"Struggle for Sovereignty and the Future of Jerusalem" - open meeting at Birzeit University

As part of the activities of Jerusalem Week at Birzeit University, a lecture was organized on Tuesday 5 October, under the title "Struggle for Sovereignty and the Future of Jerusalem". Four speakers addressed the topic, Abdul Sittar Qassem, Professor of Political Science at Birzeit University and An Najah University, Hatem Abdul Qader: PLC member from Jerusalem District and former member of the PLC committee on Jerusalem, Khaled 'Amayreh, Islamic activist, and Faisal Huseini, PLO executive committee member and Head of Jerusalem Portfolio within the Palestinian Authority. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Nabil Al-Khateeb, from the Media Studies Centre at Birzeit University.

Professor Abdul Sittar Qassem began by stating that his speech would focus on issues broader than Jerusalem, and he wanted to discuss the reasons for the current difficult situation of Palestinians and how to best approach the future. Apart from the objective conditions such as support by world powers for the Zionist movement, Qassem outlined four reasons specific to Palestinian society, "We ourselves have made many mistakes all the way through the struggle - even before 1948 - and things will continue to worsen if we don't change ourselves."

"Firstly, we haven't instilled in our youth a sense of national identity and belonging to the land. Secondly, we have always had a tendency to focus on rule of an individual through all our organizations, political factions, and institutions. Thirdly, we have not built ourselves economically a base for the struggle against the occupation and finally, we suffer from corruption within the institutions of our leadership.

"These factors have caused us to lose our land, including Jerusalem, and I don't believe we will win it back outside the context of the Arab and Islamic world. Palestinians from the head of the dart but without the Arab and Islamic countries, we won't be able to fight back. We must rebuild ourselves morally and culturally and work on this question from within an Arab and Islamic context."

Hatem Abdul Qader, PLC member from Jerusalem District and former member of the PLC committee on Jerusalem spoke next on the topic, "Jerusalem: between Zionist attack and Palestinian neglect".

Abdul Qader summed up the Zionist Israeli attack on Jerusalem as based on three main factors, "Firstly, the Israeli government worked on isolating Jerusalem from its Palestinian context and the rest of the Palestinian land. Secondly, they worked on isolating the Palestinian Jerusalemite institutions and replacing them with Israeli institutions. They do this by preventing Palestinian institutions from working among Palestinians, banning them or preventing them from getting funds. The third factor is the Judaization of Jerusalem through ID confiscation, land confiscation, house demolition, denial of medical care, denial of the right to education and so on."

"At the time when the Zionist attack mainly concentrated on Jerusalem, the Palestinian reaction was very negative and we did nothing to face this attack. The Palestinian situation in Jerusalem was much better before the signing of Oslo agreement. The Oslo agreements freed the hands of the Israeli government to pursue a policy of Judaizing Jerusalem. Before Oslo there was the PLO and Palestinians were trying to fight back against these attacks, but after Oslo nothing is done."

Khaled 'Amayreh, an Islamic movement activist spoke on the topic, "Jerusalem between national rights and the negotiation table." 'Amayreh stated that the reasons for such open meetings are to increase public awareness of certain issues and to give the Authorities and those in charge the chance to make use of recommendations presented during these meetings by experts and participants. However, he expressed doubt that this would be the result of today's meeting, "The PA will never try to make use of these recommendations or the outcomes of today's meeting which forces us to question the usefulness of such a gathering."

"We shouldn't talk about the liberation of Jerusalem just because Islamic and Christian religious sites are housed between its walls. We should talk about Jerusalem as part of the liberation of all Palestinian lands."

'Amayreh finished his speech by calling for immediate Presidential, PLC and PLO elections. "These elections should be held before any talk about final status negotiations or any national unity talks."

Faisal Huseini, PLO executive committee member and Head of the Jerusalem Portfolio within the Palestinian Authority, spoke last on the topic, "On the eve of the final status negotiation, what has the PA prepared?"

Husseini defended the record of the negotiators over the last few years. "I have heard criticism and calls for reforms. But any one who calls for reforms should have participated in the building process in order to have the right to call for reforms."

"We haven't liberated Jerusalem but the situation in Jerusalem didn't get worse after Oslo, on the contrary, it has improved. There is an official position on Jerusalem and support for Jerusalemites through different institutions. This support includes education, medical care, and social and political support. Before Oslo Palestinians formed 25% of the Jerusalem population and since then we have raised this percentage to almost 33%. This was due to the Israeli attack and ID confiscation policy that forced Jerusalemites living outside Jerusalem to return. These people found the support to do so The situation is still improving and supportive programs are built. We still encourage Jerusalemites to come back and live in Jerusalem."

"Concerning the final status negotiations, our position on Jerusalem is that we are not talking about east Jerusalem we are talking about all of Jerusalem. We insist on Israelis withdrawal to the borders of 1967 with East Jerusalem under complete Palestinian sovereignty. Palestinians who lived and owned land in what is known now as West Jerusalem should be able to go back and live there and to be compensated for any loss or damage to their property that they owned before 1967."

"We insist on Israel withdrawing to the 1967 borders and won't agree on any changes in these borders because 1 cm makes a difference in Jerusalem. We are not going to compromise any part of Jerusalem. If during earlier negotiations mistakes could be made the final status negotiations cannot allow that possibility. It is a critical and essential period, during which no mistakes are allowed and no internal disagreement is permitted. National unity is a requirement."

Discussion followed the speakers and part of it focused on the assurances given by Faisal Husseini. One member of the audience argued that since the same people who negotiated Oslo will be leading the coming negotiations there is no guarantee there won't be a repeat of the mistakes of Oslo. Husseini replied that Oslo is not a peace agreement and is only an announcement of principles. Peace agreements are to be reached during the final status negotiations.