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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


GA/PAL/725
26 June 1996


UNITED STATES SUPPORT FOR ISRAELI SOVEREIGNTY OVER JERUSALEM,
JEOPARDIZES PEACE PROCESS, NGO SYMPOSIUM ON PALESTINE TOLD

The United States current policy of supporting a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty jeopardized the peace process and was a direct challenge to the most basic tenets of international law, Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco, said this morning. He was addressing the North American NGO Symposium on the Question of Palestine as it considered the question of Jerusalem.

Mr. Zunes stressed that no bilateral agreement could supersede the authority of the Security Council, which had declared Jerusalem to be an occupied city. He said the United States position had emboldened hardliners on both sides, created enormous suffering for thousands of Palestinians and threatened peace and stability throughout the region.

Ziad Abu Zayyad, member of the Palestinian Council, said the future of the peace process would rest on the negotiations concerning Jerusalem. The question of what was meant by Jerusalem had to be defined, and the principle of sharing and partnership had to be accepted. Without equal partnership, there should be no compromise.

Ibrahim Matar, Deputy Director of American Near East Refugee Aid, Jerusalem, proposed that East Jerusalem be the capital of Palestine. An agreed number of Jewish residents would remain as Israeli citizens, with their own municipal boroughs within the Palestinian municipality of East Jerusalem. Each religion would be in charge of its own holy places and institutions.

Moshe Maoz, Director of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, said the chances for a pragmatic solution on Jerusalem were slim since the recent Israeli elections. New Israeli policies could stop the peace process, revive the intifada, cool Israel's relations with Egypt and Jordan, prevent an Israeli-Syrian agreement, and reverse Israel's relations with other Arab or Muslim countries.

Following the presentations, a general discussion was held on the question of Jerusalem.

The Symposium will meet again at 5:30 p.m. today to conclude its three-day session.

Symposium Work Programme

The annual North American NGO Symposium on the Question of Palestine met this morning to hold a panel discussion on Jerusalem, thus concluding its consideration of this year's theme, "Towards a just and comprehensive settlement of the question of Palestine". It was also expected to elect officers to the North American Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine.

IBRAHIM MATAR, Deputy Director of American Near East Refugee Aid, Jerusalem, said Likud guidelines stipulated that Jerusalem was one city and would remain forever under Israeli authority. The Government would undermine any attempt to thwart that unity. It had also staked out more land in the West Bank as "metropolitan Jerusalem" -- an area more than seven times larger than the city within its traditional boundaries. The Israelis had evicted people from the old quarter to establish a Jewish quarter and had also established large fortress settlements to encircle the Palestinians.

There were now 160,000 Palestinians and 157,000 Jewish settlers, and the gap was narrowing, he said. However, despite the major impact of Judaization on the Palestinians, the land still belonged to them. His family had a large piece of property in West Jerusalem, and would not give it up. Jews were currently living in homes belonging to Palestinians in rural villages which were 90 per cent Palestinian. The Knesset building itself was located on Palestinian land, as was the memorial for the Jewish holocaust.

He proposed an arrangement under which East Jerusalem would be the capital of Palestine, with its own municipality, and the borders between East and West Jerusalem would follow the 1967 lines but be open in both directions. The Jewish quarter in the old city, the wailing wall and the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives would have extraterritoriality status. An agreed number of Jewish residents of East Jerusalem would remain as Israeli citizens, with their own municipal boroughs within the Palestinian municipality of East Jerusalem.

He further purposed that each religion would be in charge of its own holy places and institutions. Central structures would exist at an inter- ministerial level to address political and infrastructure issues. Land requisitioned by Israel but not built upon would revert to Palestinian hands. Palestinians from Jerusalem would be offered compensation or the right to return. The status of Jewish areas outside the extended 1967 municipal borders would be addressed in negotiations on settlements in the West Bank. There would also be an agreed transitional period.

ZIAD ABU ZAYYAD, member of the Palestinian Council, said that in order to complete the Judaization and Jewish control of East Jerusalem, Israel had closed access to the city for Palestinians from the West Bank. Only a limited number of building licenses were being issued to Palestinians living in the so-called unified Jerusalem, thus preventing them from building on their own land. While the Government was calling Jerusalem the soul of Israel, it had also accepted the Oslo agreements, which stipulated that Jerusalem would be an issue in the final negotiations. The Government was fooling the Israelis when it said it would never give up Jerusalem. Palestinians had a right to sovereignty within Jerusalem, in a manner to be determined in the negotiations.

Failure to reach a settlement on Jerusalem would result in a conflict between Muslims and Jews, as well as between Christian and Jews, he said. The future of the peace process would rest on the negotiations concerning Jerusalem. The question of what was meant by Jerusalem had to be defined, and the principle of sharing and partnership had to be accepted. Without equal partnership, there could be no compromise. It was wishful thinking to expect positive surprises from the new Israeli Government. On the contrary, there was a fear that everything would have to be renegotiated.

MOSHE MAOZ, Director of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, said a unified Jerusalem, as the joint capital of Israel and Palestine, was a matter of Palestinian rights as well as in Israel's interests. Unfortunately, many Israeli Jews did not acknowledge East Jerusalem as the political and spiritual centre of the Palestinian national movement. Palestinians made up a third of the city's population; any solution that failed to satisfy their national and political aspirations would not be viable, even if it fulfilled their religious and municipal needs.

Most Israelis and Palestinians agreed the city should not be divided and there should be free access to its holy sites, he said. Many inhabitants, mostly Palestinians, supported the creation of two municipalities or several boroughs within a greater Jerusalem under an umbrella council. Sovereignty and the status of the old city were the major bones of contention. Ideally, Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of the two people, with the joint sovereignty of both states, or an arrangement involving an Israeli parliament and ministries in the western sector and Palestinian ones in the eastern sector.

Another solution would be scattered sovereignty in an undivided city, with Israeli law applied in every Israeli majority district and Palestinian law in every Palestinian area, he said. Other options included shared sovereignty, functional sovereignty or divided sovereignty. Most Israeli Jews would be unwilling to accept those proposals, but some Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs would accept the establishment of a Palestinian capital in the eastern sections with other, mostly Jewish sections, under Israeli sovereignty. The Al-Haram al-Sharif would have special status as an Islamic site under the guardianship of Arab and Islamic States.

The recent Israeli elections made the chances for a pragmatic solution rather slim, he said. There were indications Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted a religious solution in Jerusalem, such as giving Jordan a role in administering its Muslim shrines. It was doubtful Jordan would participate in any solution which excluded other Arab and Islamic nations. The new policy could stop the peace process, revive the Palestinian intifada, cool Israel's relations with Egypt and Jordan, prevent an Israeli-Syrian agreement, and reverse Israel's relations with other Arab or Muslim countries. Israel must educate its public that any solution regarding Jerusalem should take account of the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

STEPHEN ZUNES, Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco, said the Clinton administration had backed away from the United States commitment to the United Nations under six previous administrations, particularly with respect to Jerusalem. It was the first administration that had refused to condemn the construction of illegal Israeli settlements in Arab East Jerusalem. It had even vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning Israel's confiscation of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem in 1995. The United States assertion that the land dispute should be resolved by direct negotiations between the parties was disingenuous, given the gross disparity in power between the Palestinians and their Israeli occupiers.

The United States embassy remained in Tel Aviv because the administration was aware of the damaging effect a move to Jerusalem could have on United States diplomacy, he said. It did not involve any recognition of the illegality of Israel's unilateral control of Jerusalem. In April 1994, the United States abstained from a section of a Council resolution condemning the massacre at Hebron, objecting to its reference to the Arab part of Jerusalem as occupied territory. In March 1994, Vice President Al Gore reaffirmed the administration's position which recognized a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

No bilateral agreement between the parties could supersede the authority of the Security Council, which had declared Jerusalem to be an occupied city, he said. No previous United States administration had questioned that fact, or that Israeli settlements in the eastern part of the city were illegal. The change in United States policy could have serious ramifications. Any failure to address the issue of Jerusalem successfully would derail the entire peace process. Given that only the United States had the power to influence or force Israel to end its occupation of the city, the current policy could threaten peace and stability throughout the region. It could discourage Israelis from necessary compromise. Only the United States and Israel supported the idea of a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty as Israel's capital.

The United States position on Israel was a direct challenge to the authority of the United Nations, as well as to the most basic tenets of international law, he said. It jeopardized the peace process, emboldened hardliners on both sides, and created enormous suffering for thousands of Palestinians. Even some of the Jewish State's strongest defenders, including many Israelis, recognized the dangers in supporting Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem.

Discussion

A participant said that there was no flexibility in Prime Minister Netanyahu's position, nor any attempt to establish real communication with the Palestinian Authority. Did that reflect a new strategy? How could a change be effected in United States policy regarding Jerusalem?

Mr. MAOZ said Mr. Netanyahu's comments could be considered rhetoric. Nevertheless, the new administration's policies were not encouraging. It would have to come to grips with the Palestinian issue.

Mr. ABU ZAYYAD, in response to another comment, said he had not rejected the current peace process. However, it was not the Palestinians' only option. The other option was not necessarily another peace process.

Mr. ZUNES said that while the military and diplomatic options were limited, Palestinians in Jerusalem could engage in non-violent resistance. As to United States policy, he had little faith that the current stance would change. People would have to mobilize at the grass-roots level. American policy was not so much determined by the pro-Israel lobby, but by the failure of a pro-Arab or a pro-peace lobby. If people cared about what was happening in Jerusalem, they needed to put pressure on their government.

Responding to another question, he said electoral politics was the least important thing to consider. Politicians must come to realize that a majority of the population supported the views of the non-governmental organizations represented at the Symposium.

In the absence of an Israeli definition of Jerusalem, was the question of Jerusalem becoming the question of the West Bank? a participant asked. Mr. MATAR said that if Israel's current strategy continued, Jerusalem would extend to Jericho. The intention was to break up the West Bank into bits and pieces. Palestinians who wanted to go from the south to the north now had to make a big detour because they were not allowed to pass through Jerusalem. That restriction had definite economic consequences.

Mr. ABU ZAYYAD said Palestinians were in a weaker position. However, under the umbrella of the peace process, they had succeeded in creating facts on the ground. Time would tell whether the Israelis really wanted peace or only to keep intervening in Palestinian affairs. Under its current strategy, Israel was laying the foundation for a bi-national State. If the Israelis wanted a Jewish state, they needed to get out of Palestine. A state alongside Israel had not been the choice of the Palestinians. However, they had accepted that in order to satisfy Israeli security concerns. Israel could not swallow 3 million Palestinians and not think it was a bi-national State.

Historically, Israel's policy had been to surround and isolate Palestinian villages, he said. It had then asserted the army was needed to protect the settlers. Now, a network of bypass roads was being built to enable settlers to travel from Palestine to Israel. The Israelis had no intention of withdrawing from the West Bank.

In response to another question, Mr. MAOZ said he was not sure the NGOs could help very much in affecting Israeli public opinion as they were not in Jerusalem. It was more important to have a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue.

Mr. ZUNES said it was his impression that, in legal terms, Jerusalem was an occupied territory. That was a human rights issue. Its resolution was in everyone's interest, as Israeli and Palestinian rights were interdependent.

Asked about safe access and travel for tourists and the creation of peace zones, Mr. ZUNES said Israelis could travel safely in Jordan and Egypt because Israeli sovereignty was recognized there. As long as Palestinians were denied the same recognition, the security of tourists would be compromised. Limitations on autonomy had resulted in a downward spiral of resentment and terrorism.

Mr. MAOZ stressed the need to deal with the roots of the problem. If those issues were addressed, it would eliminate terrorism and security zones would not be needed.

Historically, Israel's policy had been to surround and isolate Palestinian villages, he said. It had then asserted the army was needed to protect the settlers. Now, a network of bypass roads was being built to enable settlers to travel from Palestine to Israel. The Israelis had no intention of withdrawing from the West Bank.

In response to another question, Mr. MAOZ said he was not sure the NGOs could help very much in affecting Israel public opinion as they were not in Jerusalem. It was more important to have a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue.

Mr. ZUNES said it was his impression that, in legal terms, Jerusalem was an occupied territory. That was a human rights issue. Its resolution was in everyone's interest, as Israeli and Palestinian rights were interdependent.

Asked about safe access and travel for tourists and the creation of peace zones, Mr. ZUNES said Israelis could travel safely in Jordan and Egypt because Israeli sovereignty was recognized there. As long as Palestinians were denied the same recognition, the security of tourists would be compromised. Limitations on autonomy had resulted in a downward spiral of resentment and terrorism.

Mr. MAOZ stressed the need to deal with the roots of the problem. If those issues were addressed, it would eliminate terrorism and security zones would not be needed.


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For information media - not an official record