A Solution for Jerusalem

Most people accept that a solution to the Israel/Palestine problem requires two states. But both sides despair about how to resolve the status of Jerusalem. It is left for last at peace talks, and even then its very consideration is dreaded and deferred. This stems in part from a belief shared by both sides that their aspirations to have their capitals in an undivided Jerusalem are irreconcilable. Israelis especially, remembering the partition of 1948-67, are viscerally committed to the principle that the City should never again be divided.

But it is quite possible for Jerusalem to serve as capital for both countries, under dignified conditions for both, without the City being physically divided.

Begin with a map defining Jerusalem. The current municipal borders under Israeli administration can be used as a starting place – they should be automatically acceptable to Israel, and as all the Palestinian neighborhoods and Moslem sites within the current enlarged border will become Palestinian, the Palestinians should in theory not object either. Adjustments in the starting map should not be hard to negotiate, if needed, as long as it is understood to be only a starting place.

Then delineate two cantons on this map – one to be part of Israel, the other part of Palestine. The two cantons would be separated by a line on the map, but not by any physical barrier. Years of separation have made drawing cantonal boundaries easier. Overwhelmingly Moslem areas, such as the Arab Quarter of the Old City and some formerly suburban areas to the east, would form the nucleus of the Palestinian canton. Likewise Jewish areas, such as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and areas to the north and west, would form the core of the Israeli canton. Christian areas such as the Armenian Quarter could choose by plebiscite which of the two cantons to adhere to.

The centers of government which make Jerusalem the Israeli capital, such as the Knesset, having been built in West Jerusalem after the partition of 1948, are already within what would become the Israeli canton. The Palestinian state could either build its government centers within majority Palestinian areas, or if certain specific sites outside its canton were considered essential they could be assigned to Palestine as exclaves.

The same would apply to religious sites such as shrines, historic tombs, cemeteries and mosques, and even to some secular sites like Hebrew University. Even if isolated in the other community’s territory, the Jewish sites would be assigned to the Israeli canton, Moslem ones to the Palestinian canton, and Christian ones as their populations or religious authorities decide.

The Lateran Treaty of 1929, which settled the bitter dispute between Italy and the Pope by establishing the Vatican City State, is a good precedent for this kind of urban enclave (or exclave). The Treaty assigned to the Pope’s control not only the sovereign walled compound surrounding St. Peter’s Basilica, but a substantial number of other buildings mentioned by name in the Treaty. Some of them were relatively modest structures scattered around Rome and even (such as Castel Gandolfo) outside the city. Although sovereignty to these buildings was not ceded – they were made extraterritorial instead – the principle of assigning control of particular sites by specifically naming them works as well either way.

It does not matter that there might be a lot of these isolated sites, and the map a patchwork. First, as Israel has learned over the past decades, it is not in the interest of either community to administer territory, such as a shrine or a populated district, clearly pertaining to the other if it can possibly be avoided. Second, because there will be no physical barrier within Jerusalem, the lines on the map should matter no more than do those in Rome. There can be as many lines as are needed to give each side sovereignty and political control over its own areas without affecting the life of a peaceful city in any important way. That these enclaves are militarily indefensible would not matter in a city at peace.

There are two special cases. One is the status of neighborhoods not clearly populated by one community or the other, but truly mixed and integrated. There are not many such areas in Jerusalem, but those that there are could be subdivided, or allocated by plebiscite, or even held by the two cantons in condominium. Condominium has worked well in territories, like Andorra and the former Anglo-French New Hebrides, far larger and more complex than an urban neighborhood.

The second special case is the Noble Sanctuary, or Temple Mount, which might be partitioned in three dimensions: Palestinian on top (where the mosque and dome are), Israeli on the sides (including the Western Wall), and condominium at the base (except for the Jewish prayer areas) and in the interior. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the oldest and most important Christian sites in Jerusalem, provides a good precedent for this, minutely divided as it is among six different sects of Christians by lines drawn on the floor (two Moslem families are hereditary keepers of the keys to the building). A document called the Status Quo of the Holy Places allocates privileges and territory within the church down to individual lamps and pillars, including some areas held in condominium. The same could be done for Jewish and Moslem sites wherever needed.

There is a long tradition of such cantonization in Jerusalem. The partition of the Holy Sepulcher mirrors the historic division of the Old City into four national quarters, long predating the State of Israel. During the pre-1967 partition, Hebrew University on Mount Scopus was Israeli territory even though it was completely enclosed within the Arab sector.

Once the cantonal lines have been drawn, sovereignty over the cantons can pass to Israel and Palestine respectively as part of the final two-state settlement. Residents would vote and hold passports and qualify for social services according to their choice of citizenship at the time of the establishment of the Palestinian state. Most will adhere to the state they identify with ethnically or religiously, but the choice should be free, hereditary and irrevocable except by naturalization to the other state. Anyone in Jerusalem could enter either canton at will. Citizens of either state could legally live in either canton. Residence would not determine citizenship – this is important to avoid an Apartheid situation, and also to allow neighborhoods to evolve and change over time without artificial distortions. The street curbs could be painted in different colors so people could know which canton they were in at any time. No other physical sign would be needed or encouraged. Municipal signage in both cantons would be tri-lingual, in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Although there would be no barriers within the City, barriers and customs and immigration posts could be placed, if needed, at the borders between the City and the rest of Israel or Palestine. But even if these borders were tense, and if for example Palestinians found it hard to enter Israel, citizens of both countries could still enter Jerusalem. The ease of entry from the other state would make restrictions on access into Jerusalem useless and therefore unlikely to be undertaken by either side. The problems which troubled isolated West Berlin would not arise in Jerusalem, because the main portion of each country would be contiguous to the City.

Contained by barriers if necessary, but not divided by them, the City could be administered as two separate cantons, or as one undivided whole, as the local cantonal authorities might from time to time decide. At first they might prefer to run two parallel garbage collection services, for example, each collecting only from addresses within their own canton, but they as peace grew more familiar they might find it more efficient to have one unified service.

Modifications would be improvised on a functional basis − unifying the garbage service does not necessarily mean unifying the police service. Unifying the police would be desirable eventually – in the meantime cooperative policing rules could be worked out, for instance on officers’ authority in the other sector. National policies could be applied by canton − if for example a future Palestinian government should decide to ban sales of alcohol in its national territory, the ban would apply in blocks or buildings belonging to the Palestinian canton (distinguishable by the color of the street curb), but not in Israeli blocks.

The two keys to success at the municipal level are no internal barriers and keeping local issues local. Keeping issues local should become easier once sovereignty is settled and small practical decisions are no longer freighted with broader implications. Eventually, all Jerusalem could become a single municipality for local government purposes even though politically divided. With peace truly established, the cantonal lines could become of little importance. Boundaries can become vestigial where there is genuine peace, as has happened for example on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, divided for centuries between France and the Netherlands, where only a single monument now marks the border. When peace finally came to Europe, the borders faded away.

The essence of the two-state solution is the agreement by both nations to exercise sovereignty only over their own communities. By extending this approach to the holy City, both nations can have what they demand: their national capitals in an undivided Jerusalem.

June 2008