders.

Relative Strength: As Prime Minister, Olmert is in both a stronger and a weaker position than Sharon found himself. In terms of his coalition and the Knesset, Olmert will be stronger, since he won't have Likud rebels breathing down his neck and challenging him at every turn. On the other hand, as a leader of the nation he lacks the "gravitas" of Sharon. This latter fact is both positive and negative. It is negative in the sense that Olmert will have a more difficult time if he wants to take bold action, as Sharon did with the disengagement from Gaza. It is positive in the sense that when Sharon wanted to do something that was harmful to the prospects for peace, he was unstoppable, bulldozing his way over all opponents, including the U.S. Administration.

So what does Olmert want to do in Jerusalem?

Olmert can be expected to try to impose a modified version of Sharon's map on Jerusalem. Such a map will include the key areas that resonate historically or religiously for Jews, as well as the large settlement blocs that surround the city and create the Sharon "cloverleaf." At the same time, he is likely to seek to re-draw Jerusalem's borders to leave out major Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Will Olmert be able to achieve this vision in Jerusalem?

There are several obstacles in the way of Olmert implementing his full vision for Jerusalem.

Domestic Politics: Re-drawing Jerusalem's borders and stripping the Palestinian residents left outside the new borders of their residency rights would require a special majority of 61 in the Knesset. This would probably - but not definitely - be doable. Reducing the number of Palestinians inside Israel is a popular idea in Israel. However, Olmert's ability to get enough votes would depend in large part on his overall success in managing his potentially restive coalition.

International Legitimacy: Olmert's vision for Jerusalem is predicated on his assumption that he will be able to obtain legitimacy both for the moves he makes and for the border that results. Ideally he would like to see the U.S. recognize his actions as Israeli implementation of UN Resolution 242. This is unlikely to happen, although it seems possible that he could get some U.S. statement of acceptance of the action as a long-term, interim arrangement, taking into account the impossibility of dealing with Hamas and possibly as a reward for unilateral actions elsewhere in the West Bank (such as the construction of E-1). Given the Israeli craving for a border, discussed earlier, it is not certain that this would be enough for Olmert or for Israelis.

Security Challenges: Prime Minister Olmert has said he wants to redraw Jerusalem's borders both to strengthen the Jewish character of the city and to end the occupation. While the plan that he envisions might indeed achieve the former goal, it would by no means achieve the latter. Olmert's longtime rival, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, identified this weakness when he attacked the plan as a recipe for creating a "bleeding border" in the heart of the city. This is a valid point, since in East Jerusalem the new border would in some areas consist of little more than a backyard fence or a secondary road - since decades of construction designed to irrevocably intertwine the populations has left Israelis and Palestinians living cheek-and-jowl, with no room for a better barrier to be built between them. Former Israeli head of the General Security Services (GSS) and Kadima Party member Avi Dichter responded to Netanyahu's criticism, saying that this would not be a problem, since the Israeli withdrawal from the "Palestinian" side of the barrier would only be "civilian;" the Israeli military would be present on the Palestinian side to ensure Israel's security.

Looking more closely at what this would mean on the ground, it is clear that Olmert's plan would not represent an end to the occupation in and around East Jerusalem. To the contrary, it would mean that neighborhoods that one day are part of the city - with residents enjoying a reasonably good annual income, good health care, access to jobs and schools, and only a muted military presence- would virtually overnight be plunged into poverty, while simultaneously becoming host to an Israeli military presence that treats them as a hostile enemy. This is clearly not an end to occupation - rather, it is the intensification of occupation. But if the plan were carried out and the Israeli military were not present on both sides of the border, then Netanyahu's prediction would likely prove correct - a Palestinian population that remained quiescent during both the first and second Intifadas, suddenly plunged into misery, could quickly transform into a significant security threat for Israel.

Is Olmert's vision consistent with a potential bilateral agreement on Jerusalem?

It is an interesting exercise is to compare Olmert's unilateral end-game map for Jerusalem to the map created as part of the Geneva Initiative - an agreement that resulted from Israeli-Palestinian unofficial negotiations and which appeared to be mutually-acceptable to many Israelis and Palestinians.

Superficially the maps appear very different, with hugely different conceptions about the size and shape of Jerusalem's "cloverleaf." In reality these differences are not insurmountable- they are a question of the size of the settlement blocs (with Olmert including larger areas around the blocs, and Geneva limiting the blocs to the built-up areas), and the way the blocs are attached to Jerusalem (with Olmert attaching them via land bridges, and Geneva via narrow access corridors). These differences are finite and quantifiable, and theoretically resolvable via negotiations. (If this were the only way the plans differed, and if the Hamas election had not effectively taken the question of negotiations off the table for the time being, Olmert might be hard-pressed to explain why he would be willing to go so far unilaterally - and still not achieve a final agreement - but not go the rest of the way if it would permit the achievement of a final agreement with Palestinians).

However, the maps also differ in a less dramatic, but more important way, with respect to one of the central issues that must be resolved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - control over the Old City and the Holy Basin. Here, Geneva laid out plans for dividing sovereignty and sharing the city, while in Olmert's vision, at least at present, such arrangements would likely be a non-starter. Where the differences in Greater Jerusalem are finite and quantifiable, lending themselves to resolution via negotiations, the differences regarding the Old City and Holy Basin are not differences of degree and magnitude, but appear to reflect fundamental differences in approach and ideology.

Other than the construction of the security barrier, is anything else happening on the ground today with respect to settlements in Greater Jerusalem?

Two important things are happening today on the ground in Jerusalem:

Lining the Route of the Barrier with Settlements: First, there is an ongoing effort to line the route of the security barrier with settlements - an effort that, if successful, has the potential to transform a reversible measure (construction of the barrier) into an irreversible one. This effort is evident in the east, with the continuing efforts to proceed with E1, which would close off Jerusalem from the West Bank on the northeast quadrant of the city (see Settlements in Focus, Vol. 1, Issue 1 for more background on this project).

This effort is also evident in the southern part of the city, where a chain of settlements is planned that would close off East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and Jerusalem's southern hinterland along the route of the barrier. These latter settlements are still in the embryonic stage, largely because the land on which they would be built is owned by Palestinians. Efforts to invoke the "Absentee Property Law" to deprive the owners of their land have been declared illegal by Israel's Attorney General, although that same Attorney General has subsequently issued contradictory statements, raising some concern that the battle over that issue is not yet over.

Looking at the totality of these settlement efforts on Jerusalem's periphery, it is clear that if implemented, the result will be the severing of East Jerusalem from its West Bank environs - consistent with the Sharon's long-held view that East Jerusalem must be cut off geographically and politically from the West Bank.

Strengthening Jewish Extremists in and around the Old City: Second, there is a new and extremely dangerous trend in recent months: the most extremist Jewish settlers are taking control of some of the most highly contested areas of Jerusalem, in some cases apparently abetted by elements of the Israeli government. This trend will be examined in detail in the next issue of Settlements in Focus (Vol. 2, Issue 8).


Produced by Lara Friedman, Government Relations Director, Americans for Peace Now,
in collaboration with Daniel Seideman, Ir Amim, Israel