*By Danny Rubinstein*
*If we examine the headlines in the Palestinian media in recent years,
there is hardly any doubt that Jerusalem is the key issue on the agenda.
Sometimes there's talk of restrictions on Muslims worshiping at the
Al-Aqsa Mosque; sometimes there's talk of the purchase of more Arab
houses by associations of religious settlers. And at the end of last
week there were more reports of Muslim protests against the work at the
Mugrabi Bridge, and violent demonstrations at the Qalandiya checkpoint
in northern Jerusalem as well as at the crossing point to Bethlehem in
Palestinian version) separation wall and flying a Palestinian flag on it.
From the Palestinian perspective, it would appear, the main problem is
not recognition of Israel, the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the
violence and the terror or even the problem of the refugees and the
right of return. The problem is Jerusalem. Just as the State of Israel
would not be able to exist if the right of the 1948 refugees to return
were to be recognized, it can be said that a Palestinian state could not
exist without East Jerusalem as its capital.
*It is in this context that the protest to the Israeli work at the
Mugrabi Gate - both by Muslims in general and the Palestinians in
particular - must be viewed. It is true that this work does not involve
the Al-Aqsa compound itself, that the Israeli plans do not endanger
anything sacred to Islam and that these demonstrations exploit the
sensitivity surrounding religious issues to launch another attack on the
Israeli government. This was the case in the Western Wall tunnel affair
in 1996 and when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in September
2000, and this was the case in a long series of other incidents in which
Israel disrupted the status quo in Jerusalem.
Every action that Israeli spokesmen define as a measure of strengthening
the Israeli hold in the capital of Israel is defined in Palestinian and
Arab terms as a continuation of the efforts to Judaize Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have reason to be sensitive about Jerusalem, because
they are losing it. Work toward the completion of the separation fences
and the walls around East Jerusalem is nearly finished. The reason for
the separation is security. And while Israel is claiming that this is
not a political border, the crossing arrangements at the walls are
looking more and more like border crossing points between countries. At
Betunia and Qalandiya to the north, at Hizma and the Mount of Olives in
the east, and at Rachel's Tomb in the south, border control
installations have transformed primitive roadblocks into modern terminals.
The Palestinian protests on the Jerusalem issue have not stopped, but
from Israel's perspective they have become tolerable. It is possible,
with great caution, to say that there are signs of Israeli-Jordanian
cooperation on Jerusalem. In the peace agreement between the two
countries, Israel promised to give Jordan priority in guarding the
city's Islamic holy sites, and this agreement has been kept. The
governments of Israel and Jordan are careful not to give positions of
power to the Palestinian Authority in the control apparatus at Al-Aqsa,
and are jointly working to undermine the status of the head of the
Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, who is trying to become
the patron of Al-Aqsa.
Can Israel's reinforced grip on East Jerusalem advance the peace
process? The answer is no. Without East Jerusalem, a Palestinian state
will not arise and the waning dream of "two states for two peoples" will
come to an end. *