Palestinian-American scholar Rashid Khalidi is a quiet, mature leader on the issue who should be in the Obama braintrust but has been exiled because he challenges the orthodoxy. The other night at Columbia University he gave a talk on the Mamilla cemetery desecration in Jerusalem, undertaken by the Simon Wiesenthal Center so as to build a "Museum of Tolerance" over Muslim graves from 800 years ago, then explained the project in the context of Jerusalem. Though Mamilla is in West Jerusalem, Israel is rapidly colonizing and consolidating as much of the city as it can, as Jewish, because under the Clinton parameters of 2001, Jewish areas are to go to Israel and Palestinian areas to the Palestinian state. Well, if Israel has transformed Arab neighborhoods like Silwan and el Walaja and greater Bethlehem into Jewish neighborhoods, then presto, that’s the Jewish state.
Here at Foreign Affairs, Khalidi expands the analysis to show that Jerusalem is at the heart of the dispute, and that anyone who endorses the two-state solution must abide by long-dishonored principles regarding the city: that it is international in character, that its Arab population must be able to come and go freely.
One telling problem was the media’s widespread use of the Israeli terms “disputed” and “neighborhoods” to describe East Jerusalem’s status and the illegal Jewish-only settlements proliferating there. There is nothing disputed about East Jerusalem’s status under international law as understood by every country besides Israel: it is universally considered occupied territory. Similarly, Israeli settlements in the parts of the city that lie across the Green Line are in clear contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids an occupying power from moving its own population into occupied territory.
Jerusalem is the slated location for the capital of an independent Palestinian state, and this is not a matter to be haggled over as far as the Palestinians and Arab and Islamic leaders are concerned. At least 40 generations of leading figures in Palestine’s and the Islamic world’s political, military, religious, and intellectual history — ranging from generals in Saladin’s armies and Sufi saints to great scholars and distinguished judges — are buried in the ancient Mamilla cemetery, located in present-day West Jerusalem. Part of this great historic landmark is now being excavated in order to pave way for a “Museum of Tolerance” to be built by the Los Angeles–based Simon Wiesenthal Center, despite the protests of the families of those buried there and of many leading Israeli academics and organizations. Its completion would erase not only part of Jerusalem’s Palestinian and Islamic heritage but also part of the heritage of all mankind that makes this city so important to the entire world.
Today, Jerusalem is the geographic center and communications hub of the West Bank. By walling the city off from its Arab hinterland and building fortresslike settlements in concentric rings around the city — and, increasingly, within its remaining Arab neighborhoods — Israel has succeeded in fragmenting and isolating Arab population centers within the city. These settlements also hinder the flow of north-south traffic through the West Bank, leaving Israel as the master of a terrain speckled with tiny Bantustan-esque islands of Palestinians….
When it comes to Jerusalem, a final-status negotiation that begins from the status quo — the result of successive Israeli governments establishing settlements as faits accomplis — will be unacceptable to any Palestinian leader. Even a return to the status quo ante of 2000 is insufficient, given Israel’s aggressive reshaping of Jerusalem’s surface and subterranean landscape since the 1980s. One need only walk through the streets of Jerusalem with a sense of what they once looked like to understand how takeovers of key buildings; strategically placed new housing developments, roads, and infrastructure; extensive archeological excavations; and the digging of a vast network of tunnels under and around the Old City were intended to fragment Arab East Jerusalem and permanently incorporate it into Israel.
In the end, only a negotiation in which all of Jerusalem is placed on the table will suffice.