Journal Entry #5


5 years ago

Discuss the various solutions since the 1930s to resolve the status of Jerusalem.

The city of Jerusalem is central to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, both the embodiment of and a part of the forces of nationalism, religion and ethnicity that constitute the core issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is a city fractured by ethnic lines; both physical and psychological borders divide the city into a particularly complex division of its Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Arab and Israeli inhabitants. Many solutions have been proposed to resolve the status and authority over Jerusalem, but with Jerusalem being a city that maintains fundamental links to apparently oppositional religious and national claims of both the Palestinians and Israelis, a solution that does not address Jerusalem’s recent history in the context of the conflict would seem unlikely to succeed. The current ambiguous and unstable nature of Jerusalem’s political and jurisdictional situation proves that past official solutions have failed to comprehend the endurance of Jerusalem’s meaning and importance to both sides of the conflict.

However, while a viable option to resolve Jerusalem’s status has not been reached yet, it does not necessarily predicate that one does not exist. This essay maintains that the road to peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict starts with a measured approach to Jerusalem. Its core significance to both sides likely indicates that there can never be a durable peace in the Middle East without a solution to the status of Jerusalem that is acceptable to both the majority of the Israelis and Palestinians. Although solutions put forward by the UN and other major world powers have failed to negotiate a peace within the city, this paper maintains that solutions proposed by the wider academic circle hold the key to stability in Jerusalem and the Middle East. This essay proposes to examine and discuss key alternatives to the solutions put forth by the UN that might prove valuable candidates in bringing peace to Jerusalem: partition and power sharing in the form of consociationalism.

At the end of the British Mandate period (1920 – 1947), the UN issued its key solution to Jerusalem’s administration of the Holy Sites and its judicial law. The solution proposed that Jerusalem would come under the authority of an international trusteeship, where the city itself was to become a neutral, demilitarized zone. Legislative powers over the city were to be conferred on a Legislative Council, this to be elected by the residents of the city, where the UN Governor would maintain the power to veto any laws inconsistent with the Statute of Jerusalem. This proposal essentially made Jerusalem an international zone that was to be administered by people ‘outside’ the forces of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The solution was based upon the following:

The International Trusteeship System is proposed as the most suitable instrument for meeting the special problems presented by Jerusalem, for the reason that the Trusteeship Council, as a principal organ of the United Nations, affords a convenient and effective means of ensuring both the desired international supervision and the political, economic and social well-being of the population of Jerusalem… Religious peace in Jerusalem is necessary for the maintenance of peace in the Arab and in the Jewish States. Disturbances in the Holy City would have far-reaching consequences, extending perhaps beyond the frontiers of Palestine.[1]

Although the solution was never put into effect – the later outbreaks of conflict between the two sides in 1948 would result in a highly partitioned and divided Jerusalem – the premise upon which the UN resolution was based seems to have largely ignored the existing realities concerning the struggle for the right of recognition and justice on behalf of both sides. It did not address the Palestinian claim that history had brought injustice that needed to be restored, or the Israeli position that sought to establish the State of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital. The solution may have been effective in stabilizing the situation in Jerusalem for a short period of time, but with its lack of contextual sensitivity the forces of nationalism on both sides would have eventually won out resulting in a return to conflict.

As such, since the UN proposal, ongoing internal conflicts have resulted in a Jerusalem that is a far cry away from that of 1947.  The actions of late 1948 saw Israel and Jordan each claim sovereignty over one side of the city – Israel came to rule the West and Jordan the East, whereupon the UN recognized Israel as a independent country. And the situation was further drastically changed during the 1967 war that led to Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and their consolidation of the West Bank. It is now a Jerusalem that is very much divided along ethnic borders and sees two jurisdictional authorities in direct confrontation. Even if a unique international jurisdiction could apply to Jerusalem now, it is unlikely that such a proposal would be endorsed by either side: the losses for the Palestinians are too great to ignore and the gains for the Israelis too large to hand over to an international regime. The long and turbulent past of this city’s history coupled with the reality of daily life in Jerusalem now entangle the city’s population, compromising the source of the conflict and indeed the key to its resolution.

The problem that presently faces the Israelis and Palestinians is how to reach a political and urban solution that strikes a balance between questions of justice, international legitimacy and existing reality.[2] Indeed, the arrangements that will dictate the future status of Jerusalem must incorporate the multi-dimensional and geo-political aspects of the city’s functioning. Two alternatives have been theorized to achieve these goals: partition and consociationalism.

Partition has often been suggested as the only solution to resolve the conflict in Jerusalem.[3]This schematic seeks to territorially divide differing ethnics groups in order to provide independence and legal separation. The current situation in Jerusalem would render this ideology as particularly effective – a geographical division would most logically result in an Israeli West and a Palestinian East. However, while partition has the potential to result in a construction of a real physical international border, Rassem Khamaisi has theorized a slightly less drastic version that would divide the city’s sovereignty between two clearly defined and separate geo-political entities without physically separating the city. Khamaisi proposes, from a pro-Palestinian standpoint, the idea of an ‘open’ Jerusalem that would be administered according to a geopolitical separation that would require limited coordination from the two parties.

In essence Khamaisi’s proposal would see East Jerusalem under Palestinian State sovereignty and West Jerusalem under Israeli rule with the entire city functioning as one urban space that would provide freedom of movement for its inhabitants. On this form of authority Khamaisi writes:

This (Jerusalem) would be divided into two national geopolitical units, with two municipalities, each with regulations, bye-laws and policies that are formulated independently, but that are similar in content and application. It is therefore essential that the two political and administrative units in Jerusalem, the Palestinian and the Israeli, coordinate, so that a joint, unified, urban and occupational space under joint sovereignty emerges.[4]  

Khamaisi posits an interesting potential solution. The ‘partitioned’ state that he suggests is not too far away from the political and ethnically divided Jerusalem that currently exists. In ensuring the recognition of both an Israeli and Palestinian political authority, it is a theory that would adequately recognize both sides’ claims to the city and Palestine, acknowledging the unique religious and historical status of the city to both religions. However, in regards to the Old City and the Holy Sites therein, Khamaisi maintains these would fall under Palestinian rule.

While this theory provides religious and political autonomy to both sides, this essay proposes that Khamaisi’s idea of partition is not a generally acceptable solution for Jerusalem. To begin with, a unified Jerusalem should be seen as the single means to truly guarantee freedom of access to Jerusalem’s holy sites. Under Khamaisi, these would fall under Palestinian rule, a solution that would likely be an impossible compromise for the Israelis. And while this form of partition may not drastically cut a physical barrier through Jerusalem, with the continuing growth of ethnically heterogeneous neighbourhoods on both sides of the city, a partition of any kind would seem extremely difficult.

This essay proposes that a peaceful solution in Jerusalem might be achieved through a system of power sharing known as consociationalism. There have been many recent scholarly studies suggesting that this form of government may work effectively in not only resolving the Jerusalem question, but also the wider Arab-Israeli conflict. Arend Lijphart chiefly theorized this model in 1977, with a key recognition that the ethnic and cultural divisions within any given society could never be eliminated.[5] As such, this particular political system of consociationalism is run on the basis of compromise and power sharing between the constituent ethnic groups, avoiding a majority rule.

Consociationalism seeks to ‘institutionalize’ divisions through a number of measures: the sharing of power over a large number of political parties; a fair distribution of power through proportional representation and territorial decentralization; and providing the minority group with the power to veto.[6]Without erasing the differences between the two sides, this form of government can act as a means of reconciliation in a city where these two highly divided communities have no other alternative but to live together in one common space. It will not reverse the changes to the city since 1967, but also does not crucially consolidate Israeli rule over the annexed territories.

This idea of consociationalism has been quite effectively implemented in the city of Brussels, which Jozefien Van Damme suggests could act as an example on which to base a similar model for Jerusalem. Brussels is often paralleled to Jerusalem in its ethnic diversity between the Dutch and Flemish inhabitants of its city.  After 25 years of conflict between these two groups, a highly intricate form of consociationalism was developed to issue authority over the city, which to this day, is still in effect. There are two key aspects to the Brussels’ government which could serve as an example for that of Jerusalem: firstly that the administration of the city is based on a division of power between institutions that does not predicate a link to a territorial base; and the composition of these institutions and decisions allows for the protection of minority groups.[7]

This form of government would be particularly effective in implementing specific tools of conflict resolution to provide an answer to the highly ‘polarized’ city of Jerusalem. Van Damme suggests that a power sharing authority along these lines could be based on a ‘horizontal’ rather than ‘vertical’ division of power – a power that is not territorially based but rather functionally dependent on a variety of authorities.[8] John Whitbeck presents a similar theory in which Jerusalem would be ruled by a joint and undivided sovereignty that would function through numerous local municipal administrations.[9] Under both concepts, the authority to the city would fall under both Israeli and Palestinian rule.

Indeed, the ‘Brussels solution’ model is an extremely appealing resolution to the Jerusalem problem. The history of this theory, and its ability to work in a city that experiences similar ethnic divides can only heighten the allure of consociationalism as a means for a wider peace making venture to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is crucial though not to transpose this existing model onto Jerusalem, but rather adapt the Brussels’ solution to fit the unique religious and cultural aspects that surround the Jerusalem debate. While a model that proposes such a creative uniqueness is yet to be theorized by any major party, the success of Brussels demonstrates that an inventive solution to enable the sharing of a divided city is possible.

As this conflict only deepens, the time to propose and discuss viable solutions to Jerusalem is now. The key to resolving this issue may not lie within the UN or from the influence of other major world powers, but within the outside academic circle whose proposed solutions provided a viable way to address Jerusalem’s authority in ways that directly address the claims of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. As Whitbeck states, “the road to ‘interim self-rule’ may start in Gaza and Jericho, but the road to peace starts in Jerusalem.”[10] If a mutually acceptable solution for the status of Jerusalem can be reached, there is a promising hope that the other pieces of the conflict may fall into some form of peaceful unification.


Lapidoth, Ruth & Hirsch, Mosh (ed.), The Jerusalem Question and its Resolution: Selected Documents(Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994).

Khamaisi, Rassem, ‘Shared space, separate geo-politically: Al-Quds Jerusalem capital for two states’,Geoforum, v. 33, 2001, pp. 275 – 288.

Hanf, Theodor and Smooha, Sammy ‘The Diverse Modes of Conflict-Regulation in Deeply Divided Societies’, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, v. 33, 1992, pp. 26 – 47.

Lijphart, Arend, ‘The Belgian Example of Cultural Coexistence in Comparative Perspective’ in Conflict and Coexistence in Belgium: The Dynamics of a Culturally Divided Society, (Berkeley: University of California, 1981), pp. 1 – 12.

Van Damme, Jozefien, ‘Conflict Resolution in Divided Cities: Can Brussels Inspire Jerusalem?’,Dialogue, 2003, pp. 39 – 66.

Whitbeck, John, ‘The Road to Peace Starts in Jerusalem: The Condominium Solution’, Middle East Policy, v. 7, 2000, pp. 110 – 118.

[1] Ruth Lapidoth & Mosh Hirsch (ed.), The Jerusalem Question and its Resolution: Selected Documents (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994), p. 2.

[2] Rassem Khamaisi, ‘Shared space, separate geo-politically: Al-Quds Jerusalem capital for two states’, Geoforum, v. 33, 2001, p. 275.

[3] Theodor Hanf and Sammy Smooha, ‘The Diverse Modes of Conflict-Regulation in Deeply Divided Societies’, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, v. 33, 1992, pp. 34 – 37.

[4] Rassem Khamaisi, ‘Shared space, separate geo-politically: Al-Quds Jerusalem capital for two states’, p. 280.

[5] Arend Lijphart, ‘The Belgian Example of Cultural Coexistence in Comparative Perspective’ inConflict and Coexistence in Belgium: The Dynamics of a Culturally Divided Society, (Berkeley: University of California, 1981), pp. 1 – 12.

[6] Theodor Hanf and Sammy Smooha, ‘The Diverse Modes of Conflict-Regulation in Deeply Divided Societies’, pp. 32 – 33.

[7] Jozefien Van Damme, ‘Conflict Resolution in Divided Cities: Can Brussels Inspire Jerusalem?’,Dialogue, 2003, pp. 39 – 66.

[8] Jozefien Van Damme, ‘Conflict Resolution in Divided Cities: Can Brussels Inspire Jerusalem?’, p. 55.

[9] John Whitbeck, ‘The Road to Peace Starts in Jerusalem: The Condominium Solution’, Middle East Policy, v. 7, 2000, pp. 110 – 118.

[10] John Whitbeck, ‘The Road to Peace Starts in Jerusalem: The Condominium Solution’, p. 118.

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