Israel / Palestine

Jerusalem: It’s complicated

The status of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel has gotten a lot of attention recently because President Trump declared that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital while not saying anything about its status as the Capital of a future Palestinian State. The purpose of this blog post is to lay out some of the facts that make the question “Is East Jerusalem the Capital of a future Palestinian State?” more complicated than most realize.

I think it is only fair that I make sure that the reader of this blog, knows in advance that I am, in fact, a dual national with both USA and Israel Citizenships that lives in Tel Aviv. My point of view would probably not be described as objective.

The Arab population of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza is made up of indigenous Arabs and Arabs that moved into the area after the Jewish population expansion due to increased employment opportunities. Presently, the Arabs population can be broken down into those that are citizens of Israel and are often referred to as Israeli Arabs or sometimes Israeli Palestinians, Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, West Bank Palestinians, and Palestinians living in Gaza. Each of these groups has progressively fewer rights and support of the Israeli Government. To assume that each of these groups has the same objectives is an oversimplification.

During the partition of Palestine in 1947, Jerusalem was to be an international city. At that time, there were approximately 100,000 Jews and 60,000 Arabs living in the area we now call Jerusalem.

The Partitioning did not go as planned and there was a war between the newly created Israeli state and the Arab countries surrounding it, as well as with the Arab population in the disputed area. The result was an armistice and the creation of a temporary border called the green line. Jordan occupied the West Bank, and Egypt occupied Gaza. Jordan incorporated the West Bank into Jordan and made the inhabitants citizens of that country. Egypt did not grant citizenship to the people living in Gaza.

There was a very significant war in 1967 – the six-day war. The result of that war was that Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza along with the Sinai which belonged to Egypt and the Golan Heights which belonged to Syria. Israel decided to annex East Jerusalem and unite it with West Jerusalem. Keep in mind that during the previous years, East Jerusalem was a part of Jordan and Jews were not allowed into the old city which is the site of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall which are the most sacred Jewish sites. It is also the same general area as the Dome of the Rock – one of the holiest places of the Muslim faith.

By 1967, the Jewish population had grown to about 200,000 and the Arab population to 65,000. After the war, the Arabs living in East Jerusalem had the option of becoming Israeli Citizens or just being Israeli residents. Few chose to become citizens. As residents of Jerusalem, they also had the right to vote in local elections, but few took advantage of that which resulted in being them being under-represented in city government. As Israeli residents, the Jerusalem Arabs have the right to work not only in all of Jerusalem but also anywhere in Israel.

By 2015, the Jewish Population was more than 500,000, and the Arab population was about 320,000. About half of the Arabs in East Jerusalem work in the Jewish Economic Sector primarily in West Jerusalem. Most of the Arabs work in the construction or service industries.

The Arabs of East Jerusalem do not have to pass through border controls to work in West Jerusalem given that East Jerusalem is considered a part of Israel. They do have to pass-through border controls when visiting the West Bank. If East Jerusalem becomes united with the West Bank, the border crossing will move. Those wanting to work in Israel would be subject to the same controls now effecting Palestinian workers crossing into Israel for employment.

Some would say that Israel does not provide the same level of services to the East Jerusalem Arab Population as they offer to the Jews of West Jerusalem. However, that Arab population in East Jerusalem are still significantly better off than most places in the West Bank. For instance, they have access to the Israeli State Health Care and Social Security. If East Jerusalem were to unite with the West Bank of Palestine, it is hard to imagine that the Palestinian government could afford to duplicate these services. The Palestinian Authority has indicated that they would consider an open city, but I would think that security issues would make this impossible for the Israelis to consider.

Over the years since 1967, many Jews have moved into East Jerusalem and especially in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. It is very doubtful that they would be willing to move nor could any Israeli government force them to do this.

I have to wonder what would happen if the residents of East Jerusalem had an opportunity to vote on staying in Israel or joining the Palestinians? What would they choose, assuming that they fully understood the trade-offs? I doubt that they will ever be asked.

It is hard to imagine that Jerusalem will be split into two again. It might be possible to create some international oversight for the old city, but I would think Israel would want to maintain security. Perhaps, the Palestinian Government would locate its “capital” in some part of East Jerusalem but would that make it a real capital. I can’t imagine a Palestinian State that would not have its capital in Jerusalem, and I can’t see any way that this could happen.




3 thoughts on “Jerusalem: It’s complicated

  1. I think Jerusalem should become the world’s first global city overseen by the UN with an international peacekeeping force and shared by everyone. Perhaps naive, I know, but a better solution than Trump’s ignorant move that throws fuel on the fire.


  2. Israel faces two unpleasant realities relative to the long term goals of its two largest cultural groups. One is that it is a multi-cultural society that uses the iconography and national institutional identities of only one. The other is that when the law is “owned” by one group and used to the detriment of one or more others, then the legitimacy of the rule of law is compromised. That unfortunately is the very definition of an apartheid state. Israel would face a similar problem if even one of its citizens was not a Jew. I like Avram’s choice of words. “It’s complicated” is almost an understatement. But long term, what has to happen is crystal clear. What is not is how long it will take to get there and how much pain must be endured in the process. The impossibility of Jerusalem eventually becoming the capital of a Palestinian state is no more of an impossibility than defining a workable geography of a Palestinian state itself. The West Bank settlements have seen to that. So a one state multicultural solution is the only solution that can work. That means a new flag, newly structured national institutions, and a new sense of national identity. Can those things be achieved in a century or less? From this vantage the answer seems to be no, but stranger things have happened. Whatever the case, the answers and change processes will have to come from within Israel itself.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s