Yesterday’s Ma’ariv newspaper carried the banner headline: Jerusalem – A Divided City. The timing coincided with President Obama’s visit to the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, and his speech in Jakarta in which he criticized Israel for recommencing construction in the Jerusalem suburbs of Har Homa and Ramot. As he put it, “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations.”
In refuting President Obama’s remarks, Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital city and not a settlement. He added that building projects under previous governments had not hindered Israel’s ability to reach peace agreements with both Egypt and Jordan.
However, in spite of all the rhetoric and the claim that Jerusalem is “the eternal, united capital of Israel”, the facts on the ground tell a different story.
Follow the road up from the new Mamila pedestrian mall next to the David Citadel Hotel. At the top of the hill it becomes Rehov Hatzanchanim as it sweeps down past the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame and the entrance on the right through the New Gate into the Old City. However, at the bottom of the hill it changes its name to Sultan Suleiman as it hugs the northern wall of the Old City all the way down to the Rockefeller Museum.
The change of name is not fortuitous, for this is not just another suburb. It is Arab Jerusalem. The signs above the entrances to the stores are all in Arabic or English. The crowds on the streets are Arabs shopping at the market, or waiting for the Arab buses and taxis to take them to their homes. A spattering of tourists can be seen here and there and a handful of clergymen and nuns going about their daily business, but almost the only Israelis – that is Jews – out on the streets are the armed policemen and border guards maintaining order. “Jerusalem a city united together” is far from that.
The Central Bureau of Statistics reports that the total population of Jerusalem stood at 774,000 at the end of 2009. Approximately one third of Jerusalem’s population is Arab. However, whereas Jews and non-Arabs have moved into areas that were under Jordanian jurisdiction prior to the Six Day War in 1967, few Arabs have moved in the opposite direction.
It is against that background that the construction work at Har Homa to the south of the city and at Ramot to the north should be viewed. Whereas the struggle for Jerusalem was a military one back in 1967, today it is all about demographics.
Any possible resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict will, as everyone knows, ultimately have to confront the fact that the Palestinian attachment to El Quds is not going to disappear anymore than we are prepared to relinquish our claim on Jerusalem as the eternal, united capital of Israel.