Back in March of this year, I announced that I would be trying to form a joint Palestinian-Israeli list that would run for Jerusalem city council. This has been a dream of mine that I first tried to materialize back in 1992. I was naively optimistic after hearing from so many young Palestinians in Jerusalem that they were prepared to vote in the upcoming October elections after 51 years of general boycott.
More than 90% of Jerusalem’s Palestinians are residents of Israel, not citizens, based on the Law for Entry into the State of Israel. That in itself is an ironic thought because they did not enter the State of Israel. The State of Israel illegally annexed and expanded east Jerusalem, ruling over the territory where they lived and which is considered by international law and by the Palestinians as occupied territory. I have always understood the Palestinian objection to participation in Jerusalem’s municipal elections. Their claim is that participation means recognition of Israel’s legitimacy as an occupying power and recognizing Israel’s annexation of occupied territory. I have always countered that they can state outright in a political campaign that they do not recognize Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem nor do they accept the legitimacy of Israel’s claim that the so-called united Jerusalem is the capital of Israel only.
The official Palestinian position set by the PLO on the basis of the two-state solution is that West Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and east Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and that Jerusalem must always be one open city with no physical borders dividing it. That is also my position. I would add to it, which I did in a book in March 1993 called The Future of Jerusalem and in more detail in New Thinking on the Future of Jerusalem and in a lay version of my Ph.D. dissertation in September 1994, Jerusalem of Peace, in which I wrote, “There is an option which could enable the city of Jerusalem to remain physically undivided while the sides share or split and divide sovereignty between them through the establishment of a mechanism which creates various levels of sovereignty.”
The basis of the thesis is that in Jerusalem, which is a totally segregated city between Israelis and Palestinians, sovereignty could be split or divided on the basis of demography, or in the paraphrase later used by President Clinton, “What is Jewish to Israel, what is Arab to Palestinians,” yet Jerusalem would remain one open city. The question of having one municipality, two or three or even 10 is not a central question to the issue of sovereignty, it is more a technical question of functionality.
In my view, Jerusalem is the core of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Conventional wisdom, which has consistently failed, has been to leave Jerusalem as the final issue in the negotiations. My approach has always been to deal with Jerusalem first. If we can agree on solutions for Jerusalem, every other aspect of the core issues in conflict will become easier. Jerusalem’s future requires agreement. I believe the Jerusalem municipal elections could provoke change in thinking about Jerusalem’s future and could prevent more violence between the parties and lead to the development of new partnerships that could enable future agreements on Jerusalem.
After so many years of failure in negotiations, and after so many years of violence that seems to almost always explode in or around Jerusalem, it is time for a wake-up call for both Israelis and Palestinians. For 51 years, Palestinians have largely boycotted their right to vote in Jerusalem. That right has existed since the times of the British Mandate. Palestinian voted and won the elections under British occupation. They voted and won those elections under Jordanian occupation. They have largely not participated since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967.
If the Palestinians had an alternative nonviolent form of resistance that would lead to a solution in Jerusalem, I would support it. Palestinians en masse could cease to pay their local taxes – they get very few services in return anyway. They could quit their jobs in west Jerusalem cooking in restaurants, washing dishes, cleaning Jerusalem’s streets, driving Israel’s buses, working in Israeli factories, stop working in Jerusalem’s pharmacies and hospitals, and stop providing many other services for Jerusalem’s Israeli population. They could withdraw their children from Israeli-run schools and create alternative frameworks for their own national education. They could stop going to Israeli universities and colleges and stop speaking Hebrew in public.
There are many ways that the Palestinians in Jerusalem could bring the Israeli government down to its knees. Think about the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama in 1955. It took one year to end segregation on buses there. Yes, Jerusalem is more complicated than bus segregation – but that was the beginning of a movement. Think about the al-Aqsa magnometer fiasco of last year. Palestinians refused to enter the al-Aqsa compound and organized mass peaceful prayer outside Lion’s Gate until local and international pressure forced Israel to withdraw its plans for unilaterally deciding on security measures for al-Aqsa. If Palestinians could/would organize themselves in Jerusalem for an effective campaign of non-cooperation with the occupation in Jerusalem, I would support them and it would be an enormous wakeup call for Israel, for Trump and for the world.
For 51 years, the Palestinians have advocated a strategy of participating in Jerusalem’s life, paying taxes, working for the Israeli economy, building Israeli settlements, without demanding Israeli citizenship, having no equal rights and only boycotting the municipal elections. There is no question that this strategy has failed at the local, national level and international level. Then along came Aziz Abu Sarah, a young Palestinian patriot and nationalist from Jerusalem and a group of young Palestinian nationalists who say: Al Quds is ours, we will no longer accept the status quo of losing our rights in Jerusalem. We will no longer agree to the demolition of our homes, the need to beg to have our streets clean, our schools modern enough to meet 21st century needs. We are going to stand up and non-violently take what is ours. They formed a political list for the Jerusalem Municipality “AlQuds Lana” – which means “Jerusalem is Ours” and they are running for mayor and for city council of Jerusalem.
It is impossible now to know how many votes they will get. The opposition forces in Palestine are working hard against them. But there are thousands of mostly young Palestinians who are backing them. They probably have a few thousand Israelis who will also vote for them. For me, I dream about one say seeing a joint Palestinian-Israeli list in the Jerusalem city council which will one day be the capital of Israel and Palestine under a two-state solution or the capital of a Federal State of Israel-Palestine, but until then, I see “AlQuds Lana” as a necessary wakeup call for Israelis and Palestinians. I will assist these young Palestinians as much as possible and as much as they want me to help them, and I will vote for them in the upcoming elections. Israelis and Palestinians are in and are a central part of what makes Jerusalem what it is. We must learn to appreciate the blessing of the diversity of this city and celebrate it. Then Jerusalem will be worthy of being called a city of peace.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.