Special Report: Israel’s Uncertain Victory in Jerusalem


Israel’s Uncertain Victory

Settlement Report | Vol. 9 No. 7 | May 1999

Israel’s conquest of Jordan’s West Bank in June 1967 created the opportunity to ‘reunify’ East and West Jerusalem under exclusive Israeli control. On June 27, 1967, Israel extended its law and jurisdiction to 17,600 acres of formerly Jordanian territory, including all of Jordanian Jerusalem and a portion of the nearby West Bank–the area now known as East Jerusalem. This administrative action was supplemented by the Knesset’s passage in 1981 of the “Jerusalem Law” formally annexing this territory to Israel.

Israel has expropriated more than 5,845 acres of mostly Palestinian-owned land–one-third of East Jerusalem–for the construction of ten major Israeli settlement neighborhoods. These areas, with a population approaching 200,000, ring almost the entire northern, eastern, and southern perimeter of the city.

The creation of these new settlements has been guided by two overriding political aims: first, to establish, an Israeli/Jewish majority in annexed East Jerusalem–an achievement announced in the early 1990s; and second, to prevent the creation of a territorially cohesive bloc of Palestinian habitation between enclaves in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Neither of these objectives has been met unambiguously. The latter objective, in particular, has proven more difficult to achieve, notably in Jerusalem’s northeastern and northwestern areas, where places such as Kufr Aqab and Shuafat have expanded across the municipal border.

Housing construction for Israelis in East Jerusalem has been critical to the growth of Jerusalem’s Israeli population and the maintenance of Jewish demographic hegemony. Israelis who today live in East Jerusalem comprise a startling 80 percent of the total increase in the city’s Jewish population since 1967.

While construction for Israelis has enjoyed the broadest measure of political support within Israel, for more than twenty-five years Israel has enforced a strict quota on Arab construction in East Jerusalem aimed at maintaining the Palestinian percentage of the entire city’s population at around 26 percent.

Since 1967, approximately 12 percent of all new approved construction in the city has taken place in the Arab sector. Beginning in 1992, however a concerted campaign led by Palestinian officials to encourage construction in the city has resulted in a more than 50 percent increase in the number of Palestinian dwellings. Virtually all of this construction has been undertaken without the approval of the Israeli-run municipality. Fines and, in some cases, demolition have resulted from its official intervention. This new housing boom has been fueled by a return of Palestinians to the city.

Notwithstanding the tremendous increase in Palestinian construction in recent years, anecdotal reports of large-scale depopulation in the Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem have been confirmed by a census conducted in 1997 by the Population Bureau of the Palestinian Authority.

The census reported the following distribution of the Palestinian population:

  • West Bank: 1,873,476
  • Gaza Strip: 1,022,207
  • Jerusalem region: 328,601
  • East Jerusalem: 85,805
  • Total: 2,895,683
  • Projection for 2025 (all areas): 7,500,000

The number of Palestinians holding Jerusalem identity documents issued by Israel is generally believed to number almost 200,000, which would put the Palestinian percentage in the entire city–West and East–at 30 percent. The census, however, along with other investigations undertaken by Palestinian officials at Orient House, suggests that the number of Palestinians actually residing in the city is less than half that number, i.e. approximately 86,000.

More recent estimates by Orient House demographers paint an even starker picture of the health of Jerusalem’s Palestinian community. It is estimated that perhaps as few as 50,000 Palestinians with Jerusalem identity cards currently live in the city. Those residing outside the city in nearby West Bank towns but carrying Jerusalem identity documents number 70,000. Tens of thousands of these erstwhile residents are believed to be reestablishing their physical residence in the city to forestall the invalidation by Israel of their right to reside there.

Evidence suggests that these Palestinian returnees prefer to construct new homes rather than utilize existing housing stock, much of which, particularly in the Old City, is not up to modern standards. Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini claims that Palestinians have built 6,000 new dwellings in the city in the past three years. In addition, there are 30,000 Palestinians without Jerusalem documents who currently reside in the city, as well as 20,000 who live in West Bank villages, such as Anata, that are considered to be within Jerusalem’s municipal borders. Palestinians with Jerusalem documents who live outside Palestine number 50,000.

During most of this decade, Israel’s construction policies in East Jerusalem proceeded in the spirit of plans announced in October 1990. The intention was to increase the Israeli population of this area–then at 120,000–by 60,000 through the construction of 15,000 dwelling units from 1990 through 1993.

The Labor governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres continued to pursue a construction policy in Jerusalem based on eliminating the possibility of a loss of Israeli sovereignty over the annexed part of the city during final status negotiations with the Palestinians. Rabin’s minister of housing, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, described this effort as “the battle for the destiny of Jerusalem.” On May 4, 1995, he announced plans to construct 30,000 housing units in Jerusalem, both east and west, by the year 2,000.

These plans have been scaled back by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu as a consequence of the nationwide housing slowdown (except for the West Bank settlements) after the influx of immigration from the CIS began to slow after 1992. Instead, major infrastructure and tourism projects geared toward cementing Jerusalem’s “unification” have been more prominent in recent years.

Today, with the notable exception of developments like the one at Jebel Abu Ghneim (Har Homa), most of Israel’s East Jerusalem settlement communities are almost built to capacity. New housing construction in these areas, as well as construction in places like Har Homa, can be expected to add around 1,000 units annually to the more than 42,000 units built over the last thirty years.

The first 1,000 of Har Homa’s planned 6,500 dwellings are now being advertised for pre-construction sale. The development of this stretch of land between the Palestinian village of Um Tuba (in Jerusalem) and the West Bank village of Beit Sahour is the linchpin for completing the establishment of large-scale housing estates for Israelis all along Jerusalem’s southern perimeter. When these estates are completed, the expansion of Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods throughout East Jerusalem will be constrained by a ring of settlement communities housing more than 200,000 Israelis connected by a modern transportation and communication infrastructure with both Israel’s coastal plain and West Bank settlements in metropolitan Jerusalem.

Europe Affirms Support for a Corpus Separatum for Greater Jerusalem

Settlement Report | Vol. 9 No. 7 | May 1999

On March 1, Theodor Wallau, Germany’s ambassador to Israel, sent a letter to Israeli foreign minister Ariel Sharon reaffirming the European Union’s longstanding formal support for Jerusalem’s internationalization as outlined in UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (II).

Germany is currently president of the EU, and it is in that capacity that Wallau sent his letter, which notes, “We reaffirm our stated position regarding the specific status of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum. This position is in accordance with international law. We have no intention of changing our custom regarding meetings in Jerusalem.”

The meetings to which Wallau refers were held by foreign diplomats at Orient House, the Palestinians’ political headquarters in East Jerusalem. Israel’s Foreign Ministry argued that the Oslo and Wye agreements prohibit Palestinian meetings with foreign diplomats in Jerusalem.

The UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (II) for the partition of mandatory Palestine into Arab and Jewish states by a 33 to 13 vote, with 10 abstentions, on November 29, 1947. The boundaries of the two states were delimited in the resolution, which provided for the establishment of a corpus separatum for the city of Jerusalem which would be subject to a special international regime to be administered by the United Nations. The resolution envisaged that the City of Jerusalem “shall include the present [1947] municipality of Jerusalem plus the surrounding villages and towns, the most eastern of which shall be Abu Dis; the most southern, Bethlehem; the most western, Ein Karem (including also the built-up area of Motsa); and the most northern, Shufat.”