This morning Alan Elsner, vice-president of communications at J-Street, interviewed Daniel Seidemann. If you're interested in understanding what's going on in Israel, watch it! [The sound is garbled at the start of Seidemann's comments, but it improves right away and is acceptable. The substance of what he has to say is excellent]
From Elsner's introduction:
Daniel [Seidemann] has been a practicing attorney in Jerusalem and a partner in a firm specializing in commercial law since 1987. Since 1991, he has also specialized in legal and public issues in East Jerusalem. In particular, he has worked on issues and cases related to government and municipal policies and practices, representing Israeli and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem before the statutory Planning Boards regarding development issues. ... He has argued more than 20 Jerusalem-related cases before the Israeli Supreme Court.
Since 1994, Mr. Seidemann has participated in numerous Track II talks on Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2000-2001, he served in an informal advisory capacity to ... as a member of a committee of experts commissioned by Prime Minister Barak's office to generate sustainable arrangements geared to implement the emerging political understandings with the Palestinians.
About the ConflictThere is a feeling of unease and danger that envelopes both sides, says Seidemann:
"This is new.. I was able as an Israeli Jew to visit all of East Jerusalem during the Second Intifada [2000-2005]. ...I would be in the Shuafat refugee camp twice, three times a week. ... Today... 90% of East Jerusalem is off limits to me because going there unaccompanied by a Palestinian colleague or a diplomatic vehicle would entail risks I am unwilling to accept...."
"Many of the Palestinian men in Jerusalem, some 35,000, work in Israel, primarily in West Jerusalem, and the restaurant workers whom I know will not go to throw out the trash alone. They will go in twos and threes because there are vigilantes out in the streets of Jerusalem who harm unarmed Palestinians for fun, and much of this is not being reported."
A Divided City
"Jerusalem has always been a divided city; it was never divided like this.... In Jerusalem, the border (of a two-state-solution) exists, and it goes exactly where the politicians would be placing it. And it's a border of fear and a border of hatred...."
"Hatred is endemic. Popularized. It is not acceptable in respectable company in either the Israeli side, or the Palestinian side, to say anything positive or respectful about the other side. That's new..."
"Between 2001 and 2008, there were 270 Palestinians arrested in security related offenses. We have arrested many more since Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 13). That means more people have been arrested in the last seven weeks than in the entire second intifada. This a popular uprising the likes of which we have never witnessed before. And that's new. And it's not going away....."
...It Started Last July
"Initially, when this uprising broke out a year ago... it was contained to the Palestinian neighborhoods. Increasingly, that violence has spilled into Israeli Jerusalem and into West Jerusalem. So it's a different kind of fear. It's less focused; it's more widespread. There is a mutual distrust and anxiety which I did not even witness during the second intifada...."
With Respect to the Temple Mount
"What we are seeing is a change in the ecosystem; a very significant one. ...When Netanyahu says he is maintaining the status quo he is correct, but it is a highly inadequate answer. The fears of the Palestinians and Muslims are not paranoia; and they need to be addressed; and they need to be calmed. There is so little faith between the parties that this does not appear to be happening..."
The Ascendancy of Absolutist Faith Communities
"We in Jerusalem are witnessing the ascendancy of absolutist faith communities. The traditional communities are being marginalized, they are being silenced into retreat. We are witnessing the empowerment of those who weaponize faith.....Even if we see this round die down and ... steadier hands take over policy, the overall trend of radicalization will remain in place. This will remain with us for some time to come."
Netanyahu, the Mufti, and the Holocaust...
"Rhetoric is dangerous in Jerusalem. It's a dangerous substance. The ...mufti of Jerusalem was an anti-Semite, was a thug, and he was a Nazi collaborator. By the way, I know many of his family, and they are as wonderful as he was despicable. But at this point in time, to abuse those historical facts and then distort historical facts in order to smear the Palestinians and its current leadership is intellectually dishonest, it's irresponsibility of the highest order and it is the last thing we need...
"And it is deeply disturbing that a very intelligent prime minister of Israel, with a great familiarity of Jewish history and European history, would use such false and distorted facts for cheap, short-term political gain. I am deeply disturbed by it ... and I'm questioning whether we're not witnessing Netanyahu 2.0, which is basically in-your-face to all the rest of the world with the exception of certain wings of the Republicans party and branches of the dispensational evangelical movements. Deeply disturbing...."
The Evolution of Hatred
"The evolution of hatred on both sides of the divide, the personalization of this conflict, is something that has been going on for a long time. The first intifada discredited the credibility of Greater Israel. The second intifada, which came after Camp David, did much to discredit the possibility of a political process. People no longer believe in the ability of a political process to be able to deliver anything.
"On (the Israeli side) this breaks down to a state of deep denial where we're sipping cappuccino sitting on the edge of a volcano, with a metastasizing occupation, and deep despair on the Palestinian side. We have a generation of youngsters, decent kids, who've never met Palestinians. And we have Palestinian kids who have been growing up--I know these kids--good kids, who hate me because all they know of their experience is that I'm their occupier and they have absolutely no way out of this.
"One of the things we've reaped for the lack of credible political process in recent years, is a deep mutual dehumanization that's taken place."
The Occupation: Poisoning the Soul of the Israeli People
"Israel began its occupation by exporting some of its democratic and humanistic values to the West Bank. That has changed. There were protracted periods in which occupation was a disease in remission. ... Today it is not a disease in remission. It is poisoning the soul of the Israeli people and racism is becoming rampant. Being a victim in Palestine (sic) does not enable their souls either, racism and hatred is as rampant on the other side as it is here...."
"We are seeing the dividends of years of Israeli governments not moving towards a two-state solution, but in fact building the one-state reality. Go out on the streets of Jerusalem, take a hard look at the interactions: you're looking at the future if the two-state solution is lost."
The Absence of Politics of East Jerusalem
"If we wanted to reach out to the Palestinian political leadership in East Jerusalem, there is nobody to reach out to because we have crushed every political expression more radical than a Scout meeting, and sometimes we've crushed Scout meetings."Seidemann commented on the fact that only 12 percent of the Jerusalem budget is spent in East Jerusalem, which contains 35 percent of the people. Between 1967 and today, the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem has increased more than four-fold: from 69,000 to 310,000. In 1967 the population lived in 12,600 homes, yet while there was a four-fold increase in population, only 4,500 building permits have been issued by the Jerusalem municipality. As a result, most housing is being built without permit (the current population of 310,000 is living in 50,000 homes). In other words in excess of 37,000 homes have been built without permit. "That's not an accident," says Seidemann.
"Where is that derived from? We have a curious theory: that theory is, if we do not allow the Palestinians to build legally, they will lose interest in sex and child rearing and take up chess. There is no empirical evidence to the effect that this is working. The goal is to maintain the demographic balance of the city. In Jerusalem, the birth of an Israeli child is a simcha (gladness/joy) and the birth of a Palestinian child is a demographic problem. That is reflected in the planning regime."
In the past 14 years more than 800 structures have been demolished or partially demolished in East Jerusalem because they were constructed without a valid permit.
"There is a law of political physics. Politicians will never allocate time, energy, money, or resources to people who can't or won't vote. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem are permanently disenfranchised. That is the core of occupation. They are disempowered. As a result of that, this (the disproportionately small percentage of the budget spent in East Jerusalem) can't be reformed. It can't be improved. It's not about getting mayor Barkat to behave better. If I were the mayor of Jerusalem, I would not be doing much better than mayor Barkat because the system is inherently dysfunctional. Israel cannot rule wisely or fairly over a national collective that's disempowered. And that's why this ends in a border, and that's reflected both in the allocation of budgets and in the planning regime."
The Legal Status of East Jerusalem Palestinians
"When Israel annexed the 70 square kilometers that we did of East Jerusalem (in 1967) we annexed the land; we did not annex the population. In 1948 and 1949 when Israel found itself with several hundred thousand Palestinians who remained within Israel's borers--we did not ask them--we made them citizens. Israel granted (in 1967) the status of permanent resident, not the status of citizen. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem do not have the right to vote in national elections. They do not have Israeli passports. They do have the right to vote in municipal elections, but they elect not to because for them that would be declaring we are Israeli. Palestinians of East Jerusalem, formally but also substantively, have never been viewed as Israeli by Israel, nor have they viewed themselves as such.
"In the 2013 elections, there were more than 157,000 Palestinians who could vote for mayor (not in the national election). Of them, 1,101 participated and that is 0.7 percent voter turnout....that cuts to the core of the inherent dysfunctionality of East Jerusalem. We don't want to give them rights, to empower them, make them part of our community. We never offered them citizenship; they never wanted citizenship; they have the right to ask for citizenship; we have the right to say "no." (It's) inherently dysfunctional.
The Core of the Conflict: a Lack of Rights
"Do the Palestinians of East Jerusalem have rights? Indeed they do. They have the right of freedom of movement. They can work in Israel. They have social welfare benefits. They have property rights. But these rights always hang by a thread. The status of permanent residents basically says to them: you guys have rights and we're going to be nice to you if you behave, and if you tow the mark, but if you act... what we consider to be poorly, or if we really want to abrogate or annul your rights, we can take them away; and your property rights, and your residency rights, and your social welfare benefits hang by a thread. They are a barely tolerated minority, and that is the core of this conflict."Follow me on Twitter @rolandnikles