The festering legacy of Oslo: Jerusalem as ‘indivisible’ as ever

The festering legacy of Oslo: Jerusalem as 'indivisible' as ever
Bulldozers demolish a residential home in the Jabal Mukabbir neighborhood in East Jerusalem, May 21, 2013. The home was demolished on the grounds that it was built without a legal permit. (Photo by guest photographer: Tali Mayer/

“We have a real problem. There is no physical separation and the level of hostility is very high.”

This is what a Jewish Israeli member of the board of the French Hill Community Council told Haaretz‘s Nir Hasson, referring to tensions between his Jewish neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, and the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of Issawiya. Such tensions led the Jerusalem Municipality to dig a ditch this week between the two.

Issawiya is at the foot of French Hill, down the road from the Hebrew University just east of the Green Line, with a population of about 17,000. French Hill was built following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 on land the state expropriated from  Issawiya.

There is indeed no physical separation between the two communities, as is the case in most of East Jerusalem, where Israel has continuously settled Jewish citizens right on top of Palestinians, most recently in neighborhoods such as Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. The same model applies to the West Bank, where even in areas where the separation barrier is in place, there remain plenty of areas where Jews and Palestinians live side by side. I always wonder how it is that Israelis keep moving so close to Palestinians while saying they want to totally separate from them.

The Oslo Accords, signed exactly 20 years ago today on the White House lawn, were supposed to create the foundation for separation between Israelis and Palestinians. But it left Jerusalem out of the deal, setting it aside for a final-status agreement. This colossal flaw gave Israel carte blanche to continue to do as it pleases in a city claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital – a city with a rich and diverse history, and home to some of the most sacred sites in Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Oslo set the precedent and gave tacit approval for Jerusalem to remain, as Israel calls it, the “eternal undivided capital” of Israel, and every subsequent negotiation effort since has also avoided dealing with Jerusalem’s status. But without reaching an agreement on Jerusalem there will never be any calm between Israelis and Palestinians, as it is the microcosm of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict: everything that goes on there is an acute and hyper-magnified representation of what happens everywhere between Israelis and Palestinians – whether regarding housing and land rights, settlements, security, freedom of worship, the 1948 question, etc.

The Jerusalem Municipality has decided that the way to cope with increasing complaints of crime and vandalism by Palestinian residents of Issawiya is to dig a ditch a few hundred meters long as a security deterrent that prevents cars from passing through. This is the same logic used as a pretense for building the separation barrier over the last decade throughout the West Bank, except that the latter is underground.

Oslo’s stated goal was to lay the groundwork for a separation between Israelis and Palestinians that would lead to two sovereign states, using so-called confidence-building measures towards that goal. But exactly 20 years later, Israel continues to occupy land, control resources, demolish homes, raid villages, and build barricades around neighborhoods. And when the Jewish community built on that Palestinian land becomes unsafe, Israel cries security and build walls, fences, ditches and whatever else it can muster up.

What happened this week in Jerusalem is a small but glaring representation of the festering legacy of Oslo, which officiated Israel’s road to apartheid.