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November 20, 2009
Jerusalem’s undying ethnic strife deepens urban divide

Click on map to enlarge. Courtesy of Ir Amim.

Worldfocus spoke with Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force for Palestine, a non-profit dedicated to a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Originally from Beirut, Ibish is the former Washington D.C. correspondent for Lebanon’s Daily Star and current author of IbishBlog.

Worldfocus: How would you characterize the current situation in Jerusalem?

Hussein Ibish: Jerusalem is the most divided city in the world. Israelis in West Jerusalem and the Jewish quarter feel like normal citizens of the Israeli state living under Israeli law. For them, life is very normal.

But East Jerusalem is more than 80 percent Arab. The situation is similar to that in the rest of the occupied territory, but it’s starker in Jerusalem because they’re living in such proximity. Insofar as an analogy to “apartheid” applies, this is more stark in Jerusalem than anywhere else, where separate and unequal is almost universal.

Most Jerusalem Arabs are not in effect subjects of Israeli law but practically live under martial law. In many cases, they’re technically residents of Israel — but not citizens. They can’t vote in national elections. And they generally don’t vote in municipal elections. Jerusalem is the flash point for the conflict.

Worldfocus: Why can’t the leaders on both sides reach a rational agreement about sharing the city?

Hussein Ibish: The cultural, religious and political importance of the holy places means that Jerusalem is central to both populations. Both sides are becoming increasingly influenced by right-wing religious rhetoric. The conflict is transforming from an ethnic struggle over land and power in a small area — into a religious struggle between bearded fanatics on both sides about the will of God and holy places.

The Old City of Jerusalem requires a creative solution and the unique formula like the Vatican City. It can’t be the exclusive preserve of any of the religious or ethnic groups. A unique formula has to be found. But it’s not beyond the wit of man to come up with a solution for this, because the national interests of all parties require it.

Worldfocus: Are there certain deal-breakers on the issue of Jerusalem?

Hussein Ibish: For the Israeli side, the “right of return” (for Palestinian refugees) is a deal-breaker just like the claim that Jerusalem is the undivided and eternal Israeli capital is for the Palestinians. This kind of rhetoric acts as a political narcotic: it makes people feel good, but it’s extremely damaging.

But when you get into the final status agreement, these are all issues that can be negotiated successfully. Both parties have a stake in making it work. That could keep Jerusalem united and parts of the city jointly administered — although with separate sovereignty. All it takes is political will and some creativity. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’m a skeptical person, but it seems possible to me. It’ll be an unusual arrangement reflecting the unique character of the place.

There are reciprocal bitter pills on the right of return and Jerusalem both sides must swallow in their own existential national interests.

The only serious player really resistant to this idea [to create two capitals in Jerusalem] is the Israeli government, which is trying to prevent Jerusalem from being a topic of discussion in any the final status talks. But Obama made it very clear that the terms of reference need to be clear and precise — and involve security for both parties, borders, refugees and Jerusalem. The U.S. position on Jerusalem is closer to the Palestinian view than to the Israeli one. There is implicit understanding in the U.S. that most of East Jerusalem needs to be the Palestinian capital.

There will also clearly have to be a land swaps. The Palestinian people accept that, and the leadership accepts it. Not every settlement in and around Jerusalem must be evacuate. I don’t mean that the Palestinians will be unwilling to have Israelis [in Palestinian-controlled East Jerusalem] or elsewhere in the Palestinian state. But the Israel government would probably not want to face the crisis of some incident involving Israeli citizens living in newly sovereign Palestinian state, and I think it will be they who push for
evacuation in the event of an agreement.

Both sides should be creative and flexible and Israel should be willing to evacuate settlements that make Palestinian statehood impossible. It’s politically problematic but not impossible. These are painful concessions for both but they are obviously necessary. It’s all about a series of complicated quid pro quos. This is not a menu where you can go through and choose what you want based on your tastes, its a delicate pattern of concessions. It’s also a kaleidoscope. Every time you move the image a little, the whole pattern shifts.

Worldfocus: Do you envision that Jewish Israelis will be able to stay on in the areas that become Palestine in East Jerusalem and the West Bank?

Hussein Ibish: Palestinian citizenship or dual citizenship for them is possible, but I don’t think the Israeli government will allow it in the West Bank, though they might find a way to make it work in East Jerusalem.

An agreement is in the core existential national interest of both parties. Settlements will be evacuated according to a variety of formulae. At least 75,000 [Jewish settlers] will need to be removed. That means perhaps up to 200,000- 300,000 will be staying where they are in the small parts of West Bank such as Ma’ale Adumim that will become part of Israel.

The bottom line is that the Palestinians cannot be denied 22% of Mandatory Palestine — the equivalent of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. I think they need and deserve that.

Worldfocus: What role will Palestinian Gaza play if it continues to be a separate entity from the Palestinian West Bank?

Hussein Ibish: Gaza has no independent future from the rest of Palestine. The idea of a political status that is separate is completely wrong. Very few people in the Gaza Strip want that. Israel is strategically trying to emphasize these divisions, but it’s not something that will take.

I don’t think we’re looking at a scenario yet where Hamas can really succeed in replacing the PLO. They’re quite far away from that. All they hope to do so is for negotiations to break down. Hamas are weak and isolated — only able to maintain control in Gaza through brute force and oppression. Hamas thrives on chaos, stalemate [in talks] and a rhetoric of confrontation and violence. Their core constituency — at most 13-15 percent of the Palestinian population — believes in the Muslim Brotherhood model. But that’s not really a major political force unless there is no hope for peace.

Worldfocus: How about fresh alternatives to the Fatah-Hamas split?

Hussein Ibish: Salam Fayyad a very serious actor on the scene, yet he’s not a politician. Fatah is a dysfunctional political party but commands major support. The PA could use Fatah’s political authority to facilitate Fayyad’s state-building agenda and technocratic prowess. This is crucial because Fayyad’s plan provides another avenue for progress, change and momentum towards ending both the occupation and the conflict. If 1/20 of Fayyad’s plan could be implemented, there would be a serious transformation of the strategic environment, greatly enhancing Palestinian interests and the prospects for peace.

I think his plan could serve as a crucial augmentation of diplomacy and a parallel track that is constructive, serious and transformational. The biggest threat to it at the moment is the idea of dissolving the PA and going back functioning strictly through the PLO as a diplomatic but not a governing entity. With international financial support and political protection, it would be very difficult for Israel to block this institution-building plan. In short order, this could really change the Palestinian political scene and the strategic environment for the better.

– Ben Piven

Listen to Worldfocus Radio: Martin Savidge hosts “Jerusalem United or Divided?” with Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative and Gershon Baskin of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information.

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very good. i believe that jerusalem is hebrew or jewish from the word go, and no interlopers can demand a foothold.


Jerusalem is a holy city to 3 religions. How can anything “holy” be divided, because ultimate reality is based on the unity of all, i.e., all are the progeny of one Supreme Progenator!!! This idea that we are all one family of humanity should therefore, be expanded to include all existential entities! Human, Plant, Animal and Non-living material! Jews, Christians and Molsems are brothers and sisters dispite their philosophical and religious differences. They will continue to fight, due to differences in their scriptures, but the end of the world will not come in a great battle in the Holy Land. “Holy” is a term from the past. In reality, every land is just as “holy” as the next land. We humans seem to thrive on delusions and non-compassion for our brothers and sisters of different cloth. – well, back to the cave. NCP


The idea of making Jersualem a UN supervised international city was part of the original 1947 UN Partition Plan that the Arabs rejected. In the midst of much fighting over Jerusalem, the western part of the city was taken by Israeli forces, and the eastern part (Old City) was taken by the Jordanian Legion, and the Jews living in the Jewish Quarter were expelled. All the synagogues were destroyed. Jerusalem was divided by barbed wire at the Mandelbaum Gate between 1949 and 1967 when IDF forces took in the ’67 war.
During those years, the Jordanians had snipers and Jews were not permitted to pray at the Western Wall in the Jordanian controlled Old City.
Since Israel captured the Old City, it annexed it and has declared that it will never be redivided and will forever remain the united capital of the state. So the idea of resurrecting the old idea of internationalizing Jerusalem is a nonstarter. It’s a pipe dream. The baby cannot be redivided.


A way to solve this problem, is to create a City/State, much like the vatican. This would acknowledge the contributions of all societies, Jewish, Christian, Coptic, and Muslim. Ther can be a “Tribunal” type government to oversee the City. If this can not be accomplished by the GRACE of these sects, the UN could govern. I believe it to be God’s will that this occur, and it is my prayer that all religions would find the peace in their hearts to concur. I offer it in the hopes of contributing to movement between all parties to help create an undivided Jerusalem, and movement to fully recognize a Palistinian State as well as the autonomy of the Jewish State. May the God of all of us, bless this opportunity, for it is rightous among men.


How unfortunate that Hussein Ibish was chosen as the commentator. Predictably he gave the Palestinian view.

Will World Focus ever tell that East Jerusalem had a Jewish majority until the 1920’s when Arab mobs drove out the Jews? That East Jerusalem is now called Arab East Jerusalem.


If muslim believe in god , they will respect god wish to give this land to the jews ,and god was generous with the muslim and give them vaste land , what wrong with the muslim to not respect the parole of god or allah


As alluded to in my form message here is Winston Churchill’s 1899 expose’. Will we ever learn?

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries!
Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.

A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die.
But the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.

No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith.

It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science – the science against which it had vainly struggled – the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.

Winston Churchill
The River War (1899)


The Israel/Palestine stalemate is in crises mode,…should the rest of the world be on notice,…or concerned? Israel’s recalcitrant to stand-down from their aggressive behavior of (gerrymandering)another landgrab on the Palestinian people is manifesting an incubus macabre pillage upon the passive age-old nomadic Arab Tribes. Please don’t equate me with a morbid cassandra,… but more likened to a pathos pragmatist…a fledgling seer that foretells Israel’s motives too create a perfidious diversion are soon…very soon… indeed my friends by going into Iran Militarily which will ensure their sole intentions of a more massive landgrab on the palestinian people,while the rest of the world’s minds,and eyes are focused on Iran/Israel. How can I make such a statement is irrevelant…for the writings been on the wall for months,if not years. Timing is everything,…especially when you can get two birds with one stone.


Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Islamism are political movements that prevent cooperation and coexistence with Western Capitalism that promotes individual freedom. Since the adherents to strict Koranic dictates consider coreligionists who practice tolerance, equality and peaceful coexistence to be heretics there is little hope for a solution unless a modification of Islamic basics takes place. Winston Churchill recognized this over 100 years ago and placed little hope then to avoid its destructive nature because Islam precludes any true appreciation of peaceful cooperation and equality to the existence others including and especially its own women. If this part can be purged as Nazism was with a lawful denazification movement, there is no hope no matter how cleverly its adherents cloak their willingness to find a “just” solution.
Israel after a along history of concessions that were rejected or used to deceptive advantage must learn this unfortunate reality. We must learn it as well as Churchill did over 100 years ago. Without DeNazification of Islam there is no hope.


Israel does not have to “share” Jerusalem with anybody. Did the Muslims share Medina with the Jews who founded it? Did they share Baghdad? There are three simple facts in the case: (1) Jerusalem has never been the capital of any other people except the Judeans; (2) Jerusalem has been majority Jewish since 1840; (3) Israel retook East Jerusalem because Jordan attacked Israel in 1967, and Israel had to clear out the Jordanian troops. Israel did not remove or takeover any mosques or churches, and allowed them to freely function. If the Palestinians need a capital, they can take Bethlehem or Jericho or Gaza or Ramallah. Jerusalem may be holy to many religious groups, but it is soley the CAPITAL of the Jewish nation, and so it will remain. It will be not be returned to Saracens or Crusaders. It is back in the sovereign hands of its rightful people.
If people want to redivide capitals, let them do it to Berlin again. Or divide Washington. Or Moscow. Jerusalem is not open to redivisions to appease or placate anyone!

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