Jerusalem as it should be

The Jerusalem issue has long been the centre of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle, and a source of conflict and hostile feelings between the Arab/Muslim world and Israel, and sometimes the whole western world. The symbolic significance of Jerusalem, whether religious, national or political, is often exploited to varying degrees by the opposing sides.

On the one hand, Israel has sought to change Jerusalem's demographic and geographic realities to achieve dominance and control. Attempts to change the city extended to its identity, promoting to the world the view that Jerusalem is essentially a Jewish city that allows religious and racial diversity, but under its own rules and under its ultimate control.

On the other hand, the Palestinian side is focused on national demands for eastern Jerusalem to become the capital of the future Palestinian state. But the continuing isolation of Jerusalem from the rest of the West bank has turned it into a big myth that is engraved on the minds of thousands of inhabitants who live in the surrounding areas, but who are deprived of the right to enter it. This is creating an entire generation that is totally ignorant of Jerusalem.

After the failure of the Camp David II talks in 2000, Jerusalem became the fuel for a larger struggle that is morphing into new forms. The national struggle for a state and sovereignty has now intensified and deepened to reach even holy sites, and the holiness of the very stones, in a way that denies human existence, dignity and belonging to the city, and more sadly, the city's belonging to humanity in general. Israel and its leaders have started to view control of Al Haram Al Shareef (the Holy Shrine) as the one and only thing they will never give up.

Palestinians consider this an attempt at displacement and replacing the religious reality prevailing for more than 1400 years. Fuelling the conflict and turning it into a religious struggle threatens a wider and more far-reaching confrontation. Henceforth, theories which many people have considered mere hypotheses about the clash of civilizations will materialize into reality centred around Jerusalem: a city that carries all the factors and elements of this clash. Unfortunately, we are already on this path.

The question now is: How can we avoid this clash, and how can we strengthen Jerusalem's role as a resource for creating agreement and mutual, non-confrontational vision? How can Jerusalem bring about prosperity and peace for Palestinian, Israeli, Arab, Muslim, Christian and Jewish worlds, instead of struggle and disagreement?

All indications show that Jerusalem has suffered the most in this conflict on all levels. This does not apply to the Palestinian side only, which suffers because of the Israeli occupation, but extends to West Jerusalem and the Jewish people of the city. Jerusalem has become the victim and the fuel of the conflict, and the eternal slogan used for escalation.

The only possible way out of this stalemate, is to reach a political compromise that allows peaceful transformation, and to build Jerusalem as a centre, a capital and universal city. Giving Jerusalem a universal status would become the energy fuelling the rise of the city after four decades of dismemberment, suffering, poverty, marginalization and war.

This cannot be attained unilaterally and for the interest of one side only. It also cannot be achieved unless Jerusalem is politically divided along spatial and functional lines; an open city with no boundaries or walls, no poverty or marginalization. It cannot be inhabited only by the less-fortunate and less–educated, estranged by the middle class and its elite.

Building Jerusalem as a universal city with all the necessary political, social and economic components, and advancing it through changing the prevailing perception of a city of conflict and suffering into a city of international opportunities and a model of stability and prosperity in the region, can be achieved through the following principles that represent a proposed paradigm for a solution with the lowest common denominator between the conflict parties:
The geopolitical solution for the future of Jerusalem should be based on the principle of sovereign political separation.
East and West Jerusalem should be two capitals for two states: East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Borders between the two capitals should be open with no physical separation. The open city will permit the free flow of people, goods and values between the two capitals. Control points may be established to deal with security issues in a manner that does not affect the open borders principle.
The open city shall comprise the territories of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sectors. Entry into and exit from the city can be controlled through security and custom control points at the outer borders of the open city, i.e. between the capital of each state and the rest of its sovereign territories.
The open city is an essential element to enhance and strengthen the universal status of Jerusalem. Religious, cultural, economic and social functions related to this status shall provide leverage for Jerusalem to be a human global capital in addition to being a political capital for two states.
The Old City represents a living museum and the jewel in the crown. The highest level of cooperation must be achieved between the two sides to enhance its status and pluralistic universal role, reducing religious struggle, and the struggle over control, identity and perspective of the city. The universal perspective is the joint "trade mark" for the two sides. The whole world is the targeted beneficiary.
Jerusalem should be the centre for regional institutions that address cultural issues and religious and cultural dialogue. It should also host universities and academic institutions that address conflict and world peace.
The identity of the city should be a joint issue that should be re-shaped to express a super-national concept, the agreement on which should be based on shared interests and the ability to transform Jerusalem into a capital and a cosmopolitan centre for each of the two sides.

Finally, Jerusalem is the model that will chart our life paths together as Palestinians, Israelis, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews. Jerusalem may either be a centre for humanity and a link in a network of global cities, in addition to being a capital and a national centre for two states, or a symbol of clashing civilizations, religions and peoples: an ominous thought that warns of an all-encompassing conflict and inconceivable loss.

Rami Nasrallah is the head of the International Peace And Cooperation Center. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at