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Sharing Jerusalem Key to Israeli-Palestinian Peace

The Dome of the Rock is seen in the background as Palestinians attend Friday prayers on the compound known to Muslims as Al Harem al Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on 2 August. On 14 August, Palestinians and Israelis were to hold their first formal peace talks in the Mideast in nearly five years. (photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters) 

16 Aug 2013 – By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Coveted as a spiritual and political capital by both Israelis and Palestinians, the status of the city of Jerusalem has stood out as one of the pivotal topics in their ongoing peace negotiations.

Yet, because of its perceived sensitivity, the topic has always been left for the final status discussions and has yet to be broached directly in the negotiations, which resumed on 14 August in Jerusalem.

The sides met for the first time in almost three years at the end of July in Washington in a U.S.-mediated effort to resume the talks. Negotiators are also scheduled to meet in Jericho, West Bank.

“Jerusalem is very critical to the negotiations,” said Bernard Sabella, associate professor of sociology at Bethlehem University and a member of the Palestinian parliament. “U.N. resolutions and even the United States recognize East Jerusalem as occupied territory. We are going to have to find a solution setup which is acceptable to both parties.

“Jerusalem is the key to peace,” he added.

“Therefore, we have to find a joint vision that can subscribe to the rights of the Palestinians and to the rights of the Israelis as well.”

While neither Israelis nor Palestinians will give up on their claim to Jerusalem, he said, they will need to accept the others side’s claim to the city or risk forever being stuck in a no-win situation.

Just three days before the start of the Jerusalem talks Israel, announcing the release of 26 Palestinian political prisoners, also said it would back the construction of nearly 1,200 new apartments in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — almost 800 of them in East Jerusalem. Three years ago, the talks collapsed because of the settlement issue.

The Israel construction in East Jerusalem, which Israelis consider neighborhoods of Jerusalem but which Palestinians view as settlements, makes it impossible to have a clear-cut delineation of Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty in the city, Sabella said.

“We are in a symbiotic relationship,” said Sabella, a Catholic whose parents fled their home in what is now the Jewish West Jerusalem neighborhood of Katamon in 1948 when Israel was established. “We are stuck with each other.”

It is unrealistic, he said, for either side to believe that the other will disappear from the horizon.

Gershon Baskin, co-founder and former co-director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think tank, acknowledged a solution to the Jerusalem issue is difficult. He cited the zigzagging of Israeli and Palestinian “areas” in East Jerusalem and the sacred connection each claims to the city and said reaching an agreement does not involve physical divisions but an agreed-upon intangible division of sovereignty.

Baskin noted that Europeans and Canadians have proposed several alternative models for the status of Jerusalem, and he specifically supports the notion of a “scattered sovereignty model.” Such a model divides sovereignty but without physical boundaries and has special parameters for the Old City. This will, he said, require security coordination and a joint fight against extremists and terrorists.

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Tags: Jerusalem Israeli-Palestinian conflict United States United Nations Middle East Peace Process