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Presidential Campaign Issue Brief #4: "Jerusalem"

A solution for Jerusalem, based on the principle of sharing or politically dividing the city, is entirely possible.

Jerusalem has throughout history been the focal point of Jewish collective yearning and of Jewish collective identity. The Jewish return to the Old City and its holy sites after 1967 was of tremendous significance to Jews worldwide. No one can deny or undermine the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.  Israel's capital is and forever will be the city of Jerusalem. The city will also be the eternal geographic heart - physically and spiritually - of the Jewish people.
Jerusalem also has deep political, historical, economic, and cultural significance to Palestinians - who consider it the only possible capital of a future Palestinian state. The city has a deep religious meaning not only for Jews, but also for Christians and Muslims everywhere.  These attachments are neither recent nor flimsy: for generations, long before the birth of the modern state of Israel, Christians and Muslims throughout the world have revered Jerusalem and its holy sites.
Peaceful coexistence in Jerusalem will be achieved only when all sides respect each other's beliefs and traditions.  Similarly, Palestinian-Israeli peace will only be achieved when there is a negotiated solution to conflicting claims to Jerusalem - a solution that takes into account the sensitivities and needs of all stakeholders.
While some Israelis and American Jews strongly reject any notion of dividing Jerusalem, the fact is that today, Jerusalem is an "undivided" city only in slogans. On the ground, it is a divided city in virtually every sense but the legal one. It is a city where one-third of the population is Palestinian. Large Palestinian urban areas lie just beyond Jerusalem's municipal border.
Jerusalem is a city in which Israeli policy since 1967 has consistently differentiated between Jewish and Palestinian residents in almost every aspect of their lives.  As a result patterns of life there reflect two distinct populations - Israelis and Palestinians - living distinctly separate and rarely overlapping existences. Indeed, Israel's security barrier, which is virtually invisible to most Israelis in Jerusalem, runs through the heart of some Palestinian neighborhoods, dividing families and communities, cutting Palestinian Jerusalemites off from the city's West Bank hinterland, and in the process, destroying the generations-old fabric of life in East Jerusalem. 
A solution for Jerusalem, based on the principle of sharing or politically dividing the city, is entirely possible.  Most proposed solutions for Jerusalem's future would put Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian control, Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli control, and the Old City under mutually accepted special arrangements worked out by Israelis and Palestinian leaders, in a manner that guarantees access to holy sites.  The emergence of a Palestinian capital in Arab areas of and adjacent to Jerusalem would not undermine Israel's claim to Jerusalem as its capital. Rather, it could clear the way - at long last - for international recognition of Jewish Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital.  It would make Israel's capital a more Jewish city, solidify Israel's sovereignty over it, and allow Israel to shed the burden of ruling over hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are not and do not desire to be Israeli.
Those who oppose such a solution are in effect calling for Israel to live forever by the sword, since a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is impossible without resolving the conflict over Jerusalem.   For Israel, the price of keeping every inch of Jerusalem will be the loss of the opportunity for a two-state solution that will guarantee Israel's security and viability as a Jewish, democratic state. This is too high a price for Israel to pay, especially when other realistic options exist.
Moreover, U.S. policymakers must recognize that what happens in Jerusalem does not stay in Jerusalem.  Rather, it can have an enormous impact on attitudes and events elsewhere - not only in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, but throughout the region and the world.  For example, Israeli actions that are viewed as seeking to expand Israel's hold over East Jerusalem and the Old City reverberate throughout the world, undermining the credibility of peace negotiations and Palestinian moderate leaders, while bolstering extremists who continue to use Jerusalem as a potent symbol to energize followers.  Similarly, a negotiated solution in Jerusalem could transform the city into a beacon of tolerance, coexistence, and peace. 
For the sake of Israel's security and stability, a formula must be found to share Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians, and among Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Pragmatic, creative solutions exist to satisfy competing claims to Jerusalem and its holy sites; what is needed is the leadership, courage, and goodwill to explore them.
For the sake of U.S. vital interests, including concern for Israel and for security and stability in the region, the next U.S. president will need to show strong leadership and engage in effective diplomacy both to stop reckless actions - like additional Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem - and to promote a peace process that addresses the genuine concerns and interests of all the stakeholders. 
APN urges the Presidential candidates to:

  • Refrain from making statements that could undermine future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the issue of Jerusalem;
  • Recognize that security in, and the stability of, Jerusalem is linked to the welfare of all of its inhabitants, and to the success of any Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations;
  • Support access to Jerusalem for all religions and respect for the delicate status quo regarding holy sites; and
  • Reject efforts to force the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem outside the context of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations - a move that could have broad destabilizing effects, threatening Israel's security, hurting U.S. interests and strategic relationships in the region, and compromising America's position as a mediator in future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.