The Jerusalem Question

A brief history of the role of Jerusalem in the peace process.

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During this period there were several other important diplomatic developments. In October 1993, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres sent a letter to the Foreign Minister of Norway confirming the importance of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem and promising that their activities would not be restricted. This letter, while not legally binding, was a diplomatic commitment to an ally, and demonstrated considerable evolution in the Israeli stance towards East Jerusalem.

The Beilin-Abu Mazen Agreement

The Oslo talks gave birth to perhaps the most viable proposal for peace written before or since. From 1993 to 1995, Yossi Beilin, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister and Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), then a leading member of the Palestinian delegation, held secret talks, and in October of 1995 they presented a framework for a final status agreement. The Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement proposed the following: 

1) Jerusalem would remain open and undivided, and people of all faiths and nationalities would continue to have unhindered access to the holy places; 2) the borders of Jerusalem would be expanded to include Abu Dis, al-Azariya, A-Ram, A-Zam, Maaleh Adumim, Givat Zev, Givon, and some additional areas adjacent to them; 3) neighborhoods inhabited by Palestinians would become Palestinian boroughs, and neighborhoods inhabited by Israelis would become Israeli boroughs, with the ratio of boroughs reflecting the Jewish-Arab demographic balance of 2:1; 4) the city would form a unified municipal government consisting of representatives of the boroughs; 5) in matters relating to the Palestinian areas of the city, the council would seek consent of the Palestinian government, and in matters relating to the Jewish areas the council would seek consent of the Israeli government; 6) there would be two sub-municipalities with considerable power on the local level, including control over taxation, local services, education, housing, and religious authorities; 7) the Western part of the city would be called Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim, while the Eastern part would be called Al-Quds, and each would recognize the other as a capital; and 8) open access to the holy places would be maintained.

General principles for talks on the status of the Old City, which they agreed would have a "special status," were laid out, but not fully resolved. Discussion of the areas outside of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem but inside the municipal borders (the new East Jerusalem) was put off until a later date as well.

The Beilin-Abu Mazen plan had substantial governmental support (at least within the dovish Labor government), but four days after it was finalized, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist. His successor, Shimon Peres, fearful that an unelected Prime Minister did not have the mandate to sign such a revolutionary document, chose to wait until the next election to push forward. The next year, however, would see an upsurge in Palestinian terrorism, and the Israeli electorate responded by ousting Labor from power. Under Likud's Benyamin Netanyahu, discussions about the status of Jerusalem came to a standstill.

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Lili Kalish Gersch

Lili Kalish Gersch is Director of Literature, Music & Dance at the DCJCC. She was the Managing Editor of