Agence France Presse (AFP)
March 10, 2009 - 12:00am

A solution to Jerusalem could be a "special regime" that administers the Old City without dividing it, leaving the thorny issue of sovereignty for a future date, two former diplomats wrote. In the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, professors Michael Bell of Canada and Daniel Kurtzer of the United States, both former ambassadors in the Middle East, propose a way to deal with Jerusalem in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

They suggest creating an impartial, Old City Special Regime (OCSR) chosen by Israelis and Palestinians together, that would appoint a chief administrator.

"The most promising alternative to a street-by-street, site-by-site division of the Old City is to construct a special regime that defers the issue of sovereignty and instead focuses on how to administer and manage the Old City with strong third-party participation," the two experts write. Israel annexed east Jerusalem - which includes the Old City and its numerous holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians - after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The Palestinians want Jerusalem to become the capital of their future state.

Outgoing Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert said Saturday "there will never be peace" in the Middle East unless Israel and the Palestinians share Jerusalem." Bell, Canada's former ambassador to Egypt, Israel and Jordan, and Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Egypt and Israel, said that "quite simply, the Old City cannot be divided between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

"It is too small, too densely populated, too architecturally linked, and the Israelis and the Palestinians are too riven by systemic distrust for them to govern the Old City on their own."

They also said too much focus has been placed on the issue of sovereignty, and that because the claims are "based on such diametrically opposed historical narratives, the standard compromise solution - shared governance - simply will not work." They urge an OCSR comprised of senior Israelis and Palestinians "and a limited number of international participants selected by both sides."

The board would appoint a chief administrator for a fixed, renewable term, with independent authority to implement the OCSR's mandate and who would "establish and oversee an internationally staffed police force." The regime, the two professors said, would not constitute "internationalization" of Jerusalem - an idea both sides oppose - but "would operate with the framework of a two-state solution and allow both states to claim Jerusalem as their capital."

"We believe it is the most promising approach to meeting the basic needs of all Jerusalem's stakeholders," the pair wrote. "It may also represent the best and most realistic hope for achieving peace in the Holy Land."

US President Barack Obama has vowed to vigorously pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which were relaunched in November 2007 but were frozen during Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip in December and January.


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