Dividing Jerusalem, we are universally assured, is an essential condition for peace. Tellingly, most of the exhorters do not live in the city, and will not be harmed if their prescriptions prove wrong, as predictions about the future sometimes are. Yet the approaching disaster of dividing Jerusalem is easy to foresee. It's merely a matter of logic.
Here's a series of logical scenarios.
1. Schengen. Peace between Jews and all Muslims.
Following a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, including a division of Jerusalem, the entire Middle East will swiftly come to look like Europe. Israel and its neighbors will live in peace, and no Muslim terrorists will take advantage of the open borders to infiltrate Palestine and attack Israelis. With everyone mutually respectful and committed to peace and well-being, it will be possible to do away with hard borders, so their precise position won't be important. Think Saarbruecken: a small German town nestled in the hills, far from other German towns but on the French border. People commute regularly and the public transportation signs are bi-lingual. The police on both sides cooperate, their laws are similar, and there is no nearby jurisdiction where a criminal could hide.
It's surprising how many people believe it's possible. Solve the Israel-Palestine conflict and peace will reign throughout the Middle East. Far more people implicitly believe, and they include some of the world's most powerful people. We know this because it's the only scenario in which the division of Jerusalem really could work, and advocates of division are so numerous.
2. Austria & Slovenia. Peace between all Israelis and all Palestinians.
The Cold War frontier used to run along what is now the Austrian-Slovenian border. In the 1990s Slovenia detached itself from Yugoslavia and joined the EU including Schengen. There is now no effective border between Slovenia and Austria, but there's a hard one between Slovenia and Croatia, both of which used to be Yugoslavia. Schengen indeed has no internal borders, but its external ones are patrolled in the name of the entire club - otherwise humanity would pour in, and the Europeans can't have that.
Applied to Israel-Palestine, this logical scenario means Israelis and Palestinians rely on each other to keep out the rest of the neighborhood. There is complete trust between them, and intruders are blocked on either border for both. Ethnic Palestinians in Jordan, say, cannot cross into Palestine unless Israel is willing to have them on its streets. Should this fail, and unwanted people enter Israel through the Palestinian side of Jerusalem, Israel will have to erect a fence through the middle of town. More on this below.
3. Island Jerusalem (1). Peace between Israel and most – but not all – Palestinians.
In this logical scenario we imagine an uneasy peace between Israel and Palestine, with a hard mutual border. Since dividing Jerusalem isn't meant to entail walls and barbed wires, and many Palestinian Jerusalemites will wish to continue working and playing on the richer Israeli side, the mutual border envelopes the entire city, with the rest of Israel and the rest of Palestine outside it. Island Jerusalem, divided by a mere line, but walled off from everywhere else.
In practice people will be checked whenever they go from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem, and from Ramallah to alQuds. Moreover, the hard border will be patrolled by joint police forces, with Israeli policemen at the checkpoint on the road from Ramallah… perhaps where the current one is, at Qalandia? The sovereign Palestinian police at Qalandia will be required to check the Palestinians on their way to their own capital, so as to protect the Israelis. How long will it take for the Palestinian police to be lax at their distasteful job, and for the Israelis to begin building a fence through the divided city?
4. Island Jerusalem (2). Peace between Israel and most – but not all – Jerusalem Palestinians
The assumption that the rejectionist Palestinian elements will all live outside Jerusalem is plausible only as part of an exercise of logic. What if some live inside, with no border between them and hundreds of thousands of Israelis? And no: this is not the present situation, because currently, while the Palestinians of East Jerusalem do enjoy freedom of movement throughout the city and throughout Israel, they all live under Israeli law, enforced by the Israeli police (some of whose officers are Arab, of course). The Palestinians of Jerusalem mostly didn't participate in the second Intifada, but a few did. Those few murdered many civilians, before the Israeli authorities tracked them down. That won't happen if the Palestinian parts of Jerusalem are beyond the jurisdiction of those Israeli authorities. So this scenario also leads to a fence through the city.
5. Island Jerusalem (3). Peace between rich and poor Jerusalem
To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single place in the world where a rich and developed nation has an open border with a poor nation. Israel is a rich, developed country. With peace it will shoot to the top of the worlds' charts and breathe down the necks of the Scandinavians. The Palestinians won't be in the same class for a long time. There are lots of cities with rich areas abutting on poor ones, but they're always policed by one police force operating under the same set of laws. Having a separate police force, with separate laws, has never been tried, for all the obvious reasons, not even in places where there isn't a century of bad blood. Yet we're assured that in Jerusalem it will be the harbinger of peace and tranquility.
6. Gorizia. A Cold War peace. At the end of WWII the hinterland of Trieste was transferred from Italy to Yugoslavia. The line was drawn, as usual, by distant officials, and it went straight through the Italian town of Gorizia. What had once been a single town now straddled the Iron Curtain; the Yugoslavian side was named Nove Gorice, New Gorizia. The Jewish synagogue was in Italy, the Jewish cemetery was across the border.
Yet Gorizia isn't Jerusalem. With the exception of the locals, no-one has ever heard of it. It ignites no passions, and offers no historic or religious symbols. The border ran in a straight line, leaving no untidy intertwining enclaves. The people on both sides probably regretted not being able to cross, but they soon went about their business and forgot about life on the other side.
None of this can happen in Jerusalem. The town is too central for all the actors, the populaces of both sides too invested in the single city. The Israeli side offers the Palestinians a university, several colleges, the large commercial centers, parks, all the real hospitals, and of course most of the employment and income. The Palestinian side contains the most important places on earth for the Jews. Shutting everyone out will mean disaster, not peace.
7. Beit Jalla. The peace unravels.
The events of autumn 2000 have seared an irreversible scar on Israeli memory. There are contradictory versions of what really happened, so let's use the Palestinian narrative. Summer 2000 saw Yasser Arafat heroically resist an Israeli-American attempt to foist unacceptable peace terms on the Palestinians. A few weeks later the talks were renewed, and late in September Arafat visited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at his home; they made a joint phone call to President Clinton to assure him of their commitment to reaching peace. Later that week Ariel Sharon took his walk on the Haram elShariff and all hell broke loose; the El-Aqsa Intifada had begun.
According to this narrative, the violence wasn't premeditated nor centrally steered. It was the expression of popular anger. Within hours Israeli and Palestinian gunmen were killing each other. By the third day Palestinians were machine-gunning the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo from the nearby town of Beit Jallah.
What if someday, a month or a decade after peace is declared, popular Palestinian frustration again expresses itself in violence? Beit Jallah is a mile from Gilo; Palestinian Abu Tor is – literally – five feet from Jewish Abu Tor. It took the IDF months of military action which included destroying homes in Beit Jallah before the Palestinians desisted from their attacks. Given the terrain in AbuTor, or Beit Safafa and Pat, or Beit Yisrael and Bab el-Zahara – all on the Green Line – the only way to force angry Palestinians to desist from violence would be to conquer the Palestinian part of the city, in brutal house to house combat. Smack in the center of Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive spots on the globe.
There is every reason to expect that this Israeli gesture or that expression will infuriate some Palestinians someday. The leaders may sign a peace document, but the grievances won't be forgotten, and the refusal to accept the Jews' fundamental right to a state in their ancestral homeland is axiomatic for the Palestinians. They may grudgingly accept the fact of Israel's existence, but they will continue to feel it was wrongly foisted upon them; the resulting animosity will not dissipate anytime soon.
Blithely dividing Jerusalem will eventually create a replication of Sarajevo in the early 1990s. A hell-hole where civilians were shot down in the streets, and an Olympic stadium was turned into a cemetery for thousands. Except that a battlefield in Jerusalem will incite and inflame one billion Muslims, as the slaughter of Sarajevo never did.
9. Jerusalem. An uneasy but beneficial status quo.
No-one, but no-one, ever says what most Jerusalemites from both sides know: That the Palestinians among them are ambivalent about division. They wish to be citizens in the capital of their own state. They don't want to lose the many concrete advantages that Israel offers them: a higher standard of living than their brothers on the West Bank have; social security and national health insurance; free world-class medical care unparalleled anywhere in the Arab world; access to Israel's universities; unhampered access to its markets; freedom of movement throughout Israel. If it's the simple lives of people you're interested in, rather than grand principles, it may well be that the current status quo in Jerusalem is better than any other viable option at this time.
If it's truly peace one seeks, Jerusalem must be tampered with only when the tampering will not ignite a fireball. Later, not now. Find a creative way to reassure the Palestinians that it will be discussed, once both sides have had a generation of peace and real trust building.
(I published a shorter verion of this essay in The Forward.)
Next chapter: The Border at Jaffa Gate.