Originally created 07/31/00

Jerusalem's status



Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has every right to ask that part of the holy city of Jerusalem - the Arab eastern section - be the capital of an independent Palestine. At the same time, Israel naturally wants its capital to be in Jewish west Jerusalem. Furthermore, the world's Christians, Moslems and Jews desire protection and access to their religious shrines in this holy city.

But here's the rub: How can all these expectations be achieved?

The Camp David summit between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak focused on the overall peace process, but broke down over the future of the biblical city presently controlled by Israel.

Barak reportedly offered at Camp David broad autonomy to Jerusalem's Arabs. But Arafat feels this is like negotiating with someone over a cup of coffee who is drinking from it at the same time. Israel has been negotiating for years but, all the while, has been boosting Jewish housing in east Jerusalem to give Israel more political leverage. In 1967, when Israel invaded and seized the eastern section from Arab control, there were virtually no Jews living there. Now east Jerusalem's population is barely half Arab.

The Vatican and most countries still don't recognize this illegal Israeli occupation. So Arafat is not alone in demanding fair play and respect for Arabs who fled or were forcibly removed from the occupied territory since 1967.

President Clinton - and past U.S. presidents - should not be faulted for trying to get the aggrieved parties to sit down and work toward a solution. But the timing must be right. And Israeli security concerns have to be respected. (As an aside, Israel would be foolish to give up the occupied Golan heights - at least until neighboring Syria actually signs a peace accord.)

Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II and others over the years have advocated making Jerusalem a demilitarized international city where religious shrines are open and protected.

Arabs and Jews can work and live together, and perhaps one day even have respective "capitals" in both parts of the sprawling city. But for Israel to insist that Jerusalem always be "part" of Israel, or Arafat to claim that "the whole city" should be Palestine's capital, only stymies any future accord.