Palestinian view: No compromise on our holy Old City

By Daoud Kuttab, March 18, 2010
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This is not how the peace process was supposed to work. Architects of negotiations have forever talked about leaving difficult issues until last, and in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, nothing fits the bill of "difficult" as much as Jerusalem.

Israeli behaviour towards the US has its own truism. You don't pick a fight in the beginning of negotiations and you certainly try not to embarrass those who are known to be among your best supporters in Washington.

But these are not normal times.

For Palestinians, the negotiating tactics have changed. Eighteeen years on from the Oslo Agreement, Palestinians feel strongly that what is needed is a reversal of the process. Instead of the incremental step-by-step approach, Palestinians want to start this round with agreements on the borders of the Palestinian state. Once the borders are mutually decided upon, negotiations would focus on implementing the agreement - how long it would take, what stages, whether Nato forces will be involved, etc.

If such is the process, and since Palestinians accept the concept of an equitable land swap, the biggest question left is Jerusalem. And even in Jerusalem there is a concept that is acceptable to both parties. The parameters President Clinton set late in his second term establish the idea that Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem will be part of the Palestinian state and Jewish ones will be part of Israel.

With that concept as a target for talks, any attempts to move Jewish settlers or build in Arab neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem is equivalent to turning the tables on the entire process.

Of course many observers feel that the most difficult of this difficult nut to crack is that one square kilometre in the walled parts of the old city of Jerusalem. For years, diplomats have been poring over ideas that will preserve the sanctity of the holy places, ensure the continuity of life for the area's inhabitants and make sure that this holiest of the holies is a beacon for peace, not for a new war.

Palestinians of all walks of life are united on the need for Jerusalem - including the Muslim and Christian holy places - to be part of the Palestinian state, with open, regular access for all. With the rest of the Palestinian areas totally detached from Jerusalem as a result of the 8ft wall, the defence of the city is left to its Arab residents as well as the support Palestinians who are Israeli citizens.

The battle for Jerusalem might have started even before the "proximity talks", and unlike the issue or refugees returning to their homeland, this issue has no wiggle room as far as Palestinians are concerned.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist

    Last updated: 4:47pm, March 18 2010