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CHAMP DAVID TALKS ON M-EAST PEACE FAILED

- BATTLE OVER JERUSALEM-

  Muslehuddin Ahmad

Two disasters happened yesterday on July 25, 2000 – Air France Concorde, a supersonic passenger plane, en route to New York crashed in Gonesse, near Charles de Gaulle air port killing 113 people (109 in the plane and 4 on the ground)  and the Champ David summit on M-East peace crash landed after having negotiated at almost supersonic speed for about two weeks. The Concorde unfortunately killed 113 people, one does not know how many would be the ultimate victims of the crash landing of the CD summit.

 As the situation stands, it would probably have been better to terminate the CD talks as President Clinton had to leave for the G-8 summit in Okinawa allowing the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return home and ponder over the issues and the progress made. A fresh summit could be arranged before the crucial date of September 13, 2000 for a final chance for peace.

But as it seems, all the three leaders  in Champ David (CD) summit were in a hurry – each one for a different reason though – to strike the M-East peace deal. Unfortunately, they failed. President Clinton, while talking to the press after the summit said, “  the two sides are not able to reach an agreement at this time” leaving the scope for further summit in a couple of weeks. This needs to be pursued vigorously as temporary or final departure of any one from the scene would make M- East peace terribly uncertain. Prime Minister  Ehud Barak  having barely survived the second no-confidence motion in the Knesset (parliament) came to Washington for the C D summit. He, however, said before leaving for Washington that “I am not going alone” to the States. “ With me is still all the wide public of Israel, citizens who hope a modern Israel can be built on peace and security, a country that is ending 30 years of ruling another people.” But the Opposition Likud leader Ariel Sharon said – the Prime Minister does not represent anyone except himself. Even former Prime Minister Netanyahu reappeared after a long time in the political scene of Israel and heavily criticised  Barak for giving away nation’s capital.

Palestinian leader Yaseer Arafat who is seemly in failing health has been facing tremendous pressure from his people to recover all the occupied territories including East Jerusalem which the Palestinians want as the capital of the Palestinian State. The Palestinian people and particularly the younger generations are getting increasingly impatient over the sluggish peace process. He has also promise bound to declare Palestinian State on September 13, 2000 regardless of what happens in the Champ David.

President Clinton has to leave the White House within a couple of months and must find a solution in order to make M-East peace the legacy of his presidency. Because of this and certainly for the welfare of the people of the region  he appealed to both Arafat and Barak to “find a way” which they could not despite best efforts.

However, with this sort of political and diplomatic background the Champ David summit started on July11, 2000. Joel Peter of Ben Gurion University said, “ Never before have the stakes been so high, the issues so complex, the leaders so weak.” As the stakes are  really very high President Clinton personally chaired some of the crucial meetings and tried to bridge the yawning gaps that divide both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Marathon meetings – many of them very late in to the nights - failed to produce the results. The parties remained divided on major issues – namely status of Jerusalem, borders of the Palestinian State, refugees, settlements etc. After nine days of intense negotiations, the news black out was lifted and it was announced that the peace negotiations have broken up without any agreement. One side blamed the other – Barak was seen as ‘behaving like settlers’ and Arafat was termed as ‘not a partner of peace’.

 However, later there was an agreement to continue the negotiations while President Clinton would be away. Though there were some progress on some issues Jerusalem became the stumbling block. President himself came to brief the press just before leaving for Okinawa.. He looked visibly tired after the night- long meetings. He said – These are the hardest peace issues I have ever dealt with. Nobody wants to give up; therefore, we also should not give up. The decision was that while President would be away, Secretary Albright will sit for the President; the negotiations will continue. President Clinton was late to leave for the G-8 summit but because of the importance of the matter he decided to return early which he actually did and immediately joined the peacetalks.

Though all four major issues are difficult, Jerusalem, as expected turned out to be the hardest of all. President Clinton emphasised on this while talking to the press and praised, though mildly, Prime Minister Barak for making some moves on the issue of sovereignty on Jerusalem from his basic “red line” which President Arafat apparently could not. Here it needs to be pointed out that it is P M Barak who has to make moves as he is occupying the entire Jerusalem and not President Arafat.

Israel wants Jerusalem to remain its eternal undivided capital. A Jewish community weekly in the US published an ad saying Jerusalem “has been the capital of the Jewish people for over 3000 years”. Similar claims were also put forward by the Israeli side. History does not substantiate such claims. The history of Jerusalem is very long and complex. Jerusalem has witnessed many wars over thousands of years. Many invaders including Greeks, Romans, Persians came, fought wars over Jerusalem and occupied it but later were thrown out by others. The Temple in Jerusalem appeared to be the main target. Among many attacks one can site the destruction of the Temple by Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, when the Jews were taken into captivity. The return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity took place in about 520 BC and they rebuilt the Temple but the final destruction of the Temple was under Titus in 70 AD.

With this sort of long and complex history where all three religions – the people of the Faith are involved, the negotiations will obviously be highly difficult and unless the descendants of Abraham decide to be flexible and try to share the remains of history equitably, the peace can not be achieved.. Jerusalem is undoubtedly sacred to all three religions but the religious sites are located in separate areas. As ultimate sovereignty is with the Almighty, the negotiators may have to show flexibility on the issue. Apart from national sentiment of both sides, the sovereignty is, however, very important as this greatly determines the political and administrative structures of the states. The historical facts aside, East Jerusalem had been under Arabs before 1967 war. Therefore, the demand of the Palestinians for full sovereignty over East Jerusalem is valid. But it is also a fact that Western Wall i.e The Wailing Wall is in East Jerusalem and is an integral part of the Walled City (Old City). Therefore, there should be a way to allow free access of the people of the Faith to the religious sites whatever may be the ultimate agreement on the issue of sovereignty.

The idea of joint sovereignty in its present form put forward by the US has been discarded by the Palestinians for obvious reasons as their claim is for full sovereignty over East Jerusalem. The details of the proposals are yet not available, but the present proposal in the form of three sections with some form of Palestinian sovereignty over the suburb area of East Jerusalem including Abu Dis which excludes the Old City was a non-starter. The ideal solution that the Palestinians could readily accept is something that will give full Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem but problem lies with the Jewish religious site. Therefore, the idea of joint or shared sovereignty seems to be the possible way out, but it has be worked out in a way that would take care of the sentiments of both Palestinians and Israelis. Israeli claim of full sovereignty over “ biblical promised land’ can not solve the problems. In any case, the land might have been “promised” to the “wondering people” for homes but there were already people in that “promised land’ with their sovereignty on that land. This needs to be considered seriously before rejecting the claim of those who lived in that land before. Therefore, the idea of joint sovereignty deserves consideration and the following may give clues to any future deal:

The new area of East Jerusalem including those three villages with Abu Dis may go under full sovereignty of the Palestinians. They may be prepared to set up their Parliament and other administrative establishments, as already indicated, in the new area as there is hardly space in and around the Old City for such purposes.

The entire area of the Old City with all the religious sites including the Western Wall i.e the Wailing Wall should be under joint sovereignty of the Palestinians and Israelis. But initially the UN should be involved for some agreed period for making the system work. There must be complete freedom of access to the people of the Faith into the respective religious sites. Politically, administratively and for all other purposes the Arabs of East Jerusalem should belong to the Palestinian state and the people of the Jewish Faith should belong to Israel. This could  be a unique solution of the unique problem; one does not have to look for precedents. Indeed, this could be a precedent for others if situation so demands. 

The area of East Jerusalem would have to undergo some changes as the new areas would have to be brought under East Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements in the extended areas beyond the Green Line may go to Israel.

Alternatively, Palestinians should have sovereignty over East Jerusalem minus the Western Wall and adjoining areas with Jewish areas and other establishments over which Israel should have sovereignty. The access to the Western Wall can be through the Dung Gate. Even today the Jewish people use exclusively the Dung Gate for entry into the Western Wall (I and my wife used the same gate for entering the Western Wall when we visited Jerusalem sometime ago).

Similar sort of arrangement may lead to an acceptable compromise and thus end the half a century old conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Even Hamas might agree to such an arrangement. Therefore, both the leaders must make daring moves towards a solution. September 13 dead line is a man made decision. If necessary this should move towards the end of the year allowing maximum chance to the peace all have been desperately looking for.

Any such deal with enough security guarantees from the States and backed by adequate financial assistance from the US and the rest of the world may satisfy both Israelis and the Palestinians. After all, the people in the area minus the radicals want peace with security. Any deal that can guarantee peace with security would be acceptable to the people.

 


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