Occupied East Jerusalem – On March 30, Israel announced plans to build 143 new homes in Har Homa, one of several Jewish-only settlements located in East Jerusalem, between Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
The move is seen as a means of eliminating challenges to Israeli sovereignty over the city.
Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said in a press release that the move sends a “strong post-election message” that the new Israeli government is “more committed to a de-facto one-state solution and the ‘Judaisation’ of Jerusalem than pursuing the path to peace and abiding by international law and the principles of human rights”.
Both the international community and Palestinians themselves have become more pessimistic about the chances of a two-state solution since the re-election of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised during his campaign that there would not be a Palestinian state under his watch.
The news of the Har Homa settlement expansion came shortly after a report prepared by European Union delegates on the situation in Jerusalem was leaked to the Guardian. The report – commissioned to study how best to achieve a two-state solution, according to the Office of the EU Representative in Jerusalem – claimed that the city has reached a “boiling point of ‘polarisation and violence’ not seen since the end of the second Intifada in 2005”.
This, the report said, was due to divisive Israeli policies such as housing evictions, demolitions and continued settlement construction.
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Paul Hirschon told Al Jazeera that he did not lend much credence to the report, arguing that it was “biased to the point of being incomprehensible”, and that Israel was well aware of heightened tensions in the occupied city.
Meanwhile, many Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem – which was annexed by Israel in 1967 in a move unrecognised by the international community – say the tension has remained more or less constant since then, and that they are increasingly frustrated with negotiations.
Rima Awad, a representative of the Coalition for Jerusalem, a conglomeration of Palestinian civil society groups that aims to protect Palestinian residency rights in Jerusalem in order to reaffirm that East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a future Palestinian state, said that years of political bargaining have done little to address the concerns of Palestinian Jerusalemites, and that they are near “the point where they don’t believe in any political parties or processes to advocate on their behalf”.
“People with demolition orders are still waiting for their houses to be destroyed; people with eviction orders are still waiting to be kicked out of their homes,” she said.
Since East Jerusalem’s annexation, successive Israeli governments have set about “to create a demographic and geographic situation” that will cement Israeli control there, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Nevertheless, some Arabs living in Israeli-administered areas are hopeful after the Joint List, a coalition of four predominately Palestinian political parties, won 14 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The result was unprecedented in Israel’s history. Roughly 20 percent of Israel’s population is Arab – they are predominantly Palestinian, but also include Syrians from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and a small number of Lebanese.
“We need to assess whether or not the Joint List can work in this racist context,” Awad said. “But we’re hopeful.”
East Jerusalemites such as Awad – as well as Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank – were not allowed to vote in the last election.
Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are afforded “permanent resident” status, which allows them to vote only in local elections. However, Jewish Israelis living in West Bank settlements are allowed to vote in national elections.
Interestingly, though, some Palestinians oppose granting East Jerusalemites the right to vote in Israeli elections.
“We don’t want Jerusalemites to vote in Israel elections,” said Jamal Zahalka, who oversees the Joint List’s policies on Jerusalem. He explained that the party’s official stance is that East Jerusalem is occupied territory, and that if Palestinians in East Jerusalem were to take Israeli citizenship, this would bolster Israeli sovereignty over the area and diminish hopes for a two-state solution.
The Joint List hopes to improve social and economic conditions in impoverished East Jerusalem. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel reports that 75.3 percent of East Jerusalem residents live below the poverty line, and that only 34 percent of Palestinian Jerusalemites graduate from high school.
“The dropout rate is the highest among Palestinians, and classrooms are overcrowded. This only makes poverty levels increase, which are already high,” Zahalka added. He said that the Israeli separation wall, which runs along the border of the occupied West Bank and separates East Jerusalem from the West Bank, is the source of many economic hardships.
We've endured these conditions since the occupation began. As someone living in Jerusalem, I know that the two-state solution is dead, and cannot be saved.
According to Zahalka, “the Joint List hopes to mobilise the international community to stop settlements in East Jerusalem” in order to secure a two-state solution.
Fayrouz Sharqawi, the mobilisation and networking coordinator at Grassroots Jerusalem, a local non-profit organisation that encourages alternative tourism, said that Jerusalem is “filled” with businesses owned by Israeli settlers living in annexed East Jerusalem, as a result of the Israeli government treating settlements as “natural neighbourhoods” in the city.
“They’re very common, and many international companies are involved. I think the EU should make a clear stand against them,” Sharqawi said in an interview.
While she supports measures against Israeli violations of international law, Sharqawi believes that the two-state solution is no longer realistic.
In her opinion, the roughly 600,000 Jewish settlers living on occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, along with the fragmentation of Palestinian areas caused by these settlements, and the separation barrier have made an independent Palestinian state impossible.
“We’ve endured these conditions since the occupation began. As someone living in Jerusalem, I know that the two-state solution is dead, and cannot be saved,” she said.
Follow Creede Newton on Twitter: @creedenewton