Spell Israel's Future: S-H-A-R-I-N-G

Daoud Kuttab is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. E-mail: dkuttab@amin.org

More than 30 years ago, the Israeli army conquered Palestinian and Arab lands in a war they have repeatedly insisted was a defensive war. Israeli leaders had always stated that they were ready for peace with their Arab neighbors and would give up territory for peace. Israel's defense minister at the time, Moshe Dayan, repeatedly said that he was waiting for a phone call from the leaders of the surrounding Arab countries.

Today, Arab leaders have not only phoned but have met, negotiated and even signed declarations of principles and peace agreements. But most of the Arab lands continue to be controlled and occupied by Israel.

Nowhere is this absolute Israeli control over Arab land more evident than in East Jerusalem. Defying the United Nations and the world community, Israel has illegally annexed the Arab city to Israel and has systematically worked on depopulating East Jerusalem of Palestinians. This has been done through unilateral actions as well as continuous governmental and private support for Jewish settlement activities. Since 1967, Israel has expanded the borders of the city to include as much Arab land and as few Palestinians as possible.

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed a major push to increase the Jewish population on Arab lands while denying Palestinians natural growth, housing expansion and economic development. In the 1990s, the Israeli government added to the discrimination in housing by initiating a slow transfer policy and denying residency rights to Jerusalem's Palestinians by various administrative acts. The Palestinian economy was further shattered by a policy that denied Palestinians from outside Jerusalem the freedom to travel into or through the city.

Despite all these measures against the Palestinian Arabs of Jerusalem, the Oslo accords promised a reprieve. In the Declaration of Principles signed in Washington on Sept. 13, 1993, the state of Israel accepted that the issue of Jerusalem is negotiable and proposed that its status be discussed during the permanent status talks. This Israel-PLO agreement also called on both parties not to carry out unilateral actions that would threaten to adversely affect the result of the negotiations. But the Israelis never honored that agreement.

In 1997, the Israelis broke ground on a Palestinian hilltop in East Jerusalem, Jabal Abu Ghneim, to make room for 6,500 apartments exclusively for Jews. The act caused the breakoff of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Now, on the eve of a possibly U.S.-sponsored breakthrough, the Netanyahu government once again is flouting Palestinian rights, signed agreements and world opinion by expanding the borders of the city to affect the demographic balance of Jerusalem.

For years, Palestinians knew that Israel had a secret directive to keep the Palestinian population in Jerusalem under 28%. This week, the Israeli government publicly announced this racist policy. Speaking to the press, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said the expansion of the city is aimed at keeping the Palestinian population under 30%.

Netanyahu can claim that this recent decision has no political connotation. He might even think he can fool the world with his paternalistic attitude, saying that the aim of this new plan is to provide better municipal service to Jews and Arabs. But no one is fooled.

Most Palestinians are not allowed to enter Jerusalem today. In the past couple of years, hundreds have lost their birthright to live in the city. Those who dared to defy discriminatory housing policies by building on their own land have found their homes turned to rubble.

Israeli actions are causing the most basic principle of the peace process--land for peace--to become worthless. Jerusalem is a holy city to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The path forward for the city is not for one side to retain exclusive control and bully the other parties. The answer to the future of Jerusalem is spelled s-h-a-r-i-n-g.

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