What specific actions can be taken on the ground now to ensure a united, Jewish Jerusalem? What would a practical political program for Jerusalem’s coming two decades look like? How would it take shape, and by whom?
These were some of the questions dealt with by a forum of experts at a recent day-long conference organized by KeepJerusalem in Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. The conclusions The threats are significant; change must start from the informed grassroots; Chaim Ramon’s separation plan must be blocked; and a large umbrella municipality and much more construction are necessary.
What is not a good idea is former Justice Minister Chaim Ramon’s proposal to simply delete Arab-populated neighborhoods from the Jerusalem municipality borders. Though it appears logical at first glance, it has been shot down by local Arab leaders, military figures, and many in between on both left and right.
Left-wing spokesmen consider it “racist” and “immoral,” and say it will lead to poverty and neglect in the Arab neighborhoods.
Those on the right wing of the political spectrum say the Ramon plan would significantly worsen both security and demographics, and would whet the international community’s appetite for further Israeli withdrawals.
IDF Gen. (res.) Gershon HaCohen objects largely from philosophical-historical aspects. He first notes Ramon’s dismal record in foreseeing the consequences of diplomatic processes. In 2006, several months after the disengagement/expulsion from Gaza, Ramon said, “I believe there will be quiet. But even if there is war, it will be the IDF with all its capabilities against 3-4,000 Hamas men with nothing! If they form any kind of threat, we will conquer the West Bank in 24 hours.”
HaCohen reminds us that in the decade since then, Israel has fought three wars against Hamas in Gaza, with varying degrees of success, leaving a tremendous Hamas weapons arsenal largely intact.
HaCohen says that at issue is not merely a military or diplomatic question of war and peace: “The Arabs in this land have dreams that encompass more than just having food on the table. They have national and religious dreams, and these cannot be negotiated. The goal of ‘end of conflict,’ to which some people on our side raise their sights, is not on their agenda.”
Militarily, HaCohen notes, “what was is not what will be. The ‘state’ is not the only entity with power; ammunition and weapons are found in every corner, with no control over them. This is also why talk of a demilitarized state is simply irrelevant… To thwart terrorism, Israel must remain inside these neighborhoods, not outside them.”
One element of the plan for Jerusalem that must be immediately implemented, HaCohen urges, is that of a city police task force that will enact a proactive, comprehensive strategy in the Arab neighborhoods: “There are Arab groups acting against Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem. The police basically take the passive approach, hoping to achieve something that resembles ‘quiet’ – while in fact many areas in the city have become almost inaccessible to Jews, such as the route to Mt. of Olives. There is no comprehensive strategy. The prime minister must appoint a commander for this campaign.”
Longtime Jerusalem affairs expert Nadav Shragai also participated in the KeepJerusalem conference. Among his other objections to Ramon’s plan, he says it would lead to an acute demographic deterioration in Jerusalem: “The city has undergone two types of division over the past decades. In 1948, a fence was erected down the middle – and the city lost a full quarter of its Jewish population, people who didn’t want to live on the border. Then, several years ago, the partition wall was built. Some 90-100,000 Arabs were left ‘outside’ the wall, and within a short time, 70-80,000 Arabs moved to the Jewish side, because they didn’t want to lose their rights; those who remained in fact suffered, and became more hostile.”
Shragai agrees that a new status should be granted to some of the capital’s Arab neighborhoods: “They should become independent local townships – not part of Jerusalem, but still a part of the state of Israel. They can be like Mevaseret Zion or like Abu Ghosh, and they will then be able to govern themselves and provide services that until now they have not fully received, such as sanitation, kindergartens, and the like.”
Alternatively, or possibly simultaneously, it was proposed to finally implement the government decision of 1998(!) to create an umbrella municipality of Jerusalem and its Jewish suburbs. These would include Givat Ze’ev, Maaleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Beitar Illit, and perhaps also Mevaseret. Clearly this would improve the demographics and also enable the development of Jerusalem as a large, modern super-city, with all that entails.
The wall-to-wall objections to the Ramon plan appear to render it null and void, shot down before it even hits the ground. Far from bringing on complacency, however, it must spur us – especially here at KeepJerusalem – to continue to work on strengthening Jerusalem from within. More Jews continue to leave the city annually than arrive (though at a lesser rate than in previous years), and jobs and apartments must be made available to keep them here.
Large-scale construction throughout the city – and especially in the “new” neighborhoods in the liberated parts of the city such as Ramot, N’vei Yaakov, East Talpiyot, and more – is essential. The way to do this is for the government to take hard decisions and stand by them, even in the face of expected international finger-wagging. With the world currently distracted by Brexit and Trump-Clinton, now is the time to take our future into our own hands.
A perfect example of how not to do it is the announcement following the terrorist murder of Hallel Yaffa Ariel: Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that 42 new apartments would be built in Kiryat Arba – when in actuality he was simply recycling an old, frozen housing plan for domestic PR purposes. A more appropriate response to the recent terrorism would have been the announcement of totally new housing plans for hundreds of units in places such as Pisgat Ze’ev, Gilo, Kiryat Arba and elsewhere.
On an optimistic note, as this column was being written, Netanyahu confirmed plans to build 760 new housing units in Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim. And the population of Yerushalayim is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the country: 2.4 percent in 2014, compared to 2 percent nationally. In addition, the Jewish rate of growth is quickly nearing the Arab rate. The city’s Arab birth rate was 2.7 percent in 2014, compared with 3.2 percent a decade ago, while the Jewish birth rate is 2.2 percent, nearly double what it was a decade ago.
To take part in the critical efforts to keep Jerusalem Jewish and united, via updates, bus tours of news-making parts of Jerusalem, and more, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech’s website at www.keepjerusalem.org.
Hillel Fendel and Chaim Silberstein / KeepJerusalem.org