Israel’s intentions for Jerusalem have been exposed by its policies and projects ever since the eastern half of the city was captured during the 1967 war. It has to focus on keeping a “unified” Jerusalem under full, albeit contested, Israeli sovereignty.
Israel’s vision to resolve the issue of Jerusalem can be understood through the ideas put forward by Israeli leaders and academics, as well as recommendations from seminars and research centres. In this context, Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, expressed clearly the intentions for Jerusalem on 24 June, 1948.
In a discussion with the Provisional State Council (which became the Knesset), the prime minister said that the issue was not the annexation of Jerusalem to Israel, but rather how to achieve this goal in light of the obstacles and the military and economic situations. Ever since then, the position of successive Israeli governments towards the issue of Jerusalem has been characterised by persistence, similar to the issue of refugees and the right of return in accordance with Resolution 194 of 1948.
With Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in June 1967, several Israeli projects and ideals about the future of the occupied Arab territories surfaced. Visions focused on keeping a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty; in Israeli eyes it is the “eternal undivided capital” of the state.
A number of important projects have been aimed at keeping full control of Jerusalem. The Ben-Gurion project of 1967 first introduced the idea of giving the Palestinians in the occupied territories some autonomy to manage their day to day affairs. Ben-Gurion made a distinction between the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the Palestinians abroad. At the same time he also distinguished between the residents of the Gaza Strip and those in the West Bank. Moreover, he excluded Jerusalem from the project and proposed its annexation to the Israeli state.
A month after the end of the Six Day War of June 1967, Israel’s then Foreign Minister, Yigal Allon, proposed a project to the government regarding occupied Sinai and the Golan Heights. Based on Ben-Gurion’s ideas, Allon’s project was more detailed, specific and clear.
The project received a lot of publicity despite the fact that it had not been discussed within the framework of either the government or Allon’s Labour Party, of which he was one of the leading figures. The project was based on the disposal of areas densely populated by Palestinians and replacing them with other areas Allon considered to have a low and limited population. Palestinian cities and urban centres would simply be handed over to Jordan. The vast fertile land of the Jordan Valley would be kept by Israel, as would the northern part of the West Bank and large areas of rural Palestine, all to be annexed by the state.
Allon’s project addressed Jerusalem by calling for its full and forceful containment. This can be sensed by the article related to the city; Israel would be “working to establish municipal suburbs populated by Jewish people in East Jerusalem, as well as rapidly reconstructing and re-inhabiting the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem”. This has been more or less put into practice on the ground over the past few years; Jewish settlements now surround the city of Jerusalem in every direction.
Abba Eban’s 1968 project said that Israel would be willing to discuss suitable agreements with those concerned about Jerusalem. However, he rejected the idea of solutions presented by the major Western countries, saying that their ideas were far from realistic.
Prime Minister Golda Meir presented her plan in 1971 and made clear that “Jerusalem will remain united and a part of Israel.”
A year later, the Mapam Party’s “peace project” included a special article in which it addressed the situation of Jerusalem as follows: “United Jerusalem is the capital of the Israeli state, and ensures, in the peace settlement, the self-administration of the Muslim and Christian holy sites. Moreover, in all negotiations about peace with neighbouring Arab states, it recognises the rights of the Arab minority population. The establishment of a municipality specifically for the Arab population in Jerusalem within the united city is guaranteed.”
Ben-Gurion returned to the fray in 1972 when he said that there was a theoretical possibility of signing a peace treaty between Israel and the Arab countries within five years. He believed that in the event of such a treaty being agreed, it would be right for Israel to give back all of the occupied territories, except for Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan Heights and the areas in which settlements were established, including those in the West Bank.
The same year, Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defence, said that although he preferred no peace to be agreed with Egypt, Israel should withdraw to the former border. In an interview with France’s Le Figaro newspaper, Dayan stressed that the border on the Golan Heights would remain roughly as it is today, almost 45 km from the old border. He did not rule out the possibility of reaching a compromise regarding the city of Jerusalem to include the holy places, or what he called “the special circumstances”. However, the city had to remain united both politically and legally. There was no room in his plans for the establishment of a new state in the West Bank.
Israel announced the formal annexation of East Jerusalem on July 30, 1980. Three decades later, settlement activity is ongoing. The current Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu is in a race against time to Judaise the city, taking advantage of the Palestinian political division and the fact that the Arabs and Muslims have not provided sufficient political and financial support for Jerusalemites to counter the challenge facing them and their city.
After constructing a large part of the “separation wall” around Jerusalem, the Israeli government recently adopted a decision made more than six decades ago to put the Absentee Property Law into effect. This includes property seized by Israeli institutions in occupied East Jerusalem.
It is important to note that this law was passed in 1950 in an attempt to legalise Israel’s gradual control of Palestinian land, as the law gives the “Israeli guardian” the “right” to seize, manage and control the land owned by Palestinians who are regarded as “absentees”.
It could be argued that Israel’s insistence on putting the Absentee Property Law into effect in Jerusalem falls within the context of the Netanyahu government’s policies to control the city and Judaise it in every aspect. Ultimately, the Israelis want to tip Jerusalem’s demographic balance in favour of the Jews. This, in turn, will undermine the Palestinian hope of establishing a state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Israeli perceptions about the future of Jerusalem were not changed by the Oslo Accords of September 1993. Although classed as a “final status issue”, the Israelis continued to believe that a united Jerusalem is and would remain the eternal capital of Israel. This was emphasised in a 1996 joint document issued by the Labour and Likud Parties, which stressed that final status issues, including the issue of Jerusalem, were predicated on a united Jerusalem remaining Israel’s capital. This cross-party support for a united Jerusalem is evident in all Israeli discourse since 1967. The intensified settlement activity in Jerusalem is nothing but a measure taken to reinforce Israeli perceptions and visions on the ground.
Despite such clarity of vision by the Israelis regarding Jerusalem, it is worth noting that the Arabs and Muslims have failed in conceptualising their own plans to cope with Israel’s Judaisation blitz affecting geographical and historical landmarks in the Holy City on a daily basis.
The author is a Palestinian writer. This article is a translation from the Arabic which first appeared on Al Jazeera net, 17 July, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.