Day 18 - Jerusalem: The political boundaries and of tension

SeidemannMaps are essential to understanding Jerusalem – its geography, changing boundaries, and demographics – just as maps are important to understanding other parts of Israel/Palestine. One of the most helpful resource persons for helping us to interpret the maps of Jerusalem, its history, and its spectrum of developments was Daniel Seidemann, an internationally recognized lawyer and expert on the Holy City.  He has argued over 20 human/civil rights cases before the Israeli Supreme Court and has participated in numerous talks on Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians.

Below is a video clip from the introductory portions of his three-hour bus-tour briefing on Jerusalem that took us along key boundaries and helped us gain an understanding of the strategic nature of settlement expansion and property confiscations. We were also briefed on how options for land swaps might be part of a final status agreement.  The video clip both serves to orient viewers to some basic realities and to offer a flavor of our bus tour briefing.

To carry out his work, Seidemann founded an organization, Terrestrial Jerusalem, that monitors and reports on developments in Jerusalem by producing timely and accurate resources, including maps, illustrating and analyzing developments for the benefit of policymakers and the public, both in Israel and abroad.   An understanding of the evolution of developments in Jerusalem can be gained by viewing the "Jerusalem Atlas" on the organization’s website: http://t-j.org.il/JerusalemAtlas.aspx   The legend on the left lists the various factors added to the map.

The website describes Jerusalem as the “volcanic core” of the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts.  Competing and largely irreconcilable religious, national, and historic narratives—Israeli and Palestinian; Jewish, Muslim, and Christian—exist side-by-side in the city, in a constant struggle for legitimacy, validity, and survival.  Jerusalem is also becoming the central arena for Israeli-Palestinian skirmishing of such intensity that developments there jeopardize the very possibility of a two-state solution and threaten to undermine both local and regional stability.

Daniel SeidemannAn agreement on Jerusalem, acceptable to all sides, is widely recognized as essential to any future peace agreements. But developments on the ground could, if unchecked, undermine negotiations and ultimately prevent a peace agreement. Moreover, because of the religious equities at stake, such developments could spark violence in the city and beyond, as has happened in the past.  Indeed, such developments have the potential to transform what is today a difficult but resolvable territorial conflict into an irresolvable, zero-sum religious battle.

As we toured Jerusalem, we witnessed both the potential tinderbox character of the current situation as well as the possibilities that still exist for a peace agreement that would respect the right of two states and three faith communities to live side-by side.  Tomorrow we will report more on what we learned about Jerusalem.