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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.4 (2001) 80-89

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The Demographic Dimension in Conflict Resolution: The Case of Jerusalem

Uzi Rebhun


International territorial disputes often involve demographic issues, and the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East is no different. The aspiration to expand Jewish settlement and create a Jewish majority in Palestine by means of immigration was a fundamental Zionist goal, going back to the late nineteenth century. The fear that this tendency elicited among the Arab leadership is reflected in various restrictions on Jewish immigration during the period of British Mandatory rule. The results of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war created the as yet unresolved problem of the Palestinian refugees, and population considerations acquired special significance following the June 1967 war, when Israel occupied and partly annexed areas populated by a large number of Arabs, including East Jerusalem.

This question of Jerusalem has stood at the center of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians until very recently. While the changes in government in Israel and the United States, and the violence in the region, are likely to delay the resolution of the conflict, eventually both sides will have to confront once again the very sensitive and complicated issue of Jerusalem. The recent discussions on the topic revolved around the peace proposal of President Bill Clinton, which incorporated elements of a permanent Jewish settlement. The guiding principle of the American proposals regarding Jerusalem was that those areas populated by Arabs will be Palestinian, while what is Jewish will belong to Israel. This approach would have to be applied while trying to maintain maximum territorial continuity for [End Page 80] both Palestinians and Israelis. The division of the residential neighborhoods and the Old City on the basis of demographic-ethnic criteria and the arrangement of the status of the holy places would turn Jerusalem into the capital of two nations.

The connection between territory and population is particularly complex in light of the different patterns of demographic behavior that prevail among Jews as opposed to Arabs and others in Jerusalem. Despite a clear policy on the part of Israel to encourage Jewish demographic dominance in Jerusalem, the proportion of Jews among the total population has, in fact, shrunk since the city's reunification. Population projections, prepared at the request of the Jerusalem municipality by a demographic-social team that I coordinated, and which were based on various scenarios of demographic developments among Jews and Palestinians, suggest a continuation and even sharpening of the same tendency through the year 2020. Demographic trends thus form an important, if not the primary, element of the context in which international negotiations need to be conducted and decisions made. 1

Historical Background

Jerusalem's municipal borders have changed several times during the past fifty years. Between 1948 and 1967, the city was divided between a western, Israeli sector and an eastern, Jordanian one. Following the Six Day War and the city's reunification under Israeli rule, Jerusalem's municipal borders were expanded to incorporate a belt of territory to the north, east, and south of the main urbanized area, albeit excluding substantial portions of both the British Mandatory District of 1944 and the Jerusalem city boundaries as established by the United Nations in 1947, which remained under the administration of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). [End Page 81]

The enlarged post-1967 borders were further expanded westward in 1985 and, more significantly, in 1993, creating a total municipal area of 123 square kilometers. Following initial implementation of the 1994 Oslo Agreement, the IDF relinquished control of some of the territory surrounding Jerusalem to the direct rule of the Palestinian Authority.

Despite these political and territorial changes, empirical documentation is available to reconstruct Jerusalem's population development within a fixed territorial framework substantially similar to the contemporary municipal borders (table 1). Within these fixed terms of reference, Jerusalem's population grew from 186,500 in 1946 to 267,800 in 1967 and to 591,000 at the end of 1995. The share of Jews out of the total inhabitants within Jerusalem's 1993 municipal boundaries increased...


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