The talk at the next round of negotiations will be similar to that heard during the Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Yasser Arafat, and Mahmoud Abbas era, namely a Palestinian state that includes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, except for the land that will be exchanged between the two sides. The large variety of solutions that have been discussed ensures that those taking part in these negotiations have memorized all their details, and they have almost agreed on everything except for one of the most important details; Jerusalem.
US President Barack Obama is very enthusiastic [to solve the Arab – Israeli conflict] and Egypt is getting his peace project under way by expediting the negotiations [between Hamas and Fatah]. Obama has had his first battle with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with regards to the Israeli settlements [on occupied land] and faced heavy criticism from the Israeli hardliners who accused him of bias towards the Arabs. The path to peace will not be an easy one, even though the Arabs are well aware that the choice of armed resistance is a failed choice and that there is no choice but to negotiate, and also despite the fact that the Israelis are well aware that their occupation of the Palestinian and Syrian territories does not grant them the security that they require. Therefore everybody will go to the negotiation table convinced that only President Obama has the solution to this issue.
An agreement can be found on everything on the negotiations table except perhaps Jerusalem, and here we must look to Obama’s team that wants to try a new option with regards to Jerusalem. Obama believes that rather than dividing the city into an eastern Palestinian quarter and a western Israeli quarter, the city should be internationalized and afforded international protection rather than being divided.
I asked Obama’s team whether this solution would create a problem for the Israelis and Palestinians during and following the negotiations. In their view, Jerusalem will cause a problem in any and all cases as the two parties disagree on religious grounds, as well as on the [location of] neighborhoods and cemeteries, real estate, and even the calendar. Internationalizing Jerusalem will simplify all of these complex details on which a consensus between the two parties will never be reached and which ultimately may disrupt the peace process. They believe that a consensus on all the various details involving Jerusalem will never be reached between the two parties, and that even if an agreement can be made both parties will be reluctant to sign it in fear of their opponents saying that they had surrendered their holy sites to the enemy. This therefore justifies the solution of preserving Jerusalem as a unified city but taking control of the city out of the Israeli hands and internationalizing it, allowing the city to be open to believers of all three faiths.
Will this succeed?
I do not know, but this idea is worth thinking about, and was previously put forward by the Arab side but was never politically tested. In the Taba negotiations that were mediated by then US President Bill Clinton, and which almost ended with a historic agreement between Ehud Barack and Yasser Arafat as they reached an agreement upon every issue except for the fate of Jerusalem. One of the main issues with regards to Jerusalem was the [fate of] the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Clinton supported the Palestinians, but he put forward the condition that they should not be allowed to excavate beneath the mosque as they may discover Jewish artifacts which would only create even more unrest. Clinton told them, take control of the mosque, but do not excavate beneath it. Following this issue, others problems arose concerning [the location of] the Mount of Olives, the Moroccan Quarter, and the Wailing Wall. Obama’s team is therefore trying to maintain a unified city in order to reduce the political pressures on both sides involved.