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Jerusalem after Annapolis.

by michael December 11 2007
Municipal news

As most Israel-savvy readers are no doubt well aware, Annapolis, Maryland hosted last a month a series of peace talks between Israel, the Palestinians, and representatives from various Arab countries, all emceed by the primly smiling Condoleezza Rice, a Secretary of State with a poor track record for foreign negotiation if there ever was one, and President George Bush, clearly desperate to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor with a powerfully staged photo op of opposing Middle Eastern leaders shaking hands. Never mind how the famous Rabin-Arafat agreement turned out.

The talks at times dipped perilously close to farce, with Saudi officials refusing to enter the hall through the same door as the Israelis, and while the long-term results of the meeting remain to be seen, Israel indicated its willingness to compromise on the matter of Jerusalem (vis-à-vis the Palestinian demand for East Jerusalem as a capital) - and that compromise, of course, is the talk of the town.

Anybody who has lived in Jerusalem and walked her streets and alleyways can tell you that modern Jerusalem is, for all intents and purposes, two cities. They lie up against each other, and sometimes it's not obvious where one blends into the other, but it is an undeniable fact. There is a Jewish Jerusalem, and an Arab Jerusalem, and with the exception of the odd neighborhood, the Jews live in West Jerusalem and the Arabs in East. Both sides of the city are largely self-contained; both have their own shops, restaurants, offices, and schools, and in many ways it is only municipal law (and simple geography) that binds them together. The city celebrated 40 years of a united Jerusalem this year, but it is a technical unity, not a genuine unity.

Of course, the concept of a divided city brings to mind images of the Cold War, with Berlin split in half by an ugly wall, one side flourishing under democracy, capitalism and Western largess, the other mired in poverty behind the Iron Curtain. And unfortunately the current political and developmental situations in Israel and the Palestinian Territories lead one to believe that a divided Jerusalem will mirror Cold War Berlin in many respects. And painful memories and the grim aesthetics of walls, fences and barbed wire are not the only thing to fear about a divided city - walls cannot stop Qassams, and in a West Bank and East Jerusalem suddenly void of the Israeli military, there is precious little to stop Hamas or other groups from shooting missiles into the densely populated downtown of West Jerusalem. The UN, currently busy flouting its own stern resolutions by announcing that it will not attempt to disarm or disturb Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon, clearly cannot be trusted to secure the safety of both sides of divided Jerusalem.

So what to do? There are two Jerusalems for two peoples, but how can they be separated? Like separating conjoined twins, the operation could very well lead to one side's death. And should the government decide to carry out the separation plan once an agreement is reached, the far right elements among Jerusalem's Jewish population and those living in the post-1967 neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the near West Bank, who would have to be evacuated, could well sow massive discord in the city.

What could be the solution?
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