- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Initial disappointment aside, major, even revolutionary, progress appears to have been made at the Camp David negotiations. Most significantly, the Israeli taboos against any discussion of sharing or dividing Jerusalem have been shattered. It is now possible to envision a rapidly unfolding drama over Jerusalem, leading to a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace.Act One: Understanding the status quo. There is a widespread misconception among Israelis (and Americans) that Israel possesses sovereignty over expanded East Jerusalem. It does not. It possesses administrative control. A country can acquire administrative control by force of arms. It can acquire sovereignty only with the consent of the international community. To this day, not one of the world's other 192 states has recognized its claim to sovereignty.In May 1996, the world's view of the legal status of Jerusalem was concisely summarized by then British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind: Britain made clear many years ago, as did the international community, that it considered Israel to be in military occupation of East Jerusalem and to have only de facto authority over West Jerusalem.More vividly, U.N. General Assembly Resolution 53/37, adopted in December 1998 by a vote of 149-1 (with the United States abstaining), declared that the General Assembly determines that the decision of Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the city of Jerusalem is illegal and therefore null and void. A clearer understanding of what the legal status quo regarding Jerusalem really is could make Israeli public opinion less reflexively resistant to contemplating any modification of that status quo, even in return for peace.Act Two: Expanding the city. There is nothing sacred about the current, artificial municipal boundaries of the city. It should therefore be possible to agree that Jerusalem should be redefined to encompass the three large West Bank settlements of Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Givat Zeev, as well as Abu Dis and other Palestinian towns close to the current municipal boundaries.Act Three: Focusing on administration. In seeking a solution to the status of Jerusalem, it is essential to distinguish between sovereignty and municipal administration. Sovereignty is an intensely emotional issue. Municipal administration is not. Negotiators should therefore focus on agreeing upon administrative structures for an open city. This would entail delineating a certain number of local districts, both Jewish and Arab, to whose elected district councils as many aspects of municipal governance as possible would be devolved. Major matters could be reserved for coordination by an umbrella municipal council, such as could only be dealt with efficiently at a citywide level.

The fundamental principle would be that, to the maximum degree possible, Israeli citizens in Jerusalem should be under Israeli administration and Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem should be under Palestinian administration. Since there are currently no integrated neighborhoods in Jerusalem, delineating the districts should present no practical problems.

If agreement on the administrative aspects of the future of Jerusalem could be reached, both sides might then recognize that the aspects of the Jerusalem issue with a direct effect on people's lives had been resolved to the satisfaction of both sides and that sovereignty (essentially the state-level equivalent of title or ownership) is fundamentally a symbolic and psychological problem which should not be permitted to prevent peace.

Act Four: Identifying the sovereignty alternatives. There are now three viable sovereignty alternatives:

1. A pure condominium solution, under which sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem would be shared, making the city the one, indivisible and inspirational capital of two sovereign states.

2. A pure division solution, under which each state would have exclusive sovereignty with respect to those Jerusalem districts in which its own people live.

3. A mixed divide-and-share solution, under which the condominium principle would apply only to the contested core of the city (the Old City and the Mount of Olives, which opinion polls have shown to be the only parts of the city considered important as parts of Jerusalem by a majority of both communities) while the city would otherwise be divided as in alternative 2.

Act Five: Letting Israel choose. Since Israel currently possesses administrative control over Jerusalem, and since any of these three alternatives would probably be acceptable to most Palestinians if peace depended on it, Palestine should invite Israel to choose the alternative it prefers. While the drama could have a happy ending at this point, what if Israel is unable to make up its collective mind?

Act Six: Implementing the rest. If Israel's preference among these sovereignty alternatives were the only unsettled issue, a Treaty of Permanent Peace, Friendship and Cooperation could still be signed and its provisions (including those regarding Jerusalem's administration) implemented while the symbolic and psychological issue of Jerusalem's sovereignty was suspended for a fixed period (say, three years). At any time during this period, perhaps after a referendum, Israel could declare its choice from among the three identified sovereignty alternatives, with Palestine bound by Israel's choice. What if, by the end of the agreed fixed period, Israel had failed to choose?

Act Seven: Palestine's turn. In the unlikely event that Israel failed to choose, the right to choose would pass to Palestine, with Israel bound by the choice.

Curtain. End of conflict.

John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who writes frequently on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

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