September 14, 2000 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 40

The Formulae for a Settlement in Jerusalem

September 14, 2000 | By Y. Feldner*
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 40

The Palestinian-Israeli dispute at Camp David focused on sovereignty over the Old City. The US suggested dividing sovereignty. Israel agreed to discuss any such suggestion once it was accepted by the Palestinians, but PLO Chairman Arafat completely rejected this proposal and demanded Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem in its entirety.

Arafat's rejection of the American proposal led President Clinton to blame him for the failure of the summit. Arafat then encountered severe difficulties in regaining international support for a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence. Consequently, the Palestinian leadership, as well as some Arab leaders – particularly Egyptian President Mubarak - realized that they must modify their position to prevent the Arab-Palestinian side from being seen as solely responsible for the deadlock.

In the weeks that followed, the different parties have come up with various proposals to solve the different components of the Jerusalem sovereignty issue.

The Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City

At Camp David, Arafat rejected the American proposal that the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter remain under Israeli sovereignty and only agreed to grant the Jews free access and worship at the Western Wall, without reducing Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem in its entirety.

However, since the summit, there have been developments in the Palestinian position regarding the Western Wall and Jewish Quarter. The "Jerusalem Committee," which convened in Morocco and emphasized the demand for Palestinian sovereignty over "the holy Christian and Islamic sites" presented the first modification. While the "Jerusalem Committee" emphasized its objection to "any attempt to reduce Palestinian sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif," [the Muslim Holy sites on Temple Mount] - it did not present the traditional demand for an Israeli withdrawal "to the June 4, 1967 borderline" or refer to UN Security Council Resolution 242.[1]

This was interpreted as an indirect demonstration of a readiness to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, over the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, and, to some extent, over the Western Wall, although Muslims view the Wall as a Muslim holy site.

After the "Jerusalem Committee" meeting, Egyptian President Mubarak announced that for the first time that the Arabs were ready to leave the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter to Israel. In an interview with the French magazine Le Figaro, Mubarak said: "I think the Western Wall adjacent to the Haram can be left to the Israelis along with the Jewish Quarter."[1] The Palestinians immediately clarified that Mubarak's declaration did not contradict their demand for full sovereignty over East Jerusalem in its entirety, rather it matched Arafat's promise to allow free access to the Western Wall.[2] A few days later the Arab League's foreign ministers convened in Cairo and again demanded a full Israeli withdrawal to the June 1967 borderline.

Following the UN Millennium summit, Arafat made contradictory statements regarding the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter. Arafat told Al-Hayat that in his meeting with President Clinton he agreed to Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall. Foreign sources added that the Palestinians agreed to Israeli sovereignty in the Jewish Quarter as well.[3]

But in an interview with CNN on the same day, Arafat repeated his previous demands for full sovereignty over East Jerusalem, contradicting his statement to Al-Hayat. Sources in the Palestinian delegation reiterated that Arafat's positions in his meeting with President Clinton related only to "the freedom of worship in the holy places in Jerusalem" without conceding full Palestinian sovereignty over the Eastern part of the city in its entirety.[4] PLO Executive Committee Chairman Abu Mazen, speaking to the PLO Central Council, also said that the Palestinians agreed to "Israeli control" in the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall but not to Israeli sovereignty.[5]

The Palestinian demands for full sovereignty over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter and Arab backing for it have eroded somewhat since Camp David. Therefore, in the case of a final settlement, Arafat may be willing to concede sovereignty over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter to Israel. Until then, Arafat will continue to make contradictory statements in order to muster international sympathy on the one hand, and to preserve Palestinian public support for his position on the other. Arafat is also trying to avoid establishing a Palestinian "deposit" of conceding the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter, before a final settlement with Israel is achieved.

The Temple Mount

The American proposal at Camp David divided the Temple Mount into a number of parts and sovereignty statuses. In all the alternatives, the mosques were placed under Palestinian sovereignty. According to one American alternative, in return for Palestinian "upper" sovereignty over the mosques, Israel would be granted "lower" sovereignty over the archeological layers under the mosques where relics of the first and second temples' are located.

Arafat rejected this proposal. The Palestinians view the Temple Mount en bloc and refuse to divide it into "upper" and "lower" sovereignties or to any sharing of sovereignty. Palestinian delegation member, Nabil Sha'ath, stated that "cultures come and cultures go. Underneath Gaza there are archeological Roman layers. That does not mean that the Italian government is entitled to demand them. Similarly, in Spain, there was an Islamic culture that lasted many years."[6]

Israeli Prime Minister Barak, expressed a readiness to discuss the American proposals regarding Temple Mount, once the Palestinians accept them. The up-to-date Israeli position, as presented by acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, in an interview with the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, is that Israel demands sovereignty over the subterranean part of Temple Mount. "We insist on this demand," Minister Ben Ami said, "Because Solomon's Temple and the Second Temple existed where the mosques are... The problem is with Arafat and not with us, because he demands a monopoly [over Temple Mount]. While we recognize that he has legitimate longings, he does not recognize our legitimate longings... [If we] operate in accordance with the past spirit of Muslim-Jewish coexistence we may find a solution; but if you [Arafat] come and tell me: it is all mine and only mine, it will be futile."[7] It is noteworthy that Ben-Ami referred to "legitimate longings" rather than Palestinian "sovereignty" over Temple Mount, since the official Israeli position is that the Palestinians will get a special status of "custodians" in the holy places.[8]

Minister Ben-Ami examined another proposal with the Americans: granting sovereignty over Temple Mount to a third party that will in turn delegate "the ruling authority and custody over the holy places" to the Palestinians. According to this proposal, Israel would keep "residual sovereignty" over Temple Mount[9] in addition to its sovereignty over the subterranean layers and the Western Wall. Such a settlement will allow Israel to evade transferring authority over part of Temple Mount directly to Arafat.

Ben-Ami's statements, and particularly his narrowing of Israel's sovereignty claim to the subterranean layers indicate that Israel has agreed to divide sovereignty over Temple Mount and maintain only "residual sovereignty" on top of it. Ben Ami may have refrained from using the term Palestinian "sovereignty," only in order to avoid creating a "deposit" of conceding parts of Temple Mount, while the Palestinians still demand a "monopoly" over the site.

Another American proposal suggested putting parts of Temple Mount under "the sovereignty of God." Arafat rejected this proposal as well, claiming that "God is sovereign everywhere, including the White House..."[10] Israel's position regarding this formula is that "God's sovereignty" cannot replace Israeli sovereignty over at least parts of Temple Mount.

The Internationalization of Temple Mount

In his New York meeting with Clinton, Arafat presented a Palestinian proposal for the solution of the Temple Mount deadlock. According to Arafat's proposal, sovereignty over Temple Mount will be Islamic through the "Jerusalem Committee." Then, suggested Arafat, the sovereign "Jerusalem Committee" will delegate "Sovereign Jurisdiction" over Temple Mount to the Palestinians.[11] The Israeli press reported that Arafat's proposal was that a joint forum of the "Jerusalem Committee" and the UN Security Council will delegate that "sovereign jurisdiction" to the Palestinians.[12]

Some American officials were encouraged by the possibility that Arafat now recognized that he could not expect to obtain exclusive sovereignty over Temple Mount.[13] Secretary Albright told the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council about "new ideas" and about "a role for the U.N. regarding Jerusalem," and that "the Jerusalem is no longer an [exclusively] Israeli - Palestinians issue."[14] But President Clinton dismissed the proposal. Even when Arafat proposed that the Jerusalem Committee be represented by America's allies, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco,[15] rather than by Iraq and Iran - his proposal was still seen as a non-starter. Clinton judged that Israel, which refused to relinquish sovereignty to the Palestinians, would also refuse to relinquish it to the "Arab Jerusalem Committee." The US deemed Arafat's proposal a tactical move aimed at improving his status, which had been damaged at Camp David. Furthermore, Israeli Prime Minister Barak denied a Ha'aretz report that Israel had told President Clinton that it is ready to discuss the proposal.[16]

The Internationalization of Jerusalem

This surprising proposal was brought up by Palestinian Legislative Council Chairman Ahmad Qurei' in a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Abu 'Alaa said his proposal is based on UN General Assembly Resolution 181 from 1947, the Partition Resolution. He said that if a Final Settlement cannot be accomplished, the two parts of the city could be united, become "the capital of the world," and be put under international sovereignty.[17] This proposal was rejected by Israel, as well as by senior Palestinian officials. PA Minister of Justice, Freih Abu Miedein, declared that Abu 'Alaa is not authorized to concede Jerusalem.[18] In fact, the Palestinians have already rejected various internationalization proposals in the past. The Palestinian daily Al-Quds, for example, reported that Arafat had rejected a proposal to put the Old City in its entirety under UN Security Council sovereignty.[19]

Postponing the Decision over Jerusalem

Israeli Ministers Peres and Ramon, as well as head of the left-wing Meretz party, Yossi Sarid, have long claimed that the issue of Jerusalem should be postponed to the future and another interim agreement should be worked out. This proposal won some support in Egyptian circles and an anonymous legal source close to the negotiations said Egypt has delivered an "unofficial" proposal to postpone the sovereignty issue in Jerusalem for 15 years.[20] This formula was one of the alternatives the US has offered at Camp David. Arafat rejected it. Israeli Prime Minister Barak also objects to this proposal, although he said that if the Palestinians accept it he would be ready to discuss it.


While at the Camp David summit, the question of sovereignty over East Jerusalem was the main issue of contention between the parties - now the main dispute has focused on sovereignty over Temple Mount. Israel, which officially declares its demand for it, is open to ideas of joint or divided sovereignty. In addition to Ben-Ami's statements to Al-Ayyam, which reduced Israel's demands to the subterranean layers of Temple Mount, an Israeli source said that Israel "will [also] agree to consider creative ideas regarding sovereignty in Temple Mount, if they are accepted by the Palestinians as a basis for discussion."[21] However, the Palestinians continue to demand full and exclusive sovereignty over Temple Mount and have so far rejected all proposals for shared or divided sovereignty.

*Yotam Feldner is MEMRI's Director of Media Analysis.

[1] The concluding statement did present these two demands in regard to the Golan Heights, but did not do so in regard to Jerusalem. See MEMRI New Positions in the Concluding Statement of the Organization of Islamic States' 'Jerusalem Committee', "New Positions in the Concluding Statement of the Organization of Islamic States 'Jerusalem Committee, '" August 31, 2000.

[1] Le Figaro (France), Sept. 1, 2000.

[2] Al-Hayat (London-Beirut), Sept. 4, 2000.

[3] Al-Hayat, Sept. 9, 2000.

[4] Al-Quds (PA), Sept. 9, 2000.

[5] Al-Hayat, Sept. 11, 2000.

[6] Al-Ayyam, Sept. 8, 2000.

[7] Al-Ayyam, Sept. 13, 2000.

[8] Ha'aretz (Israel), August 30, 2000; and Al-Hayat, Sept. 11, 2000.

[9] Ha'aretz, Sept. 13, 2000.

[10] Al-Hayat, Sept. 12 ,2000.

[11] Al-Hayat, Sept. 9, 2000.

[12] Ha'aretz, Sept. 12, 2000.

[13] The New York Times, Sept. 12, 2000.

[14] Al-Hayat, Sept. 12, 2000.

[15] Al-Hayat, Sept. 9, 2000.

[16] The Voice of Israel Radio (Israel), Sept. 12, 2000.

[17] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), Sept. 6, 2000.

[18] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), Sept. 7, 2000.

[19] Al-Quds, August 31, 2000.

[20] Al-Quds, Sept. 2, 2000.

[21] Ha'aretz, August 30, 2000.

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