By Meron Benvenisti
February 06, 2007

The date on which we will mark the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank in the Six-Day War threatens to inundate the public with endless summaries, assessments and political plans. After all, who can resist the temptation of discussing this decisive historical event and its consequences? And not surprisingly, all the summaries and all the lessons learned faithfully reflect ideological viewpoints that were frozen somewhere in the 1970s and have not changed in spite of the passing of time and in spite of the radical changes that have taken place on the ground.

Naturally, the summaries are focused on Jerusalem, whose “unification” is still seen as significant, as opposed to the “liberation of Nablus and Hebron, the cradle of the nation,” whose mention has long since become an embarrassment and a problem to be gotten rid of, except, of course, in the eyes of extremist circles.

When it comes to Jerusalem, it is as though time had stopped. Issues such as the demographic balance, the boundaries of the united city, or discrimination in services to the Arab population, which gave rise to impassioned debate in the political establishment and among the public, continue to attract attention even after 40 years, and define the political affiliation of those engaged in the debate.

The question of whether, shortly before his death, Teddy Kollek was for or against the division of the city, arouses interest even after his passing. The municipal boundary drawn in 1967, hastily and without any farseeing urban thinking, has been poured in concrete and has become a decisive urban and political factor, whose consequences will be felt for decades. This, a fictitious formula for a demographic balance between Jews and Arabs, continues to serve as a dominant factor in city planning, as new generations of scholars and politicians continue to discuss the same dilemmas that engaged their older, tired colleagues, and prove that time solves nothing. The enigma of Jerusalem has thus remained unsolved.

The need to prove positive thinking is leading to the discussion of ostensibly revolutionary ideas: If once people believed that maintaining a Jewish majority in Jerusalem required practical steps to attract Jews to the city, or at least a fight against desertion by Jews, now they are daring to undermine the most sensitive issue, the unification of the city, and are preaching in favor of subtracting borderline Arab neighborhoods, thus artificially reducing the number of Arab residents and ensuring that the “proper balance” is maintained.

Anyone who dared to suggest similar ideas in the 1970s was condemned at the time as a traitor. Now scholars are benefiting from the fact that “the taboo has been broken.” But the different attitude is only a show; it applies only to the Jewish discourse, whereas there has been no change in the attitude toward the Arab sector. Including the Arabs, like subtracting them, is dictated by exclusive Israeli interests, and the Arabs are nothing but pawns.

First they were annexed, forced to become residents of Israel, and their demographic percentage in the united city was decided arbitrarily by drawing a border that left tens of thousands outside. Now, when the mistake has become apparent, it has been decided to subtract them. What was given arbitrarily will be taken away arbitrarily, and this arbitrary behavior is getting good marks from the left-wing camp.

In 1967 the annexation of East Jerusalem was presented as a liberal step, which equalized the services in both parts of the city. By contrast, in 2007, subtracting parts that were annexed (along with their residents) is seen as a peace-building effort and as a solution to the problems of Jerusalem. Nobody is asking the opinion of a quarter of a million Palestinians.

The petrifaction of the public discourse regarding Jerusalem is not surprising. After all, the Israeli approach, which demands the right to set the conditions as well as dictating their interpretation, has not changed, and therefore the summaries and the assessments for the 40th anniversary will be for the most part preaching to the converted.

The symbolic date that is approaching need not serve as an excuse for scientific publications and academic conferences, but should be a focus for political activity to break the Israeli monopoly on the organization of life in the shared city. The Palestinian public, which is caught between the separation wall and the Jewish neighborhoods that do not want it nearby, and which is neglected and discriminated against, must announce the creation of a separate municipal authority, which will offer to cooperate with the Jerusalem municipality, but will operate even without it. This voluntary body will receive assistance from international groups as well as support from a substantial part of the Jewish citizens of the city.

Several Palestinian think tanks have planned a Palestinian municipal authority in Jerusalem down to the last detail. The time has come to implement these ideas. The Jewish public must enlist in this struggle, which could end 40 years of aggressive domination and begin a new era in Jerusalem, one of balanced relations.

Meron Benvenisti …

… is an Israeli political scientist who was Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek from 1971 to 1978 and administered East Jerusalem and its largely Arab neighbourhoods. He has long been a critic of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip AND IS AN AVOCATE OF THE IDEA OF A BINATIONAL STATE.
Benvenisti has been a critic Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan arguing that it will lead to a “bantustan model” for Gaza and the West Bank and create an apartheid Israel. He warns that the plan will ultimately fail and “the day will come when believers in this illusion will realise that “separation” is a means to oppress and dominate, and then they will mobilise to dismantle the apartheid apparatus.”
Benvenisti established the West Bank Databank Project in 1982. He writes a column for Haaretz and has written several books


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