Before Deciding Who Rules Jerusalem, Decide What Jerusalem Is
The next dramatic transformation came with the outbreak of the Second Intifada, when construction of the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank begun. The wall constituted a second de facto “border” for the city, with some communities that were within official municipal city limits nonetheless finding themselves suddenly on the other side of a 25-foot tall concrete structure, cut off from family, friends, and city services. Most of the residents of these communities hold Jerusalem identity cards, entitling them to city services, but the reality is that these areas are almost completely abandoned by the city government, with social services on the verge of collapse. Contentious debate also ensued about which Jewish settlements outside the Green Line could, or should, be incorporated onto the Israeli side of the wall. More recently, right-wing Israeli lawmakers have proposed annexing several large Israeli settlements outside the Green Line to the city; a bill which was temporarily tabled, but could be reinvigorated if Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem is fully recognized. This would constitute yet another sudden shift in who and what constitutes Jerusalem.
Compounding these anxieties is the fact that Jerusalem’s Arab population—which comprises about 37 percent of the city population—experiences lower educational attainment and higher poverty than the city’s Jewish residents. Over 50 percent of Arab-Palestinian residents of prime working age—or over 63,000 individuals between twenty-five and sixty-four years old—are either out of the labor force or unemployed. In multiple ways, Arab-Palestinian residents of the city hear from the city and national government that they are not welcome. Several sources reported a worrying surge in home demolitions in East Jerusalem last year.
The only path forward for Jerusalem is a negotiated solution that protects the rights and opportunities of all those living in the region to worship, to build, to move, to go to school, to take part in the city’s heritage, and to participate politically and economically. Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel throws the fate of Jerusalem’s Arab-Palestinian residents into uncertainty. While many have been through such bouts of uncertainty before, it is not a recipe for building the trust that is needed to quell violence and build peace, in Jerusalem or in the region as a whole.
Diana B. Greenwald is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Middle East Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.