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Dividing Jerusalem Is Physically Impossible

In honor of Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated yesterday, anyone who hasn’t yet done so should read Michael Totten’s 2011 City Journal article on why dividing the city that was reunited 45 years ago is not merely foolish, but impossible. There are many good arguments against dividing Jerusalem, and they have been made many times before. What makes Totten’s article unique is that he physically walked the route along which the border would lie under the solution “everyone knows” any Israeli-Palestinian deal must include – a division in which the city’s Arab neighborhoods become part of Palestine while Jewish neighborhoods remain Israeli. For the purpose, he used the Geneva Initiative’s map. Here are some of the absurdities he found:

On a street near the Armenian Quarter, a house that the Geneva Initiative has slated for Israel is wedged between two houses that would go to a Palestinian state. Houses in the Old City are ancient. They lean on one another. It is physically impossible to weave a border between them … Things are even stranger where the Muslim Quarter abuts the Jewish Quarter. Arabs own shops at street level, while Jews own apartments upstairs. According to the Geneva Initiative, the ground floor on that street would be Palestinian and the second floor Israeli.

Even in neighborhoods where Palestinian and Jewish houses aren’t intertwined the way they are in the Old City, the map was utterly impractical:

Take the neighborhood of Abu Tor, on a hill just south of the Old City. The eastern side is Arab, and the western side is Jewish. The Green Line runs through its center. It would be easy enough, theoretically, to make the Green Line the border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

But that border would go right down the middle of a street where Jews live on one side and Arabs live on the other. If a wall or a fence were erected on that border, residents wouldn’t be able to drive down their own street. And if there were no wall or a fence, anyone could cross the border without passing through customs or security: tourists, spies, job-seekers, and suicide bombers. A Palestinian could throw a hand grenade into Israel from inside his living room, and vice versa.

As Totten noted, such a map would be possible only if Israel and Palestine had a completely open border, European Union-style, in which citizens of both nations could freely enter the other with no border checks whatsoever. That is indeed the fantasy envisioned by proponents of dividing the city. But in the real world, it’s completely impossible.

First, Israelis wouldn’t accept a border wide open to Palestinian terrorists. An individual Israeli prime minister certainly might; both Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak reportedly did. But by law, ceding territory Israel has annexed requires the approval of either two-thirds of Knesset members or a majority of the public in a referendum. And given the escalation in terror produced by every previous Israeli-Palestinian agreement, a deal that left Israel’s security totally dependent on Palestinian goodwill would never win the requisite support.

But an open border is also an economic non-starter. Israel’s economy is a powerhouse compared not only to the Palestinian Authority, but to all its Arab neighbors. Hence with an open border, it would be flooded with economic migrants – primarily Palestinians, but also other Arab nationals, who could enter Palestine legally and then cross the borderless border into Israel. Even now, thousands of Palestinians risk imprisonment or even death every day trying to cross the security fence to work in Israel. If the passage were risk-free, the number would skyrocket.

In short, dividing Jerusalem isn’t physically possible. Thus, until the fantasy of division is abandoned, no Israeli-Palestinian deal will be possible, either.


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