Many analogies are applied to understand the situation in Israel and Palestine today. Most unhelpful are the parallels drawn between Israel and apartheid South Africa.
For those who care to admit it, Israel has always been a pluralist, democratic country where citizens, regardless of faith or nationality, can exercise their right to vote and identify as they please. For the people of East Jerusalem, the divided city of Cold War Berlin might be a more apt comparison.
Following Israel’s victory over Arab state forces in 1967, it offered Palestinians living in East Jerusalem Israeli citizenship. Most of them declined and roughly 362,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem today are considered permanent residents of Israel and are not citizens of any country. They are counted in both the Israeli and Palestinian census. In practice, they have many of the same rights as Israelis, including to work and travel within Israel and access to health and social services. However, they do not have the right to vote in national elections and can’t obtain an Israeli passport.
The Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research’s recent comparison of polling in East Jerusalem in 2010 and 2022 reveals a significant shift in views across a number of indicators, suggesting that while divisions persist there is increasing satisfaction with Israeli services, growing support for Israeli sovereignty and a desire for a united Jerusalem.
There has been a rise in the level of satisfaction with the services provided by the municipality and other aspects of life in East Jerusalem over the last decade. For instance, East Jerusalemites are satisfied or very satisfied with service delivery in areas of health services (83 per cent), water (82 per cent), electricity (75 per cent) and the ease with which they can reach al Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (74 per cent) in the Old City.
There is also an increase in satisfaction with regard to access to the West Bank (21 per cent) and (7 per cent) in personal interactions with Jews since 2010.
There is clearly much work to be done given that 87 per cent of Palestinians in East Jerusalem believe that discrimination against Arabs exists in municipal service delivery, but there has nevertheless been an increase in East Jerusalemites turning to Israeli government offices when they have a problem - 40 per cent since 2010.
Efficient and trustworthy service delivery is not just about potholes, in East Jerusalem it is high politics.
In addition to greater satisfaction with Israeli services, there is an overwhelming lack of interest in Palestinian leadership. East Jerusalemites indicate an unwillingness to participate in future Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections (92 per cent) leading to a significant rise in the rate of nonparticipation compared to 2010.
Forty one per cent said they wouldn’t participate because the candidates were unimpressive and 24 per cent because they felt it was pointless.
Apathy toward Palestinian leadership is also giving way to a significant rise in the level of worry when contemplating a scenario in which East Jerusalem comes under Palestinian sovereignty in a permanent peace agreement: 75 per cent in particular worry about a possible increase in the level of corruption in the Palestinian state. This an alarming indictment of the Palestinian Authority’s credibility and its abundant lack of leadership.
A lack of confidence in Palestinian leadership is also surely playing into perceptions of sovereignty over East Jerusalem. Sovereignty over East Jerusalem should be Palestinian in the eyes of 38 per cent of the respondents while 25 per cent prefer an international sovereignty and 19 per cent prefer Israeli sovereignty.
In comparison with 2010, the preference to have Palestinian sovereignty drops by 14 percentage points and the preference for Israeli sovereignty rises by 13 percentage points. Similarly, the demand for Israeli citizenship has increased by 13 percentage points between 2010 and 2022 while the demand for Palestinian citizenship has decreased by 5 points.
For Palestinians and Israelis, one thing most can agree on is that Jerusalem is one city, holy to Islam and Judaism and central to the national narrative of each people.
After resolving the issue of sovereignty over East Jerusalem, 74 per cent of East Jerusalemites prefer to keep East and West Jerusalem as an open city, one to which Palestinians and Israelis would have full access. This is a hopeful aspiration for unity and an inclusive recognition of the importance of Jerusalem for Jews and Muslims.
Throughout the rest of the country, Israel is taking steps to redress the challenges facing Arabs. Little international attention is paid to the landmark investment of $9 billion over five years to improve employment, health services, housing and other areas in the Arab community in Israel. This was a hard-won victory for Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am party during Israel’s short-lived coalition government. This followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s historic investments in his previous term as prime minister.
No-one should gloss over the challenges Arab Israelis face. In comparison to their Jewish neighbours, higher crime rates and lower educational attainment among other variations are fundamental disparities Israel must do better to address. The Jerusalem Foundation is playing a role by building the first community sports and swimming centre in Beit Hanina/Shuafat, a neighbourhood of approximately 80,000 inhabitants in East Jerusalem. The facility also serves the surrounding areas, reaching nearly 200,000 people and enhancing quality of life and creating opportunities for communal strength and future leadership. It will be entirely run by local East Jerusalemites.
However, the opportunities for participation in Israel’s politics for Palestinians in East Jerusalem are that much worse.
Those on the far right in Israel have no answers for Palestinians in Israel or in Palestine. However, those on the left that refuse to conscience a reality where Palestinians in East Jerusalem have the same opportunities as those in West Jerusalem are doing a disservice to a growing number of young people who are tired of having their ambitions shackled by a paradigm that is fading with each passing day.
Local and national leadership in Jerusalem should come together on more than just a shared desire for coexistence, but also for a shared future. Ideology is what separated West and East Berlin rather than nationhood. Israeli and Palestinian leadership would do well to set outdated ideologies aside and respond to the growing desire for unity in East Jerusalem, where both nations are respected, and both have a full say in their shared future.
Lord Leigh of Hurley is Chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation