11 Sep Jerusalem and Terror: A Follow-up
In my original post, I recommended a number steps that Israel should take in order to contain the increasing terror activities emerging from East Jerusalem. I would like now to illuminate some of these.
As noted in the original post, during the last seven years, the levels of terror activity in East Jerusalem have been significantly lower than those in the West Bank. This can only be partially attributed to tighter security control that Israel has in East Jerusalem.
Since 1967, the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have led multi-vectored lives. Culturally, socially, and politically, they have “lived in the direction” of the West Bank, and East Jerusalem has remained embedded in the Palestinian metropolis, from Ramallah in the north to Bethlehem in the south. But economically, East Jerusalem Palestinians have been oriented towards Israel. The right to work in Israel along with the unlimited mobility afforded East Jerusalemites have partially integrated the Palestinian population into the Israeli economy. More than 50% of the males work in West Jerusalem, or in Israel.
Consequently, in Israel, the Gross Domestic Product, per capita per annum, is in excess of $22,000; a short distance away in the West Bank, the annual per capita GDP is $1,150 (note that this figure is deceivingly low, since the only available figures incorporate the GDP of the Gaza Strip). In East Jerusalem, the figure is approximately $4,000. East Jerusalem is the lock in the canal of the disparate Israeli and Palestinian economies.
These ambiguities have traditionally afforded East Jerusalem much of its stability. Especially since the outbreak of the second Intifada, the Palestinian residents of the city have customarily looked north and south, to Ramallah and Bethlehem, seeing how miserable their lives could be, a rather than looking to West Jerusalem, where the emphasis would be on the grossly discriminatory against the Palestinian sector by the Israeli authorities (and more on that later). The sense of “something to lose” outweighed disgruntlement, and contributed to the relative calm.
A number of factors now threaten this delicate socio-economic ecosystem.
Firstly, the separation barrier is incrementally detaching East Jerusalem from its environs in the West Bank. Access of East Jerusalemites to the West Bank is curtailed, and access from the West Bank to East Jerusalem is virtually impossible. The economic and social ties are weakening, and consequently subjective perceptions are changing. The changed frame of reference is compelling Palestinians to compare their lives to those of West Jerusalem resident, rather than those of West Bankers. This change does not augur well for continued stability: East Jerusalemites find themselves increasingly entrapped in a society that has no interest to integrate them, and into which they have only a partial, strictly utilitarian desire to be integrated.
Secondly, since the outbreak of the second Intifada, the levels of services provided by Israel – never adequate – have been in decline. There is a “gangrene-like” effect: the Israeli heart is incapable of generating the pressure necessary to bring blood to the extremities. Services decline as one approaches the barrier, and evaporate on the West Bank side of it – even in those areas which are formally part of Jerusalem. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the education system. According to official Israeli statistics, there is a shortfall of 1500 classrooms in the Palestinian sector of East Jerusalem, and tens of thousands of pupils are denied a free, public school education.
We contend that the modest Israeli investments in East Jerusalem have yielded significant dividends in the form of lower levels of violence among the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. Today, the changing subjective perceptions conspire with the objective reduction of services to undermine this calm, and Israeli interests would be well served by enhancing the levels of services provided to the Palestinian sector.
Two caveats are in order. There is not even the remotest possibility of Israel providing services to the Palestinian sector equal to those in the Israeli sector, and even were we to do so, this, in and of itself would not suffice in stemming the rising levels of violence.
By best estimates, between 5% and 12% of the municipal and governmental budgets are devoted to the Palestinian sector of Jerusalem, who are 34% of the population. Discrimination? Very much so. But hollering “racism” entirely misses the point. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem are not, with rare exception, citizens of Israel, but rather permanent residents. They are not entitled to vote in national elections. They may indeed participate in municipal elections – but refrain from doing so, lest this be interpreted as acquiescence to the legitimacy of Israeli rule. And there is an iron-clad law of politics: neither politicians nor civil servants allocate scarce resources to people who don’t vote. The seminal “fact of life” in Jerusalem is that neither Israelis nor Palestinians in Jerusalem aspire to share a political community.
Under these circumstances, the discriminatory allocation of resources is a virtual inevitability. No policy course correction will change that. But that said, even partial and inadequate changes can address elements of the acute discontent in East Jerusalem, and contribute to a lowering of tensions.
Critics will correctly point out that improved living standards hardly guarantee a reduction of terror: indeed, many of 9/11 and post-9/11 terrorists emerged from relatively privileged classes. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem are already suspect in the eyes of their brothers and sisters just a few miles away in the West Bank, accused of having sold out national interests in exchange for economic entitlements. This could lead a predisposed minority to prove otherwise – and acts of terror are an effective, albeit distorted, way of proving it.
There is much merit to these arguments. While enhanced services would likely reduce tensions and popular support for acts of violence among a majority of the population, one should be cautioned that economic enticements are hardly a silver bullet.
The conclusion is fairly clear. Drenching East Jerusalem in services can serve as a key component in a package of policies geared to thwart the emergence of a culture of terror in East Jerusalem. This should be accompanied by policies geared to reinforce the links between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Even with the existence of the separation barrier, the current border regime could (and should) be made much more compatible with the efficient and dignified movement of people, goods and services. Increasing the numbers of West Bankers granted entry to Jerusalem for purposes of worship – at the mosques on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – would be a good place to start.
But in the absence of a more varied and compelling package of policies, with clear political deliverables, it is not likely that enhanced services and access, in isolation, will suffice in containing the rising tides of violence. Necessary as these steps are, they are hardly sufficient.