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Divided We Stand


"My friends don't want to be here with the Haredi, the political tension, the high cost of living, and the economic problems," Amirav says. "All of them are in Tel Aviv today. I'm staying because I love Jerusalem. But I am in the minority."

The prospect of being in a minority, in fact, is troublesome to many in the city. Nearly one third of the city's 650,000 residents are Palestinian. And when you include the city's satellite neighborhoods, the figure swells to more than 320,000, or 10 percent of the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza.

"The numbers really speak for themselves," Amirav says. "Today, 31 percent of the city is Palestinian, and they have a growth rate of 3.5 percent. We have a growth rate of 1.5 percent. So, if nothing changes, in 20 or 25 years they could be almost half the population."

Religiously, Jerusalem is an answer. But politically, it's a question: Will it become a city defined by its extremes, where the majority of its people are either religious zealots or relegated to the role of second-class citizens? Will military power, which restored it to Israel more than 30 years ago, be required to keep it?

"I have to tell you that I love my country," says Amirav, "and for me, Israel is really Jerusalem and Hebron and Ramallah, not Tel Aviv and the kibbutzim. The holy places, the land of the Bible, that's why we came here and not Uganda, or Florida for that matter. But we now have to realize there is no way but compromise. Since 1967, our policies in Jerusalem have been like the march of follies. After the war, we were already afraid Jerusalem would become a binational city. And back then, the Jewish population was 75 percent. But we wanted it to be 90 or 95 percent. And look at what's happened."

Amirav, along with other members of the commission he headed, advocates dividing the city. Not with walls or fences or any kind of physical barriers but with a clear separation of political and administrative responsibilities. "You have to realize that Jerusalem is already divided," says Dr. Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University, who is also a senior research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. "It is not a multicultural and a multireligious city. It is united now only in slogans. The borders are very soft and essentially invisible, so there's the impression the city is united, but everyone knows where those borders are. Israelis don't go to the Palestinian neighborhoods. Or they go only at great risk."

Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, goes even further. "The concept of a united Jerusalem is a total failure, and those who continue to stick to this idea have to answer for what they haven't done since '67 to make it a united Jerusalem," says Alpher, who is also a former member of the Mossad and the onetime director of political affairs in Israel for the American Jewish Committee.

"We have failed miserably to find ways to adequately deal with the needs of the city's Palestinian residents. And you have to ask why, at this point, we would still want to rule over them anyway."

West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem are not like two different neighborhoods characterized by two different cultures. The two halves of Jerusalem are more like two different nations. West, or Jewish, Jerusalem is a sprawling metropolis with an ever-spreading skyline marked by high-rise condominium towers, office buildings, hotels, and malls. As Israel's capital, it is also home to some of the country's signature structures: the Knesset, the Israel Museum, houses for the prime minister and the president, and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial.

Life in West Jerusalem flows according to the rhythms of the Hebrew calendar and Jewish law. Essentially, every restaurant is kosher; the city shuts down on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, while Sunday is just another day of the week. Even in the large, international hotels like the Hilton and the Hyatt Regency, you cannot get a meal cooked to order or a freshly brewed cup of coffee on Saturday, when use of the stoves is prohibited.

Arab East Jerusalem -- Al Quds, as the city is known in Arabic -- runs according to the cadence of the Islamic calendar. The Sabbath is Friday, and five times a day you can hear the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from the minarets of the mosques. The eastern half of the city looks quite different as well, more like a collection of Middle Eastern villages than the Westernized city across town.

Each half of Jerusalem has its own buses -- they're red in the West and blue in the East. And as a result of an odd combination of Israeli neglect and benevolence, the Palestinians have, over time, taken more and more control of their own affairs by creating and running their own institutions. They decide what's taught in East Jerusalem's public schools. They also have their own unions, as well as a Muslim legal system that handles civil and social issues like marriage.

And today, though the Palestinian Authority is officially prohibited from functioning within the city, Israelis look the other way and ignore the fact that Orient House, a stately old palazzo in East Jerusalem, serves as the unofficial Palestinian capital building, where high-ranking members of the PA and the PLO regularly gather.

"Even under Netanyahu, the PLO crept in and continued to increase its presence," says Yossi Alpher. "And many of the functions that should have been handled by the state of Israel -- judicial matters, police work, and such -- are now handled by the PLO."

Though Ehud Barak's efforts at Camp David were astonishingly clumsy and erratic, his decision to put Jerusalem on the table was not only stipulated in the Oslo agreements -- it was a reflection of the reality on the ground.

But some of the reasons for his train wreck with the Palestinians have become painfully clear. "Barak believed he could ignore Palestinian expectations during the interim period on the assumption he'd eventually make such a good offer it wouldn't matter," Alpher says. "The result was, the Palestinians witnessed Barak continuing to build and expand settlements, continuing to build and expand Jewish neighborhoods in Arab areas of Jerusalem, and there was no new territory turned over in the West Bank. In Palestinian eyes, they were getting shafted."

The Palestinians, Alpher points out, were uniformly violating their responsibilities as well. They were doing little to stop incitement and violence and virtually nothing to halt the flow of illegal weapons into the territories. Nor did the leadership do anything to prepare its people for peace.

In this atmosphere of disappointment and distrust, Barak made the enormous error of believing that he could wait till he got to Camp David to open up the most sensitive issue of all -- Jerusalem. And that he could somehow succeed in closing a deal in just thirteen days.

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