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Palestinians Already Compromised on the Holy City

Middle East: Clinton's praise of the Israelis on the Jerusalem question ignores concessions made going into Camp David.

August 03, 2000|FAISAL HUSSEINI | Faisal Husseini is the senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Jerusalem

The Palestinian team left Camp David last week sorely disappointed--and genuinely surprised. For almost a decade now, we have encouraged the United States' involvement in the peace process, convinced that the participation of an objective third party would help to correct the profound imbalance of power between the parties and give us all greater confidence that any agreements reached would be promptly and fairly implemented. We had come to Camp David hoping that President Clinton would act with the sound judgment and fair-mindedness that had been instrumental in bringing the parties together in the past.

So we have been baffled by Clinton's remarks at the end of the summit and in recent days. First, he announced in no uncertain terms that Israel had "moved forward more from its initial position" on Jerusalem than had the Palestinians. Then he raised the specter of authorizing the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and suggested that our relationship with the U.S. would be adversely affected if we did not make further concessions.

As we work to determine how best to proceed at this difficult juncture, we think it is important to respond to Clinton's comments. Are we, the Palestinians, being inflexible regarding Jerusalem? What is a fair compromise?

Here are the facts:

Israel took control of West Jerusalem in 1948, expelling approximately 25,000 Palestinians from that part of the city. After seizing the remainder of the city in 1967, Israel dramatically expanded its municipal boundaries into occupied East Jerusalem, effectively annexing vast areas of what had been Palestinian land. The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned Israel's efforts to change the legal status of the city, and the international community has continued to decline recognition of Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, East or West.

For the past 30 years, however, Israel has ignored international opinion and has undertaken construction of settlements on a massive scale. At the same time, it has placed strict limits on Palestinian construction in Jerusalem, imposed a permanent military closure on Jerusalem and enacted legislation to force Palestinians to emigrate from the city.

Now, as a "compromise," Israel offers Palestinian residents of Jerusalem a small degree of control over municipal matters in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, in return for Palestinian agreement to Israeli sovereignty over all of the city and Israeli control over zoning and land use. Meanwhile, many Israeli politicians loudly protest even this proposal as they refuse to relinquish any control over the city.

We Palestinians do not seek to divide Jerusalem; the city already is divided. Instead, we recognize the interests of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and seek to share the city.

In negotiations at Camp David and elsewhere, we have expressed willingness to reach an agreement that would give Israel sovereignty over all of West Jerusalem in exchange for recognition of Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem. We have proposed establishing an open city, giving all Palestinians and Israelis, as well as their visitors, free access to all parts of Jerusalem, with each side retaining the ability to regulate access from the city to other parts of its territory. We also have been willing to consider establishing special arrangements for the Holy City that would not only guarantee access to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites but also would satisfy all concerned interests and promote peaceful relations among the city's diverse ethnic and religious communities.

Thus, we Palestinians have not been unwilling to compromise on Jerusalem. We simply cannot abide by arrangements that would sever the political, spiritual and economic capital of the Palestinian people from the independent state that we have been striving for so long to establish. If our proposals do not reflect a "move forward" from our initial position, it is simply because we stand by our conviction that the Jerusalem of the future should not be a relic of the sectarian politics and ultra-nationalist ideologies that have divided us in the past. It should be a symbol of equality and tolerance for Palestinians, Israelis and all other advocates of peace.

Israel demands sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. We seek sovereignty only over East Jerusalem. Who is being inflexible?

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