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December 21, 2005

Jerusalem – The Capitals of Two States – Now and Forever


By: Gershon Baskin*

Special for AMIN


The upcoming Palestinian Parliamentary elections in the end of January 2006 will take place throughout the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Yet each time there are new elections there are Israeli threats not to  allow the elections in East Jerusalem to take place.  The current threat concerns the participation of Hamas candidates in the elections. It is clear that if elections are prevented from taking place in Jerusalem, they may be postponed entirely.  (This may be a good excuse for Abu Mazen to postpone the elections that many PA people wish could be postponed for obvious reasons).  The subject of this paper is not the elections but the here and now and the future of Jerusalem. The elections problem in Jerusalem is symptomatic of the Jerusalem situation and specifically of the weakness of Palestinians and Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem.


In the coming period, Jerusalem will become more and more the focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The continuing drive of both societies to “score points” in Jerusalem increases Israeli-Palestinian friction in the city and decreases the possibilities for future co-existence.


The objective realities created by the separation wall around Jerusalem constructing barriers primarily between Palestinian neighborhoods, will continue to have far reaching impacts on the quality of life in the city and around the city.  The social and political pressures for expansion and more building in and around the city are also having significant negative impacts on the city.

Tourism has returned to the city and Israelis have once again begun visiting in the Old City, however, this should not give the false impression of a sense of calm and security in the City. Jerusalem is a powder keg where the smallest spark of a political incident could lead to an explosion.


Limited Cooperation – Protest and human rights groups


While there seems to be some cooperation between various organizations in the City fighting against the wall, against settlement expansion in the City, against house demolitions, etc., the seems to be almost no one working on creating a positive agenda for Jerusalem.


The solutions are mostly known


Most thinking people realize and understand that if there will ever be peace between Israel and Palestine, the future of Jerusalem will be a future of the city becoming the Capitals of both states. The dimensions of the future agreement will be on the lines of the Clinton Principles that stated “what is Jewish to Israel, what is Arab to the Palestinians”.  Sovereignty in Jerusalem will be divided in recognition of the reality that there are two Jerusalems – one Israeli and one Palestinian.  The issues of the Holy Places will be dealt with in accordance to recognizing the heritage and Holiness of the specific Holy Places to each religion. Without getting into details, the agreements on the Holy Places will have to include a great deal of tolerance and mutual respect for the rights of the three main religions in Jerusalem.


Today, there is a complete absence of anyone working towards creating the chances for peace in Jerusalem.  The process of creating a Jerusalem of Peace must be based on a two-pronged effort: one of public outreach and education and the second of preparing Jerusalem for peace and co-existence – planning institutions, creating mechanisms for cooperation, creating shadow and real institutions for working together.  We must begin to create the reality of a peaceful Jerusalem and we must educate the publics on both sides that there is no choice but to divide Jerusalem politically so that we don’t destroy Jerusalem by fighting over it.


What can be done?


A Jerusalem program that would place the emphasis on bringing together Israelis and Palestinians who wish to cooperate in the efforts to prepare Jerusalem for peace needs to be launched. This also means bringing people together to work on developing structures for municipal government on the Palestinian side of the city. It means creating platforms for Israelis and Palestinians to work together on mutual interests within the city. Some of the mutual interests are:


  • The environment and some of the environmental disasters in the city such as the river of sewage that flows in East Jerusalem to the Kidron valley.
  • The terrible state of overall (un)cleanliness of the city.
  • Planning concerns of mutual interests  - open spaces, parks, the centers of the city – East and West
  • Public outreach and education: Improving how we educate our children about Jerusalem as the Capital city of two states
  • Creating opportunities for appreciating each other’s culture in Jerusalem
  • Creating a Civil Accord for the Holy Places in the city
  • Creating a citizens movement for peace in Jerusalem
  • Creating a Jerusalem Day that is dedicated to celebrating both Jerusalems
  • Encouraging some Jerusalem institutions to be pro-active in creating some “shared space” and opportunities for meetings, intellectual sharing, culture sharing, etc. e.g. the Cinematec, the Hakawati theater, Jerusalem theater, Khan theater, Tantur, Notre Dame, etc.
  • Developing a Jerusalem Guide book in Hebrew, Arabic and other languages that highlights Jerusalem’s multi-ethnic culture, history and heritage
  • Creating an Israeli-Palestinian-International diplomatic forum for advancing peace in Jerusalem - bringing together Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalem personalities together with members of the diplomatic community in Jerusalem (from the various Consulates and international organizations working in Jerusalem).
  • Working on the re-opening of closed Jerusalem Institutions in accordance with the Road Map.
  • Creating a shadow Palestinian municipality or at least several of the key functionaries and professional aspects of running the future Palestinian Jerusalem Municipality.

Creating the Palestinian Jerusalem Municipality


It is clear that at this time the Government of Israel will not allow the Palestinians to organize themselves into a separate municipality.  It is also clear that the Palestinians will not break with old taboos and will decide to participate in the Israeli Jerusalem municipality. There is an alternative way of moving forward that would be within the law and would enable the Palestinians to create a functioning workable structure that would eventually evolve into a full fledged Palestinian municipality.  The plan works as follows:


1. Palestinians would establish a non-profit public share-holding company called the East Jerusalem Development Company.

2.  Every Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem above the age of 18 would be granted one share in the company.

3.  The Company would issue stock shares – a document to every shareholder.  This document would provide the holders with the right to vote in the company.

4.  The Company would hold elections for the Board of Trustees of the company including the Company’s Chief Executive Officer and other Board members. The Board of Trustees would be the body responsible for running the company.

5. The Company could decide that the members of the Board had to represent the various neighborhoods in East Jerusalem in order to ensure full representation of the city and all interest groups on the Board.

6.  The Board of Directors would establish sub-committees dealing with finance, planning, infrastructure, education and culture, etc.  (This would essentially be a kind of shadow municipality).

7.  The Company would raise funds from the donor community, the churches, the private sector and shareholders would be encouraged to pay an annual membership fee – a kind of arnona.

8.   The Company would run itself as if it were the municipality for East Jerusalem seeking to replace whatever functions are carried out by the Israeli municipality and providing services, on a commercial basis, that the Israeli municipality does not provide.

When the Israelis and Palestinian eventually return to permanent status negotiations and eventually reach an agreement, the Palestinians will be prepared to launch the Palestinian Municipality.  At that time they will have gained significant experience, trained personnel, implemented projects and provided services on the ground.  They would be ready to govern Palestinian Jerusalem.




There is a need to convene hundreds of public meetings in and around Jerusalem in Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalem to expose residents of Jerusalem to the realities of present day Jerusalem and to advance understanding of the two Capitals in Jerusalem concept.  The public meetings should be held in community centers and in public settings. Organizations in Jerusalem working towards the concept of two Jerusalems and those which support the concept and are willing to work together towards advancing the two-capitals in Jerusalem solution should design a strategic plan for engaging the publics in dialogue on the city’s future. The meetings should be organized and presented by joint teams of Israelis and Palestinians.  The meetings should be widely advertised in local Hebrew and Arabic newspapers as well through the local hosting organization or community center.  The public meetings should consist of several speakers who will raise the issues; special power point presentations could be prepared that will include pictures and texts describing the developing realities of Jerusalem and the future options.  These meetings should be concluded with a questionnaire that the participants will be requested to fill out for feedback, evaluation and surveying purposes. 




Jerusalem reality tours that present the realities of two Jerusalems should be arranged for the masses. There are some organizations that are running such tours that venture into parts of Jerusalem that most Israelis and Palestinians never see.  The purpose of the tour is to expose Jerusalemites from both sides of the city to the realities developing in the city that they might not be aware of.  The tours should include be the separation barrier in Jerusalem and its impact on the city, the expansion of Jerusalem in all directions, planning and development realities, environmental developments and problems in the city. These tours should be designed for Israelis and Palestinians. Massive efforts to be made so that a minimum of 50,000 Israelis and Palestinians participate in these tours each year over the next few years.




As for elections in Jerusalem, Palestinians, with the assistance of the international community must decide that elections will be held in Jerusalem.  If Israel prevents the post offices from being used, there are many other locations that can be used by Palestinians in and around the city to hold those elections. Palestinians from Jerusalem must be represented in the next PA Parliament and they must have the right to cast their votes.  They must not cede that right out of fear and out of threats.  The international community will be watching with an extra careful eye to ensure that the democratic process is fulfilled.  It would be worthwhile for the Palestinian Central Election Committee to consider positively the possibility of having sympathetic Israelis join the international monitors in official capacities, particularly in and around Jerusalem.  Those Israeli International monitors may be better equipped to confront any Israeli attempts to block the elections from being free and open.



* Dr. Gershon Baskin is the Co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information – Jerusalem. (