The East Jerusalem issue is perhaps the most contentious divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians as they try to establish the groundwork for peace negotiations. But I’m wondering if we have not just seen the inkling of a too-clever, legalistic, but nonetheless workable breakthrough. Jerusalem Councilor Yakir Segev, whose specific purview is East Jerusalem, asserted yesterday that certain Palestinian neighborhoods that are in East Jerusalem (that is, east of the Green Line) but on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier are “no longer part of the city” (my bold). He added:
The Jerusalem municipality has no hand in managing these neighborhoods, and doesn’t have the power to address the difficult situation facing the 55,000 people who live there. … The State of Israel has given up. [The neighborhoods] are outside the jurisdiction of the state, and certainly the municipality. For all practical purposes, they are Ramallah.
(To be sure, Segev, who is on the right, also defended Jerusalem’s practice of approving Jewish construction in other parts of East Jerusalem.)
Here is the situation: Israel wants Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of the Jewish state; the Palestinians want East Jerusalem—all of the city east of the Green Line (as opposed to the security barrier)—to be within (and likely the capital of) a future Palestinian state. In fact, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has vociferously insisted that East Jerusalem be on the table in any peace talks, and has demanded a construction freeze there before any talks commence.
And here, just maybe, is the solution: Israel defines certain areas of East Jerusalem as no longer Jerusalem. Israel can tell itself that Jerusalem remains its undivided capital. Meanwhile, the Palestinians gain sovereignty over at least some of what has historically been, and could plausibly continue to be considered, the City of Gold.
This would not completely solve the problem. After all, even if Segev’s remarks became official Israeli policy, most of East Jerusalem would remain in Israeli hands. It’s hard to conceive of a final settlement in which those sections of the city are not at least under international control. But might this step—which, whatever you may think of its paltriness, is a concession—be enough to get Abbas to the negotiating table? Salesman’s gotta dream ….