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1 - Jerusalem Under Oslo
2 - Background
3 - The Israeli Position
4 - The Palestinian Position
5 - During the Interim Period
6 - Proposals

Jerusalem is the most politically complex, religiously sensitive and emotionally loaded issue of the myriad of difficult issues to be determined in the final status negotiations.

1 - Jerusalem Under Oslo

For many observers, the inclusion of Jerusalem in the list of final status issues marked a great departure from traditional Israeli policy, where Jerusalem was considered a red-line issue for Arab-Israeli negotiations. Indeed, its inclusion was presented as a coup by the Palestinians. As Faisal Husseini declared: "in the Oslo Accords it was established that the status of Jerusalem is open to negotiations on the final arrangement, and the moment you say yes to negotiations, you are ready for a compromise."

In addition, the DOP entitled Palestinians in Jerusalem who do not hold Israeli citizenship to participate in the Palestinian elections. However, despite Palestinian insistence, these Jerusalem residents were themselves barred from serving on the Palestinian Council.

According to Israeli journalist David Makovsky, the issue of Jerusalem had been included in a draft declaration of principles, known as the Sarpsborg Accord, concluded in the early stages of the Oslo negotiations, before the Israeli Government took an official role in the proceedings. In fact, in that early draft, there was a vague suggestion that East Jerusalem might be included in the Palestinian self-rule areas. In June 1993, when the Oslo talks were upgraded, Israel attempted to remove Jerusalem entirely from the final status issues. However, Palestinian negotiators refused to concede, and Jerusalem remained an issue for negotiation.

During the Oslo negotiations, the Palestinians pressed for immediate powers in Jerusalem. According to Makovsky's account, in the final days of the negotiations in August 1993, the Palestinians demanded an official administrative presence in Jerusalem, instead of being restricted to Gaza and Jericho. The Israeli Government refused this demand, but faced with a possible breakdown in the talks, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres (with Prime Minister Rabin's approval) agreed to issue a letter pledging not to close existing Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem and guaranteeing Palestinian access to Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem. This secret letter was addressed to Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst on October 11, 1993, and stated:

I wish to confirm that the Palestinian institutions of East Jerusalem and the interests and well-being of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are of great importance and will be preserved. Therefore, all the Palestinian institutions of East Jerusalem, including the economic, social, educational and cultural, and the holy Christian and Muslim places, are performing an essential task for the Palestinian population. Needless to say, we will not hamper this activity; on the contrary, the fulfillment of this important mission is to be encouraged.

The Peres letter was made public in an infamous speech given by Yasir Arafat in a Johannesburg mosque in May 1994 in which he called for a "jihad for Jerusalem" and claimed that Israel had given him assurances that it would negotiate the future of the city. After repeated hedging, the Israeli government confirmed the existence of the letter, but declared that the letter protected only existing Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem.

The present and future status of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem became more complicated with Israel's promise to Jordan, in the July 1994 Israel-Jordan Washington Declaration, that its rights would be considered in the final status negotiations. As stated in the Washington Declaration and reiterated in the October 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace:

Israel respects the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy Shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines. (Article IX [2])

Palestinians were furious with this development, and accused Israel of prejudicing its commitment to negotiate this issue only during final status talks with the Palestinians. In statements since that time, Jordanian leaders have intimated that were these Muslim holy sites transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in a final status agreement, Jordan would relinquish its claims.

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