January 31, 2018
I was aged 12 when Israel occupied the rest of Palestine. In the summer of 1967, Israel conducted a census and those of us living in Jerusalem were issued residency ID cards different than the rest of the Occupied Territories. Israel had unilaterally expanded the municipal boundaries and annexed East Jerusalem. Not a single country has recognized this annexation, but for us Jerusalemites our status has been in limbo. We are permanent residents in Israel but not citizens of Israel; we hold Jordanian passports but we are not Jordanian citizens; we are part of the Palestinian people but we are not allowed to connect with the Palestinian leadership.
Today, there are 330,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem, making us 37 percent of the population of the entire city, yet we continue to await a solution of our status. Israeli civil law applies to us and we pay Israeli taxes, but we are not represented in the Israeli Knesset — yet another case of taxation without representation.
When Israel was established, its declaration of independence alluded to the UN Partition Plan of 1947 as the legal basis for its establishment. UN Resolution 181 specifically reiterated Jerusalem’s special status as “corpus separatum” and mandated that it should be given special international status. Diplomatic missions (including that of the US) that have been based in Jerusalem for decades act independently of Israel and communicate directly with their capitals because of this special understanding of a unique city, which is holy to three world faiths.
When the Madrid Peace Conference was being organized, former US Secretary of State James Baker III sent a letter of assurance on Oct. 18, 1991, insisting to Palestinians that their city would be part of final status talks. “It remains the firm position of the United States that Jerusalem must never again be a divided city and that its final status should be decided by negotiations.” Baker, who served the Republican administration of George H. W. Bush, assured Palestinians that Jerusalem was in play and, based on that, they went to Madrid and later reached the Oslo Accords. He concluded his 1991 letter with this guarantee: “The United States supports the right of Palestinians to bring any issue, including East Jerusalem, to the table.”
City’s 330,000 Palestinian residents might be political orphans today, but they are certainly not without pride and conviction about their status and future in the city where they belong.
The Oslo Accords, which were signed on the White House lawn in 1993, included the exchange of recognition between the PLO and Israel, and stipulated the process for negotiations on five permanent status issues, including Jerusalem.
Even the Israelis themselves repeatedly reiterated the need to negotiate the status of Jerusalem. In Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ Oct. 11, 1993, letter to his Norwegian counterpart Johan Holst, he made the following statement: “Dear Minister Holst, I wish to confirm that the Palestinian institutions of East Jerusalem and the interests and well-being of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are of great importance and will be preserved.” Since then, Israel has reneged on that promise and has closed 22 Palestinian institutions, including Orient House and the East Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce.
The fact that the issue of Jerusalem has been a hard nut to crack doesn’t give one side the right to take it off the table. Clearly, the status of Jerusalem is a sensitive one that parties need to find creative solutions for through negotiations.
Since being included in that census of 1967, my family and I have had a hard time keeping our residency, as Israel has worked hard to try and drive Jerusalem’s Arabs away. Nearly 15,000 Palestinians have lost their residency rights and many, like my two daughters, are having a hard time simply registering their Jerusalem-born children and ensuring that they have rights in Jerusalem. My daughters married men from Bethlehem and Ramallah and, as such, they have to go through a rigorous process that takes years simply to prove their connection to the city of Jerusalem, in order to have a proper birth certificate and residency rights in the town where they were born.
Donald Trump can say as much as he wants that Jerusalem is no longer on the table. His attempts at trying to bribe Palestinian leaders to surrender Jerusalem and accept this imposition will fail, as have so many before him. Jerusalem’s 330,000 Palestinian residents might be political orphans today, but they are certainly not without pride and conviction about their status and their future in the city where they belong.
Daoud Kuttab, a Jerusalemite, is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.
He is columnist with Al-Monitor and a reporter with Arab News.