FIVE OPTIONS TO DIVIDE THE JERUSALEM CAKE
By Nadav Shragai
Daily Star – Lebanon
March 20 2006
Some Israeli political parties have openly discussed the transfer of
Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority.
But when it comes to the Old City and the Temple Mount, there is
still reticence to challenge public conventions regarding what all
agree are the most emotionally charged places in the world.
Nevertheless, Ruth Lapidoth is heading a team of experts under
the auspices of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS),
to suggest options for a settlement of this holy and disputed area
known as the “historic basin of Jerusalem” – the Old City and its
Lapidoth and her team are not the first to offer solutions for the
Old City and Jerusalem. On various occasions, concerned parties have
floated the idea of expropriating all political sovereignty from
Jerusalem within the walls, seeing it as a holy place belonging
to no one, to be governed by a joint council of Jews, Muslims and
Christians. However, the current JIIS report abandons, to a large
extent, the idea of areas devoid of sovereignty. In the majority of
its options it proposes a return to old-style partition. The five
options were recently presented to acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
and the chairman of the Likud and Labor parties.
The first option proposes full sovereignty and control of the basin
by Israel, while granting some autonomy to Palestinian residents,
and perhaps also determining a special status for Christian and
Muslim holy places. The proposal essentially institutionalizes the
existing situation, as Muslims and Christians currently operate their
institutions autonomously. This option also proposes the possibility of
granting international immunity to the holy places or to the clergymen
serving in them.
The second option is the exact opposite: Full sovereignty and control
by the Palestinians throughout the basin, with autonomy for the Jewish
residents (for instance in the Jewish Quarter) and special status
for Jewish holy places. This option would perhaps be acceptable to
the vast majority of Palestinians, but one may safely assume that
Israel would reject it out of hand, just as the Palestinians would
reject the first option.
The third option proposes a territorial division between the sides,
with international supervision. In this option, following an agreement
on boundaries, each side is sovereign and the source of authority in
the territory allocated to it. The territorial division of the basin
between Israel and Palestinians could be implemented on the basis of
a wide variety of alternate borderlines, which the team lays out in
First, the Jewish and Armenian Quarters under Israeli sovereignty,
the Muslim and Christian Quarters under Palestinian sovereignty,
and the Temple Mount included under Israeli sovereignty.
Second, the Jewish and Armenian quarters included under Israeli
sovereignty, the Muslim and Christian quarters under Palestinian
sovereignty and the Temple Mount under Palestinian sovereignty.
Third, the Jewish Quarter under Israeli sovereignty and the other
three quarters and the Temple Mount under Palestinian sovereignty.
Fourth, the Jewish, Armenian and Christian quarters, and the Temple
Mount, under Israeli sovereignty, and the Muslim Quarter under
Fifth, each of the above options, with territorial division of the
Temple Mount between Israel and the Palestinians.
The issues raised by this third option are complex, and some seem
irresolvable at first glance: for example, the request for freedom
of Jewish ritual on the Temple Mount, the issue of supervision
of construction, human rights, preservation of antiquities,
border-crossing conditions, restrictions on security matters, the scope
of judicial and criminal jurisdiction of each side over citizens from
the other side who enter territory under their control.
On the basis of this option, the two sides would grant surveillance
and oversight authorities to an international body. This body, which
would function as an “observer,” would have to examine whether the
sides carried out the directives of the arrangement.
A fourth option proposes joint management, and a division of authority
between the two sides with international backing. The Old City basin
would operate as a single unit, and the sides would share the majority
of administrative and policing authorities in the basin.
The international body would be responsible for authority in areas
in which the joint operation would, for whatever reason, fail. The
agreement could determine a period of time upon the conclusion of
which the international body would have to restore to the different
sides those authorities that it assumed.
In the fifth option, similar to the fourth, the historic basin would
“usually” be administered as a single unit, although this would be
carried out by the international body itself, and not by the parties.
Nevertheless, it is possible that relatively small areas, primarily
those holy places on which there is no dispute, would be divided
among the sides on a territorial basis. According to this plan,
which would essentially mean internationalization of the holy basin,
the international body would retain not only supervision and oversight
authorities; it would also be responsible for administering the holy
basin, and would constitute its source of authority and control.
One of the more interesting questions is who would operate
the international body? Here, again, the team lays out several
sub-options: an international organization such as the United Nations;
a multinational organization that would be established especially
for the purposes of this task; or a country such as the United States
The permanent settlement team of the JIIS did not expressly recommend
any of these options, but it does favor some sort of international
involvement in administration of the Old City, mainly in the areas
of security and preservation and supervision of the holy places. The
bottom line of the new report states: “It is especially complicated
to plan and put into place a special regime for the historic basin,
but it may be assumed that there is no other solution that could gain
the agreement of the two sides and of the international community.”
Nadav Shragai is a correspondent for Haaretz. THE DAILY STAR publishes
this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service.