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Project March 21, 2013

Jerusalem: Eternal City, Eternal Divide


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In diplomatic negotiations, Jerusalem has been, forever, set aside.

Under Oslo, Jerusalem was carefully separated out, pushed forward to another negotiating moment. After the assasination of Yitzhak Rabin, and the subsequent waves of violence that rolled into the Second Intifada, Jerusalem never made it to the negotiating table. In 2000, it was Jerusalem that derailed the Camp David peace accords between then-prime minister Ehud Barack and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. In his memoirs, published in 2011, former Jerusalem Mayor and later (quasi disgraced) Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claimed he and Mahmoud Abbas had been closest to an agreement—where Barak had insisted on total Israeli sovereignty over the Holy City, Olmert had conceded the Israelis and Palestinians would share the capital.

Not much of that matters now, with the peace process all but completely stalled. But the forever-wait on Jerusalem tactic is only on the diplomatic side. The building and contesting of Jerusalem on the ground has gone on for the last 15 years, unabated, untethered to any peace process. If anything, the situation has reached a point where the idea of a two-state solution itself may be fully unmoored by the very puzzle peace left to be fit in at the end.

Israeli settlement building in the greater Jerusalem area has increased over the last four years, reaching levels not seen since before Oslo. But internal to Jerusalem, too, the contested land has reached a match-striking moment in areas just to the east of the Old City where houses themselves are contested, and at the edges of the city, where building has continued at a previously unseen speed.

Sarah Wildman's stories focus on the politics and culture of Jerusalem proper—not the West Bank, not the settlements, but the problems and pressure points of the Holy City itself. They look at what creates the fissures, who hopes to solve them, and who advises Americans and other diplomats on what options remain for a two-state solution.


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