Daoud Kuttab
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
August 11, 2011 - 12:00am

Chambers of commerce in some Palestinian cities held elections, over the past few weeks, and municipal elections are planned for October. One Palestinian city that will not see any local elections just happens to be Palestine’s capital in waiting.

For the past 44 years, East Jerusalem has been prevented from carrying out any activity that might represent any sort of local government. Israel’s unilateral annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and the forced municipal unity with Israeli West Jerusalem has left the holy city in limbo. Palestinians rejected the annexation and the unification of the city, and boycotted the municipal elections since 1967.

A number of US-Israel-Palestinian understandings, give the PLO permission to hold offices in East Jerusalem and stipulate that Israel should not close down existing Palestinian organisation and institution. But Israel has been ignoring these understandings and effectively ensured that Palestinians in the city remain leaderless.

In addition to banning East Jerusalem municipal elections, Israel closed down the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce, the Orient House and many other Palestinian institutions.

Any public event Palestinians consider holding in East Jerusalem is quickly dubbed “Palestinian Authority” event and therefore illegal, according to Israel’s draconian emergency laws.

Last spring, the celebration in honour of the West Bank champion football team, which happens to be from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sur Baher, was cancelled by the Israeli police. The Israeli government uses all kinds of laws and regulations to prevent the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, as well anyone that seems to be within its orbit, from operating in East Jerusalem, and the PLO is unable to set foot in the city. For a short period after the first Intifada, Faisal Husseini was using the institution of the Orient House, but his untimely death, while visiting Kuwait in May 2001, left the city leaderless. Since Israel closed down the Orient House, any possibility for the city’s quarter of a million Palestinians have no entity to defend them and their rights.

This political void and absence of any organisation or individual in leadership position has exacerbated the situation on the ground. Different persons and groups did indeed attempt to fill this void, but real solutions for Palestinian Jerusalemites are becoming more remote by the day.

This serious leadership vacuum has provided ample room for many unscrupulous individuals and gangs to spring up. New power structures were created, often for purely selfish causes. Tribal relations proved among the best for the population to protect itself. Individuals without tribal or large family connections have been left prey to gangs who bully them.

With the Israeli police only interested in fighting Palestinian nationalism and resistance activities, the population’s day-to-day problems only increased. Israel’s security administrative policies, as well as the wall, have further contributed to the isolation of the city.

An alarming problem is the increasing number of forgeries of land deeds, as the Israeli authorities turn a blind eye to acts that don’t directly affect the state of Israel.

For some time now, attempts to get the Palestinian leadership, be it the PA or the PLO, to create a unified strategy for the city have failed, thus leaving the door open to private initiatives. An attempt by a Palestine-based NGO to set up a Jerusalem commission mandated by the Arab League failed to gain the approval of key local or Arab political players.

The one country that has the possibility of making a difference in Jerusalem is Jordan. Historically, Jordan’s role in the holy city is well-known. The Jordanian-Palestinian competition over Jerusalem resulted in a passive role on the part of the Jordanian government, which still pays the salaries of Islamic waqf guards who man the entrances of Al Aqsa Mosque. Jordan’s agreement with Israel also includes a clause giving Amman a role in protecting Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Jordanian-Palestinian cooperation regarding the future of Jerusalem received a big boost this week when the board of trustees of Al Quds University, headed by Ahmed Qureia, decided to present King Abdullah an honorary degree.

In accepting the degree, both the King and university President Sari Nusseibeh stressed the need to improve the living conditions of the people of Jerusalem. To reassure doubters that this newly established relationship between Jordan and community organisations in Jerusalem has the blessing of the Palestinian leadership, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made the official recognition.

Al Quds University is a leading institution in Jerusalem. It has hundreds of faculty staff and employees, thousands of students and 13 campuses on both sides of the wall, in Jerusalem and Jordan. It has the potential to provide an effective tool to deal with the city’s challenges.

Moving forward also requires a high level of confidence, trust and determination to work together to overcome the many challenges. Unlike so many failed efforts, the people of Jerusalem hope that this effort will succeed.


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