The Conflict over Jerusalem Some Palestinian Responses to Concepts of Dispute Resolution

This paper has been written against the backdrop that Jerusalem's historical, religious and political significance to two peoples and three faiths, and its ethnic diversity, have shaped it as a city fraught with a unique mixture of conflicts, whether domestically, regionally or in¬ternationally. The paper looks at the developments in the city in the late 1980s/early 1990s – i.e., prior to the Oslo peace process and actual negotiations - and examines the various approaches and pro¬posals to solve the Jerusalem issue as well as their “real-world" applicability. The focus is thereby on main¬stream Palestinian and Israeli views and proposed solutions. The present fourth edition, recognizing the fact that since then, the Jerusalem Question has become a core agenda issue in the peace process and the subject of intense official and unofficial negotiations, discusses developments of the past ten years and explores the implications of the fact that dual Palestinian and Israeli capitals in Jerusalem as the framework for a solution has today won widespread international agreement.

Oct. 1, 2004
English / Arabic


The Transformation of the Jerusalem Conflict
Since 1993

Much has changed in the conflict over Jerusalem since 1990, when the PASSIA seminars discussed in this paper were held. Back then, no serious negotiations on Jerusalem had ever taken place between Palestinian and Israeli officials. The conflict resolution strategies debated at PASSIA at times seemed hypo­thetical, in a situation in which actual negotiations were not taking place and the questions about how to get the parties to the table were many. Over the past ten years, however, Jerusalem and sover­eignty over the city have become a core agenda issue in the Mid­dle East peace process and the subject of intense negotia­tions, both official and unofficial ones. It reflects a departure from the earlier belief - particularly held on the Israeli side - that the issue could or should not be resolved through dialogue and com­promise because the differences in values and interests were too great to be bridged. Specifically, dual Palestinian and Israeli capitals in Jerusalem as the framework for a solution has today won wide­spread international agreement.

These turning-points are well worth highlighting here in some detail. They point to the continued, perhaps increased, impor­tance of the type of problem-solving tools and creative options for a solution which the PASSIA seminars examined.

´ The Jerusalem issue becomes officially negotiable

Under the terms of the Oslo Declaration of Principles signed in September l993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) agreed to settle the thorny issue of Jerusalem in the final stage of permanent status negotiations. This marks the first offi­cial recognition by the key parties of Jerusalem’s negotiability. What exactly was negotiable and to be negotiated about the issue was not yet specified or agreed, on paper or otherwise. A pre­dominant view outside of Israel was that negotiations must cover the core question of sovereignty. But before signing the Oslo Ac­cords in Washington Simon Peres, then Foreign Minister, stressed Israel's recognition of Jerusalem's religious significance to other groups and its continued commitment to securing freedom of ac­cess to and worship at the holy sites for all faiths.[1] The Israeli government under Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres and Netanyahu alike all continued or stepped up the policy of establishing a stra­tegic presence on the ground through land confiscations and Jewish settlement. It thus sought to undermine the Palestinian claim to a capital in the Arab sector, and to pre-empt future ne­gotiations on divided rule over the city. It made clear that Israel plans to stand by its traditional position that the city is the exclu­sive capital of the Jewish state: What would be discussed were solely "matters pertaining to united Jerusalem under Israeli sov­ereignty."[2] As reflected in the l994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the Israeli government aimed to reduce the problem to a religious one involving Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations and the manage­ment of the holy sites. According to this view the permanent status negotiations would consider a religious solution for Jeru­salem, with the participation of both the Palestinians and repre­sentatives of "all the other religions."[3]

´ The sovereignty of Jerusalem becomes negotiable and a core agenda issue

The Oslo formula’s staged approach held that interim negotiations first be held, not covering or prejudicing the settlement of Jeru­salem as a final status issue. They were to result in Israeli mili­tary withdrawal from Jericho and the Gaza Strip, the transfer of power to a nominated Palestinian National Authority, and the be­ginning of a five-year transitional period of Palestinian self-gov­ernment under this Authority. The Palestinians would elect a Council and achieve early "empowerment" (self-government) in five spheres in the rest of the West Bank. The Jerusalem issue inevitably arose in these negotiations, however, because of its close connection to the questions on the table. In January l996 East Jerusalemites participated in the elections for the Palestine National Authority and a new 88-member Palestinian Council, in which they came to hold seven seats. This prompted the Israeli government to point out repeatedly that with Oslo it had not committed itself to negotiate or share political rule over Jerusa­lem. During his first year in office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak repeatedly upheld the long-standing position that Jerusalem should never be redivided. He even specified that Arab East Jeru­salem would permanently remain under Israel’s sovereignty as its capital.

The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at Camp David during 11-24 July 2000 mark therefore a significant turning-point, if not a wa­tershed. This was the first time ever that Israel officially engaged in bargaining over the sovereignty of Jerusalem with the Pales­tinians. It was also the first time since 1967 that an Israeli prime minister officially considered agreeing to a political redivision of the city. Originally the Israeli team had reportedly not planned on making significant concessions on sovereignty in the city’s core areas, such as within and around the Old City (Gold, 2001). The negotiations soon came to focus exactly on this area, however, and particularly the most sensitive Temple Mount/Al-Haram Al-Sharif site. In the words of Prime Minister Barak’s adviser on Je­rusalem at the time, the Camp David summit “became a ‘Jerusa­lem summit’, perhaps even a ‘Temple Mount summit’” (Amirav, 2002). PLO leader Yasser Arafat insisted that the entire site fall within the boundaries of the Palestinian sovereign capital, and Barak insisted that Israel retain partial sovereignty over it. US President Bill Clinton led the attempts as mediator to bridge the positions. He put forward elaborate proposals for dividing sover­eignty between the two parties over the Temple Mount, the Old City and the city as a whole, and even for dividing the function of sovereignty itself. Significantly, Barak proved willing to consider these as a basis for further talks while Arafat rejected them com­pletely. Thus the Camp David summit collapsed, largely as a re­sult of failure to reach agreement on sovereignty in Jerusalem (see Amirav, 2003). Nonetheless, it is very significant in marking three matters: An end to the long-established Israeli official posi­tion that sovereignty in Jerusalem is non-negotiable, official US and Israeli recognition of Palestinian political interests in the city and hence of the conflict’s bi-national character, and the Temple Mount area as the most intractable issue in it.

´International endorsement of dual capitals in Jerusa­lem

President Clinton’s diplomatic initiative with a new plan for Jeru­salem in December 2000 again underscored these developments. It moved much further toward the Palestinian claims, with Pales­tinian sovereignty suggested for the entire Temple Mount Area and the rest of the Old City apart from the Jewish quarter. Both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are reported to have seri­ously considered and, with significant reservations, accepted the plan, minimally as a basis for further talks. This was despite the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising, the “Al-Aqsa Inti­fada”, three months earlier and ongoing violence in Jerusalem. These talks continued until Ariel Sharon became Israel’s new prime minister in February 2001. A later US-led initiative in the Middle East, the so-called Road Map of May 2003, marked an­other step. Worked out by the US, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union, the plan calls for a negotiated solution to Jerusalem based on the political and religious concerns of both Palestinians and Israelis and their respective states.[4] Thus it pro­vides a framework rather than a blueprint. With the broad sup­port it has won in the world community, it signifies nonetheless an international endorsement of dual Israeli and Palestinian capi­tals in Jerusalem.

´ The relevance of the concepts explored in this paper

How relevant then are the concepts of dispute resolution today, which this PASSIA study first set out in 1990? Israelis and Pales­tinians are now formally recognised – by each other and the in­ternational community – as the two parties who will determine the future political status of Jerusalem through negotiation. The city has become officially negotiable, and sovereignty as the core issue and dual capitals as the solution have won widespread agreement. In the view of Barak’s former Jerusalem advisor, sov­ereignty over the Temple Mount is the only issue on which real disagreement still exists (Amirav, 2003). Despite this staggering progress, the official process does not seem to have been ac­companied by a real “change of heart” among significant parts of the Israeli and Palestinian communities. This makes concessions on sensitive issues such as sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Al-Haram Al-Sharif extremely difficult, and indeed any agreement potentially unstable. The collapse of the Camp David summit in 2000 and the start of the second Intifada were early warning signs that the Jerusalem problem might again become intractable. Certainly, the Jerusalem dispute and the larger Is­raeli-Palestinian conflict are now cast increasingly in non-negotia­ble and religious terms and less as a political-national dispute open to compromise (see further Telhami, 2001). The Israeli government’s decision in 2002 to build the security barrier in the West Bank confirmed this change in the eyes of many. The bar­rier stands to cut off tens of thousands of Palestinians there from access to Jerusalem, and keeps fuelling violent protests.

The official negotiation record, and the continued spiral of vio­lence and unilateral actions taking place on the ground, stand in sharp contrast to unofficial dialogues and initiatives undertaken by the two sides over the past years. These reflect the use and usefulness of the type of approach set out here – e.g., recognition of interdependence in achieving essential interests, reframing of perceptions of the other side, analysis of interests and needs un­derlying formal positions, and integration of core concerns into new creative alternatives for a solution. The now most noted among these efforts are the secret talks held between Yossi Beilin, then Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Mah­moud Abbas (Abu Mazen), a high-ranking Palestinian official and negotiator. These finally resulted, rather sensationally at the time, in a detailed informal agreement in 1995 on all the final status issues. The so-called Geneva Accords of December 2003 – an unofficial peace agreement launched by Yossi Beilin with Pales­tinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo – are very similar to the 1995 document. Two essential stipulations are sole Pales­tinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Al-Haram Al-Sharif and Palestinian concessions on the right of return for refugees.[5] De­spite the bold and detailed nature of these and other clauses, the Accords have received some support in the Israeli and Palestinian communities (the exact extent is unclear from different polls). From the UN, the US, Europe and much of international commu­nity, they have received much attention and support.

At the time of this writing, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process lies again in ruins. Once more negotiations as a way out of the abyss seem very remote. Yet there is no viable alternative. Look­ing back on the past few years, we also know now that unofficial dialogue and problem-solving between representatives of parties are needed to complement formal negotiations and to change public policy. As one Palestinian participant in the 1990 PASSIA seminars on Jerusalem put it: "If you have a model like this, being thought out and worked out and dreamed about, and discussed, and published, then that eventually facilitates political negotia­tions. The very fact that parties are brought to think through and discuss the problem, and compare options, will facilitate, and then the academic process is no longer separate from the political process."

31 August 2004 Cecilia Albin
Professor of Peace and
Conflict Research
Uppsala University


PROLOGUE TO THE FOURTH EDITION: The Transformation of the Jerusalem Conflict Since 1993





1. Analysing Positions, Interests and Needs
2. Claims and Concerns in the Jerusalem Conflict
3. Palestinian Jerusalemites Respond



1. Resolving Conflicts Over Indivisible Goods
2. Negotiating Over Jerusalem as an Indivisible Entity
3. Palestinian Jerusalemites Respond