A number of years ago during the early months of the first Intifada, David Krause, who was then police commissioner, briefed the commanders of police units deployed throughout Jerusalem. He ended the briefing with a sentence that has remained engraved in the memories of all who were there – “We are now going to liberate Jerusalem once again.”

In the decade since that assertion was issued, Israel did not liberate Jerusalem “once again.” In fact the Palestinians succeeded in creating in the city’s Arab districts their own special reality – a reality seen by many as trappings of sovereignty. Orient House, which was shut down over the weekend, was only the flagship of this reality. Alongside Orient House, there were security agencies and various civilian institutions covering a wide range of fields – education, housing, culture, transport, mortgage banking, propaganda, and media. All of these agencies and institutions were directly or indirectly linked to the Palestinian Authority, which openly declined to acknowledge the commitments it had made, under the terms of the Oslo accords, to avoid any activities in Jerusalem.

All Israeli governments from 1967 onward have allowed the continued existence of this “black market” of sovereignty – a form that Ehud Barak’s government was prepared to “launder.” This conveyed a clear message to the residents of East Jerusalem – “Israeli sovereignty and rule in East Jerusalem are temporary. Israel’s presence in the eastern part of the city is nearing its end and will soon be replaced by a new regime.”

The measures that the Israeli government adopted last Thursday are intended, for the first time in 12 years, to send an entirely different message. The measures were meant to teach PA Chairman Yasser Arafat a lesson and to demonstrate graphically to the Palestinians that they might end up losing a great deal.

Furthermore, the actions of the government caught the Palestinians completely off guard and they were implemented without any clashes or injuries. The measures were widely supported by the Israeli public and drew only token protests from the international community.

However, the chief significance of these actions is that they have the potential to initiate a major change in Jerusalem and establish the groundwork that will ensure, to the satisfaction of both the State of Israel and the Jewish people, that Jerusalem will remain a united city under Israeli sovereignty. For the first time in years, instead of asking whether Jerusalem will be divided, and if so by whom, one can now turn that question inside out and ask something that sounds far more sensible: “Will Jerusalem be reunited, and if so when and by whom?” However, the golden opportunity now on Israel’s doorstep could be missed if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon satisfies himself with merely closing down Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem. If he probes the Jerusalem issue deeply, Sharon will discover that for years, many government ministries have treated the eastern section of the city as if it were truly foreign territory.

One can cite, for example, the routine monitoring activities of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (in its efforts to protect consumers) or of the Israel Police’s traffic department. These two agencies operate these activities throughout Israel, but not in East Jerusalem. One could also cite the horrendous shortages in East Jerusalem in the fields of health care, education, transport and other services, and especially infrastructure. Granted, the independent Palestinian institutions established in East Jerusalem were created against the backdrop of Palestinian aspirations for sovereignty in Jerusalem too.

Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that the emergence of these institutions must also be attributed to the vacuum produced in the wake of the withdrawal of parallel Israeli services – services that should be restored to East Jerusalem now. There are a number of individuals who will very quickly discover that the independent Palestinian institutions will return to East Jerusalem through the back door. There are those, for example, who think it sufficient to distance the personnel of Jibril Rajoub, the PA’s head of preventive security on the West Bank, from Jerusalem, without seeing to it that the Israeli police step up their efforts to serve the citizens of the city better.

There are those who think it enough to shut off the cash faucets of Palestinian housing foundations without seeing to it that housing projects are built for the Arabs of East Jerusalem. There are those who think it sufficient to shut down the social services department in Orient House without seeing to it that mother and infant care clinics, health maintenance organization clinics, centres for the care of the elderly, youth clubs and schools in the Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem are set up.

There is a two-fold justification for extensive investment in East Jerusalem. First, every Israeli government has been committed to the principle of such investment although it has avoided implementing it as a principle. Those who want to exercise sovereignty over Jerusalem cannot settle for a limited demonstration of muscle-flexing in front of Orient House and for an exclusive concern with only one segment of Jerusalem’s population. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You cannot argue that Israel’s sovereignty and responsibility extend to all of East Jerusalem and at the same time refuse to recognize – and refusing to do anything about – the enormous gap between East and West Jerusalem in terms of services and investment in those services. Investment in East Jerusalem is first and foremost a moral commitment.

Yet there is another side to the coin. In the past decade, Israel’s governments have failed to acknowledge their obligation to remove every trace of the PA and its branches from East Jerusalem. Those who are sincerely bent on attaining this goal must provide an alternative to the various services that the PA and its institutions have been delivering over the last few years to East Jerusalemites.

The negotiations that the Barak government conducted over a final status arrangement for Jerusalem fell through – however, those negotiations did establish the starting point for all future negotiations with the Palestinians. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Palestinians would definitely prefer to use the partition plan that was proposed by former American president Bill Clinton, and which was accepted by the Barak government as the basis for future talks with Israel over Jerusalem. Sharon’s recent actions are an attempt to establish a new starting point for the negotiations over Jerusalem. This is a step in the right direction but it must be accompanied by other measures as well.

This article ran on August 16, 2001 in HaAretz

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