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Peace in the Borderless Holy Land

By Raihana Haidary - posted Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Jerusalem remains central to the identity of the Jewish people, the Muslims and the Christians. This article will explore how the vague borders of the Holy City lie at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how further settlement of these disputed areas could destroy the peace process.

The Holy City and its unholy consequences

Political Analyst Rashid Khalidi recognises the significance of the Jerusalem issue in moulding an effective peace process, claiming that “[i]n the end, only a negotiation in which all of Jerusalem is placed on the table will suffice.” Jerusalem’s religious centre covers one square kilometre yet remains the pivotal point of the conflict, with its overlapping demographic, political, religious and symbolic borders. The sacred sites increase tensions as they overlap physically and are historically indivisible.

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The tensions over sovereignty

The issue of sovereignty remains at the heart of the tension, as Ehud Yaari claims “it’s impossible for any Israeli prime minister to say that he is going to forego Jerusalem before a final status negotiation with the Palestinians for end of conflict.” Furthermore, Hamas refuses to participate in dialogue with Israel, claiming that “we want to recognise the Palestinian people as a partner in this land...we demand the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.” UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon recognises the pivotal nature of sovereignty stating “we must find a way for Jerusalem to emerge from negotiation as the capital of two states with the arrangement of holy sites acceptable to all.”

Settlements and the peace process

The continuous tensions over the sovereignty of Jerusalem have never been more evident than in the recent proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to construct an extra 1600 residential units in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo. Despite the disputed borders, Netanyahu has defiantly claimed that “building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv.” The Israel Prime Minister’s Bureau further released a statement that there were no limitation rights on ownership of Jerusalem.

Under International law however, the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is illegal. The Security Council Resolution 465 enacted on the 1st of March 1980, demonstrates the invalid nature of “actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, (who) purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.” Ban Ki Moon expressly condemned Israel’s policy; “let us be clear, all settlement activities are illegal anywhere in occupied territory and this must stop.”

Furthermore, to the Palestinians, East Jerusalem stands as a future capital of what the Quartet (US, UN, UK, RUSSIA) wants by 2012: an “independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.”

The disputed settlement proposal has seriously hampered the peace process. In the eyes of the Palestinians, settlements diminish the possibility of a future sovereign Palestinian state. Since the 1970s, half a million Jewish settlers have settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem along the built barrier, forcing more Palestinians out of this area of Jerusalem. The Israeli claim of right to total ownership of the ‘promised land’ has further fuelled disagreement as further settlement signals an intention to maintain and possibly expand the borders.

The division has severed all proximity talks and, as the Arab League Summit resolution found last month, the settlements pose “a dangerous obstacle to a just and comprehensive peace process.”  Netanyahu has confirmed these fears by stating unequivocally that the settlements “will be part of Israel in any peace settlement” and that dismissing them “runs the risk of the peace process being blocked for a year.” United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has also acknowledged the settlements’ serious implications in “endangering proximity talks and undermining America’s ability to play an essential role in the peace process.”

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Real peace?

Ehud Yaari proposes the most realistic step to end the conflict permanently. Far from President Bush’s failed “road map to peace,” he proposes a less ambitious armistice, forcing both sides to compromise. By focusing on dialogue and addressing the possibility of a Palestinian state without focusing on Jerusalem’s sovereignty, both states can move beyond the stalemate of the last 10 years. As Yaari claims “it would constitute a major step towards ending the occupation, fundamentally reconfiguring the conflict and making the prospects for a final status agreement far brighter than before.”

Jerusalem, with its overlapping borders, sits at the heart of the conflict with the current increase in settlement activity further dividing the two states.  Peace efforts must focus on a resolution beyond the borders of the Holy City before they become so blurred through settlement that compromise becomes impossible.

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About the Author

Raihana Haidary is a BA student at the University of Sydney majoring in Government and International Relations, and is the current Secretary of the University of Sydney Politics Society. With a keen interest in international affairs, she has recently appeared on SBSs Insight Program.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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