Israel and the Palestinians must permit the international community to take part in the administration of Jerusalem’s holy and historical sites, according to a document that will apparently be presented at the upcoming Herzliya conference.
The researchers who drafted the document suggest handing over the administrative authority over the holy sites to an international supervising body.
“The strong connection of members of all monotheistic religions to the city on the one hand, and the lack of trust between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the other justifies some international intervention in overseeing the area, especially from the security standpoint and with regard to preserving the holy sites,” the document states.
“Indeed, it is more complicated to establish a special regime for the historic basin, but it is safe to assume that there is no single solution that will be accepted by both sides and by the international community. Despite the fact that the parties involved currently reject the proposal, we believe a compromise can be reached.”
The document, titled “Jerusalem’s historic basin – a situation report and alternatives for a solution,” was prepared by a Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS) think tank and will apparently be presented at the Herzliya conference on Jerusalem, scheduled for January 21-24.
'Middle East is ever-changing'
Jerusalem Institute Director Ora Ahimeir said the discussion on a solution for Jerusalem must be not be postponed until the end of the (diplomatic) process as “the negotiations doctrine teaches that delaying the difficult issues brings about pressure for further concessions and does not necessarily result in an agreement.
“We were also encouraged by the fact that raising the issue in Camp David broke a taboo, and since then policy and opinion makers, as well as parts of the Israeli public, are willing to discuss the Jerusalem issue,” Ahimeir said.
“Despite the fact that the current discussion on Jerusalem may seem detached from reality, as there is no real indication of the renewal of the peace process and bringing an end to the conflict, the reality in the Middle East is ever-changing, and the seeds of peace must be sown ahead of time so they may bloom when the time is right.”
How did this proposal come to being in the first place? In wake of the publication of the "Peace Arrangements in Jerusalem" document, which saw light ahead of the Camp David accord in 2000, researchers at the JIIS decided to follow in the footsteps of the groundbreaking document, and continue debating the issues it contained.
The team established at the institute to discuss the Old City basin included the nine researchers who authored the previous publication, as well as four other experts. The team was comprised of experts from the fields of international law, security, negotiating settlements, economics, anthropology, geography and a scholar who specializes in the holy places.
'Extreme groups may fight solution'
"The point of departure was to look into several alternatives that stand some chance of being accepted by both sides and the international community. We however did not rule out examining options that may be desired by only one of the sides… the main innovation in our work is the discussion of international involvement. We believe such involvement contains the prospects for some sort of settlement, though not in the near future," the authors write in their study.
The researchers explained they focused their attention on the Old City Basin, which includes the Old City itself and the historical sites near it. They stressed their document does not advocate one certain solution, but a series of alternatives the public and policy makers should debate.
"There are two central approaches to the question of a solution in Jerusalem," the researchers write. "The first approach recommends a territorial division of the city, including the Old City Basin, while the second seeks for a solution for the city, or the historical basin alone, which may involve a third side," they add.
"We prefer the second approach, because we believe this is a compromise both sides will find easier to agree with," they concluded.
The document discusses a series of alternatives, and points to the advantages and disadvantages of each one:
- Full Israeli sovereignty and control over the historical basin, with the possibility of granting the Arab population autonomy on some subjects, and granting a special status to places holy for the Muslims and Christian. The Palestinians and the international community are not likely to agree to such a solution.
- Full Palestinian sovereignty and control over the historical basin, with the possibility of granting the Jewish population autonomy on some subjects, and granting a special status to places holy for the Jews and Christian. This solution is likely to be rejected by Israel.
- Territorial division of the basin between the two sides, with international supervision to help monitor and settle disputes.
- Joint-management, distribution of powers in the basin between the two sides, with international backing. If the two sides fail to co-manage the area, an international body will be entrusted with the authority and with settling disputes.
- Authority over the historical basin entrusted with an international body, which can delegate powers to both sides in certain aspects.
According to researchers, the last alternative is the preferable one, and the most realistic. However, they state that an important condition for realizing the solution would be that the two sides put their faith in an international body and in its ability to run the holy sites fairly.
The writers add that extreme groups on both sides may perceive international sovereignty on the Temple Mount a desecration, and may try to fight it. Another obstacle that may impede this alternative pertains to the difficulty to enlist the support of major players in the international community, including the United States, to go along with the plan.