[May 20] marked 45 years since Jerusalem was reunified, but Israeli authorities have still not decided on the future of the city. This causes great damage to the city and its residents.
Forty-five years have passed since the reunification of Jerusalem, but its future has not yet been decided. This reality causes major damage to the city, to those who care about it, and especially to its residents. The fact that the world did not recognize the reunification isn’t the only reason its future has not yet been decided. It has not yet been decided in the minds of Israelis and Palestinians; a look at the negotiations Israel has conducted makes it clear that the possibilities under discussion have all included variations of dividing the city.
But beyond that, its future has not yet been decided because of the actions of Israeli authorities with regards to their responsibility over the entirety of the city’s territory. It’s highly doubtful that the necessary steps have been taken to meaningfully integrate the Palestinian population living in these areas. In the first decades, Israeli efforts centered on implementing the reunification by constructing peripheral neighborhoods for the Jewish population in the north and south of the city. Actions that Israel has taken to meet its responsibilities to the Palestinian residents and their neighborhoods are miles away from its investment in new Jewish neighborhoods. The authorities have not exactly worked tirelessly to extend Israeli municipal service standards to the east of the city. Out of long-term thinking, the authorities chose not to invest in areas in which the Palestinian population lives, but rather to respond to burning needs only.
It has been 45 years since the reunification of Jerusalem was declared, and the enormous gap between the living conditions in the west and east only strengthens the question mark in the minds of Jews and Palestinians with regards to intentions to implement the city’s unification. Vacillation causes great damage to the city. It contributes to the continued establishment of facts on the ground, by both Jews and Palestinians, and to increased tensions between the populations. It prevents strategic investment and long-term planning, and doesn’t enable strategic action to help the city reach its enormous potential and to reflect its status as a global city. Unfortunately, we can’t assume that the political status of Jerusalem will be sorted out in the near future. But is it possible to separate the political issue from the challenge of advancing and developing the city for the benefit of its residents and those concerned with its well-being? The residents of the city, Jews and Palestinians, have national aspirations for the city and sovereignty over it, but most of them assume that the solution to the political conflict is in the hands of their political leaders. Neither Jews nor Palestinians hope for a future physical division of the city. They want to preserve the fabric of life created in the last 45 years despite the inaction of the authorities. Physical division will cause great damage to this fabric and to its potential development.
Jerusalem needs strategic action here and now to develop and advance it. Will we wait until its future is decided? Can we separate the geopolitical future of the city from its development and prosperity for all of its residents and those concerned for it? And is it possible to consider a future agreement between us and the Palestinians that keeps Jerusalem open and undivided, for the sake of all those who care about it?
The author is Director General of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies