RAMALLAH, December 9 (JMCC) - After months of political wrangling, Israel
and the United States announced Tuesday that negotiations to renew the moratorium on settlement
building in the West Bank
have failed. A senior US official said that the two countries have reached a dead end, and will now seek new ways to revive the stalled Middle East peace process
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ceased in September with the expiry of Israel’s ten month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank, which is deemed illegal under international law
The focus on freezing settlements comes from the understanding that every unit that is built weakens chances of achieving a two-state solution.
The freeze has never applied to Jerusalem
. Some analysts maintain that the near complete focus on settlements in relation to the peace talks has diverted attention from the volcanic core of the conflict: Jerusalem, a city considered holy to Muslims and Jews, each seek to establish it as the capital of their state.
But Jerusalem expert and attorney, Daniel Seidemann, believes that settlements inside Jerusalem should be a key focus. “If Obama is not able to extract a robust settlement freeze in Jerusalem soon, it will be on his watch that the two-state solution will be lost,” he said. “Counting settlement units (in the West Bank) is an inadequate means of describing the region’s dangers.”
Though the settlement contingent is small in east Jerusalem, it is far more dangerous to the peace of the region. “There are about 2,000 settlers in east Jerusalem, they are not a demographic threat, and don’t have a critical mass, and yet they are able to re-define the conflict between ourselves and Palestinians by transforming the situation from one of national political conflict into a religious one,” he explains.
Pollster and political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin explains that the danger lies in the emotional religious sentiment embedded among settlers. The more that Jerusalem residents view the conflict in this paradigm, the less likely they are to approach a solution to the problems of Jerusalem practically.
More than 80 percent of Jerusalemites already believe that the city is divided, according to Scheindlin. She explained that once these religious-based sentiments need to be transformed into pragmatic solutions, it will be possible to find a political solution to the conflict.
Tensions in east Jerusalem have been rising. For example, many residents in the holy basin, the neighborhoods in east Jerusalem adjacent to the old city, increasingly describe life as unbearable says Hagit Ofran, Director of the Settlement Watch project of the Israeli Peace Now movement.
Municipal services across the area are severely lacking and mistrust of the police is rife. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) last week called on the government to push the police back into line after growing testimonies suggest severe mistreatment of child detainees from the area.
Home demolitions and the takeover of abodes by settlers are no longer surprising events in neighborhoods like Silwan
and Sheikh Jarrah
. Flying police checkpoints at the entries to neighborhoods are frequently put up.
“The holy basin will be a kind of Disney land. A place where you need a ticket to enter,” said Jawad Siam, a community activist in Silwan.
Jerusalem has traditionally been reneged to final status talks by negotiators. It is, the argument goes, too complex and too divisive to create an environment for peace. But for Seidemann, it is its divisiveness that is precisely the reason it has to be dealt with. “Jerusalem is one nasty town for those who ignore its complexity, it will seek you out and hunt you down,” she said.
“What starts in Jerusalem does not stay in Jerusalem,” he said. The pressure cooker of living in the city – the increasing clashes, radicalizing settlers, is all mirrored in the policy approaches of leaders across the Arab world towards Israel.
SELL BY DATE FOR PEACE
The US administration will meet with Palestinian and Israeli leaders Friday to try to revive the peace talks by once again returning to indirect proximity talks. But analysts say the chance of finding a peaceful Jerusalem comes with a sell by date of one and half years.
“We are sitting on a powder keg in this city. We don’t have the political time today to allow for luxury of thinking about program to implement in 5 or 10 years” said Gershon Baskin, Co-Director of the International Palestine Center for Research and Information (PCRI).
“The current Palestinian leadership, of Prime Minister Fayyad
and President Abbas
has about a year of political life left before the plug is pulled, he said. The contest for the Palestinian leadership is not coming from those who claim moderation: it is not a contest on who will bring us peace with Israel.”
He added that this, coupled with the tensions in east Jerusalem and domestic political woes Obama will be distracted with until re-election, makes for a clear deadline.
“Either Jerusalem becomes free and open for all religions, or (violence will break out) and Israel will slide down the slippery slope into becoming pariah state,” said Seidemann. “There is no other solution but to make Jerusalem a real and present issue in the peace talks.”