Monday, July 24, 2000 Haaretz
Partition of sovereignty
The major Christian churches propose a solution to the Jerusalem question
By Joseph Algazy
The heads of the three major Christian churches in Jerusalem - Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox - are still waiting for an invitation to the Camp David summit. Last week, the churches sent an official request for their representatives to take part in the talks related to Jerusalem. The head of the legal department at the Roman Catholic patriarchate in Jerusalem, Father Dr. Majdi al Siryani says, "The heads of the churches became alarmed and applied to [U.S. President] Bill Clinton, [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak and [Palestinian Authority Chairman] Yasser Arafat because of their fear that decisions will be taken at the summit regarding the future of Jerusalem, and especially the Old City, in their absence."
Al Siryani said that the churches wanted to send representatives to the summit "after they learned from the media that in the context of the negotiations on the final status agreement there has been talk of splitting Old Jerusalem and cutting the Armenian Quarter off from the other Christian churches. The Christian churches are vehemently opposed to this and are demanding that they be made partner to the taking of any crucial decisions concerning the Holy City."
According to Siryani, from a Christian religious perspective, the split will impinge upon the direct connection between the various sites that are sacred to Christians in Jerusalem, for example, the link between the Church of the Dormition, where the Virgin Mary is believed to be buried, Mt. Zion and the rest of the holy places.
Al Siryani, 39, was born in the city of Maadaba in Jordan. From the age of 11, he studied at the Catholic seminary in Jerusalem, and later, during his studies at the Lateran University in Rome, he wrote his doctoral thesis on "The Legal Status of Jerusalem under International Law."
"Jerusalem must remain united," he says, "but the manner of its unification is an issue for negotiations and agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Politically speaking, Jerusalem is at the crux of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, since there is no Palestine without Jerusalem, just as there is no Israel without Jerusalem. Therefore, a political partition is necessary, that is, a partition of sovereignty."
According to Siryani, who does not go into the question of the outlying Israeli and Palestinian settlements adjacent to Jerusalem, the basis for the partition of sovereignty over the city must reflect the division that exists on the ground. That is, the Jewish Quarter - which includes the Western Wall and is entirely populated by Jews - will be under Israeli sovereignty, while the Muslim, Christian and Armenian Quarters will be under Palestinian sovereignty.
"As a Palestinian," he clarifies, "I expect that sovereignty in the quarters where Arabs live will go the Palestinian Authority, which represents me and the Arab residents of these quarters, while as a devout Christian and a person with religious rights, I expect to have free access to the sites that are sacred to Christianity, and that these will be supervised and administered by the Christian churches. In addition, all the inhabitants of the city will enjoy equality in their rights to services and in economic and cultural rights."
This is the reason, he says, that the Christian churches are asking that Old Jerusalem and its holy places also be granted international guarantees that the agreements will be applied and implemented.
"A devout Jew who is an American citizen, for example, who wants to make a pilgrimage to the Jewish holy places and pray there, does not want to be dependent on the good will of the State of Israel or the State of Palestine," says Siryani. "He wants his religious right to prayer at the Jewish holy places to be assured him under any circumstances, just as the right of a Muslim citizen of Pakistan or the right of a Christian citizen of Argentina to make a pilgrimage to their holy places and pray there must be assured regardless of questions of sovereignty."
The Christian churches expect that international guarantees will be provided by the United Nations or by a group of states acceptable to the Israelis, the Palestinians and the leaders of the three religions. Siryani stresses that in addition to its national dimensions, Jerusalem also has universal, religious and cultural-historical dimensions.
"Long ago, Jerusalem ceased to be like the rest of the cities in the world; Jerusalem belongs to everyone, it is a symbol for everyone and it does not belong only to the Israelis or to the Palestinians." In his opinion, the solution proposed by the heads of the three major churches here regarding the future of Jerusalem is also acceptable to the rest of the Christian churches - Protestant, Coptic, Ethiopian and Syriac.
To the question of who else finds this solution acceptable, he replies:
"Wise people, as the solution we are proposing is in our opinion the only
solution possible. The Christian churches, a neutral element not linked
to any nation and not demanding any political sovereignty for itself, is
an element that provides balance. In the past, when Jerusalem was ruled
by one power or another, [this power] gave free access to the city and
its holy places only to its own people and kept it closed off to its enemies
and rivals. At various times, access to it was denied to Jews, Muslims
or Christians. Our proposal will prevent the emergence of such a situation.