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International Trusteeship for Jerusalem?

International Trusteeship for Jerusalem?

FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN THE HOLY LAND

The 24 September issue of “The Jerusalem Post” featured a report on the current peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinians. The report quoted the ex-Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who spoke openly regarding his view of a permanent settlement, particularly regarding the thorny problem of the final status agreement of Jerusalem.

Olmert was quoted as saying that, when he was still Prime Minister of Israel, he had proposed to the Palestinian leadership the possibility of creating an “international trusteeship” in the Holy Basin (the area considered to be sacred to both Jews and Muslims on and around the Temple Mount) which “will not be a sovereign part of either the State of Israel or the future state of Palestine.” Such an agreement would involve Israel relinquishing sovereignty of the Western Wall and Temple Mount. The trusteeship would be guaranteed by joint efforts of Israel, the Palestinian state, the USA, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. It would guarantee free and unlimited access for all believers to these sacred sites.

This proposal is a bit of a surprise on the part of an Israeli politician. This more moderate approach to the peace process reminds one of the Israeli offers of peace during the Camp David negotiations in 2000 between the American President Bill Clinton, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat, which unfortunately foundered and gave way to the Second Intifada. The current Israeli administration is more hard-line in its approach to the peace process, and much depends on whether Israel will agree to extend the moratorium on settlement expansion, which expires on 27 September.

Indeed, prospects for a long-lasting peace still seem bleak, in spite of the US pressure on both sides to sit together and talk. The last riots in East Jerusalem, on 22 September, signal yet another moment of tension, at the centre of which lies the status of the city of Jerusalem. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem see Israel as a menace, since it is encroaching upon Palestinian areas and wants to demolish houses which it deems as being illegal in such suburbs as Silwan. On its part, Israel is adamant that the city of Jerusalem will never again be divided into a Jewish western section and a Palestinian eastern section, that would also be the capital of the future Palestinian state.

Although seemingly obsolete in its formulation, the Vatican proposal of declaring the Old City of Jerusalem as falling under an international status seems to be quite similar to what Olmert is now proposing for the more restricted area of the Temple Mount. Unfortunately Olmert’s proposal seems to forget that Jerusalem is a city sacred also for Christians, and that the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and other Christian Holy Places of Jerusalem are also to be considered as important for a global peace. Indeed, although the Vatican does not seem to continue insisting on its former proposal of an “international character” for the Holy City of Jerusalem, through which Jews, Christians and Muslims have the right of free worship in their respective sacred sites, such an initiative would certainly be beneficial for all.

Jerusalem is already a city in which all monotheistic religions enjoy freedom of worship, at least on an official level. As far as Christians are concerned, the right to pray and visit the Christian Holy Places is well respected by the local civil authorities. But maybe international guarantees for such rights would further strengthen the responsibility of the international community towards peace in Jerusalem, and hence in the Holy Land. After all, it was the international community that created the problems which the Holy Land is facing today. It is also up to the international community to provide a long-lasting solution.

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