In a move designed to further its efforts towards the complete Judaization of Jerusalem, the Israeli government approved the creation of a ‘super-municipality’ for the Holy City. If carried out, the plan announced by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem on June 21 will incorporate a number of West Bank settlements and Jewish townships across the Green Line into a ‘Jerusalem umbrella municipality.’
At the press conference Netanyahu candidly admitted that the primary objective of the plan amounted to a form of government-sanctioned, yet delimited, ‘ethnic cleansing.’ He said that the plan aims at ‘guaranteeing an absolute Jewish majority by at least 70 per cent in Jerusalem for 20 years to come.’ The flip side of this demographic gerrymandering, clearly, is keeping the Palestinians as a minority that does not exceed 30 per cent of the total population of the Jerusalem municipality.
It should be noted in this regard that Israeli officials have always been perturbed by the fact that Arab population growth rate in the city stands at three times that of the Jews. Latest Israeli figures put the Arab population of the city at about 181,000 compared with about 620,000 Jews.
Incorporating the Jewish settlements inside the Green Line into the western part of the city would increase Jerusalem’s Jewish population by some 30,000. Other expected growth areas of Jewish majority in Netanyahu’s ‘Greater Jerusalem’ scheme include the illegal settlements of Giv’at Ze’ev in the north, Ma’ale Adumim in the east, and Betar and Efrata in the south. Existing expansion plans for these settlements, whose current total population stands at 50,000, aim at bringing their Jewish population up to 250,000 within 15 years.
Netanyahu also said that expanding the Jewish population of Jerusalem will also expand the tax base of the city - one of the lowest in Israel due to the fact that it is inhabited by a largely unproductive ultra-orthodox Jewish majority.
What is deeply worrying about the plan is its annexationist implications. The plan gives the Jerusalem municipality jurisdictional powers over the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. That effectively amounts to the devolution of the regional planning and administrative powers hitherto exercised by the Israeli occupation army in parts of the West Bank on to the Jerusalem municipality, an Israeli civilian authority.
The ‘Greater Jerusalem’ envisioned by the plan will comprise an area of about 600 square kilometer, of which less than a quarter lies within pre-1967 Israel. By cutting the West Bank into two separate enclaves lacking geographic contiguity, the implementation of the plan will effectively put an end to all Palestinian hopes, albeit flimsy and wobbly, for establishing a State or a quasi-state on the West Bank, with Jerusalem as its capital.
Palestine Liberation Organization chairman, Yasser Arafat, has recently expressed his hope to convert the Palestinian self-rule areas into a State by the end of the interim period (May 1999). Obviously, the plan will reduce the future functional status of Arafat’s self-rule authority from that of a Palestinian Vichy-like government into that of a local administration in three bantustan-like enclaves, two in the West Bank and one in the Ghazzah Strip.
The reaction of Arab and Muslim leaders to the plan underscored not only their pusillanimity and lack of resolve but also the impotence and pathetic weakness of the established political order in the Muslim Ummah. The leaders contented themselves with their customary clich verbal condemnations and denunciations, the latest of which was issued in Cairo on July 5 when Egyptian president Husni Mubarak met king Husain and Arafat.
Faisal Al-Husseini, the man incharge of the Jerusalem portfolio in Arafat’s Palestinian National Authority (PNA), characterized the plan as being ‘tantamount to declaring war on the Palestinians.’ He also sounded the death knell of the ‘peace process,’ telling reporters that ‘Israel has killed the peace process. What we are seeing now is not a violation of the peace process but the smell coming from a dead body called the peace process.’ Nabil Sha’ath, who holds the planning portfolio in the PNA, echoed that the plan was ‘a unilateral and one-sided measure that would corrode the peace process.’ However, neither Husseini, nor Sha’ath, nor their boss, Arafat, uttered a word about any meaningful measures the PNA was ready to take in its effort to defend Palestinian rights.
Not surprisingly, the project has drawn an exceptionally mild criticism from Washington. The US state department spokesman, James Rubin, characterised the plan as a ‘provocative step’ that ‘undermines any sense of trust and confidence between the parties.’ Rubin also expressed profound surprise at the plan which he described as ‘unfathomable . . . given the sensitivity of the moment.’
Netanyahu scoffed at the US criticism as ‘ridiculous.’ Likewise, Israeli cabinet secretary, Danny Naveh, played down the American criticism, saying: ‘We are always concerned about what the United States thinks, but when it comes to Jerusalem, we have to take our decision regardless of what others, including our friends, think.’
The ‘Greater Jerusalem’ plan constitutes a blatant violation of United Nations resolutions regarding the city and the principles of international law, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention. These prohibit occupying powers from changing the demographic complexion of occupied areas through such illegal measures as population transfers, settlement construction and the destruction of private property.
Moreover, by changing the status of both the city of Jerusalem and the settlements, the plan constitutes a violation of the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords which delayed resolving such sensitive issues as the status of Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, and borders to the final status negotiations.
It should be pointed out in this context that the plan constitutes an integral part in Israel’s efforts to preempt and pre-determine the outcome of final status negotiations over the city by the force of events and the creation of facts on the ground. These efforts were accelerated following the election of Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel two years ago.
The plan complements other well-established actions and measures designed to consolidate Israel’s control over the city and its suburbs and to increase the Jewish demographic majority there. One Israeli method to guarantee this outcome is represented by taking more land out of Palestinian hands and putting it under Israeli control through expropriation and private purchases, which are often of dubious legality as they involve coercion. Measures such as house demolitions, settlement expansion, the construction of settler bypass roads which encircle Jerusalem, approving the construction of some 142,000 housing units in areas under the city’s jurisdiction, and the granting of economic incentives to encourage more Jews to reside in Jerusalem, are also high on Netanyahu’s agenda to limit the growth of the Jerusalemite Palestinian population.
Since the beginning of this year, Israel has so far demolished more than 80 Palestinian houses in the West Bank, 42 of which were located in Jerusalem, on the pretext that they were built without permit. However, even if the owners of the demolished houses had applied for building permits, their applications would have most certainly been refused. Almost all Arab applications for building permits in Jerusalem and its surroundings are refused by both the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality and the military occupation authorities of the West Bank.
Israel’s designs for the Holy City are no secret. Israeli officials, both the so-called hawks and the so-called doves, agree on considering Jerusalem as ‘Israel’s eternal and undivided capital.’ Tourists to the city are regularly handed maps of a future Jerusalem which show a Jewish temple at the Haram al-Sharif, to the exclusion of the two major Muslim holy sites, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, as well as the Holy Sepulchre Church.
But all of this does not seem to have brought the Arab regimes the stinging ice of reality regarding the dangers posed by Israel. They continue to chase the mirage of an American-sponsored ‘peace process,’ pleading with Washington to step in and do something. But a new American initiative is the last thing they need, for it was the poison potion concocted by a blindly pro-Israeli Washington under the guise of the ‘peace process’ whose effects we now see.
Muslimedia: July 16-31, 1998