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By: Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay.
(Exclusively for al-Zaytouna Centre).


This assessment aims to extrapolate, from available data, the future of Jerusalem, in the near and medium term. It explains that the current indicators point to dangerous future contexts, warning that all should bear their responsibilities towards Jerusalem and toward its rescue.

First: Prelude: Studying the Future Phenomenon

Studying the future of any political phenomenon requires considering the following aspects:

1. Focusing on trends rather than events. For when observing the Arab negotiating behavior, it indicates that the dominant trend is the change in the Arab and Palestinian positions. The Arab diplomacy started on the basis of rejecting the establishment of an Israeli state in Palestine, then it agreed to a truce with it, then accepted negotiations with it, then fully recognized it, and then the Arabs started gradually to abandon the Palestine issue… This means that the Arab side may continue the abandonment of all Palestinian issues (Refugees, borders, water and the right of resistance). Hence, the “possibility” of some Arabs recognizing Jerusalem as the unified capital of Israel is not to be excluded.

2. Assessing the three aspects of the balance of power: material variables, moral variables, and managing and employing these variables. In my opinion, the first one is in the Arab side’s interest (quantitative wise), the second is both in Israel’s interest (Development, internal cohesion, technology, etc), and in the Arab side’s interest (The ability to endure loss and suffering for a long time), whereas the third variable—which is considered the most important one—is largely in Israel’s interest.

3. Refraining from wishful thinking, and seeing the reality as it is, whether this wish is political, religious, ideological, or other. Such wishful thinking is more evident in Arab political thinking than in the Israeli political thinking.

Second: The US Position

The change in the US position has begun since Reagan’s administration (1981–1989), i.e., after Egypt exited the conflict. This change has taken gradual steps that make Trump’s latest position unsurprising:

1. The U.S. abstention (rather than rejection) on the UN Security Council Resolution 478, in 1980, which determined that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the recent ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.”

2. Considering Jerusalem an Israeli city in the records of the US State Department (Since the terms of Reagan and George H.W. Bush).

3. Agreeing to purchase Arab lands in Jerusalem to build the American embassy on them.

4. Martin Indyk, the U.S. ambassador to Israel in the 1990s, said that he wrote his “first memo on moving the embassy to Jerusalem in 1982.” [1]

5. The congress approved the “Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995,” which stated that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel,” adding that it should be established no later than 1999. Since then every US president sure to sign a waiver every six months, putting away the implementation of this legislation.

6. Clinton adopted the position that “the US embassy [at the current tome] should not be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” was adopted. However, he supported considering Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

7. The Trump administration and the embassy move, have concluded the above tracks. They have reflected the increase of imbalance of power in favor of Israel, which grew with the turmoil of the Arab world since 2011 until now.

This is especially true when the restrictions on the Palestinian side to achieve more imbalances have increased, such as exerting Arab and international pressure on Gaza Strip (GS), reducing aid to the Palestinians, weakening the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), pressuring some Arab countries to include the Palestinian resistance movements in the lists of terrorist organizations, the increasing Arab normalization with Israel, etc.

Trump stated that the “boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested border,” would be determined in bilateral talks, nonetheless, he began working on more power imbalances, to ensure that the outcome of any future negotiations is in the interest of the Israeli side. For he knows that the balance of power, and not argument, affects negotiation outcomes.

Third: The Israeli Public Opinion

According to a study by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University,[2] there is a correlation between the degree of Israeli public adherence to East Jerusalem and the intensity of resistance operations. It concluded that:

• In 1994-1998, some 80% of Israeli respondents felt that “Jerusalem must be united and opposed any division of the city.”

• In 1998-2000, opposition to dividing the city dropped to 65-70% of the Jewish population.

• In 2014-2015 and 2016, those opposing the transfer of Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to the Palestinians further declined to about 60%. INSS adds that the Knives Intifadah of 2015-2016, undermined the longstanding assumption that it is possible to maintain the city’s status quo. In addition, the concrete divider between the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods has decreased those opposing the transfer to reach 49% in 2017.

As for the interest of Israeli public in making changes in East Jerusalem, the results were as follows:

• 25% of respondents supported maintaining the status quo.

• 20% percent favored more physical separation between East and West Jerusalem.

• 27% favored transferring control of the Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinian Authority (excluding the Old City).

• 28% favored the establishment of a municipal authority for the Arab neighborhoods separate from the Jerusalem Municipality, though under Israeli sovereignty. This indicates a moderate increase in support for the idea from 23% in 2017.

INSS indicated that the Israeli policy in Jerusalem faces many problems, such as:

• Most of the international community continues to view East Jerusalem as an occupied territory.

• The religious significance to Judaism and Arabs (Muslims), fuels feelings and makes the explosion every time possible.

• The difficult living conditions in East Jerusalem makes stability more difficult.

• The ongoing security challenge and Israel’s de facto limited sovereignty in the east part of the city.

• 38% of the residents of Jerusalem (east and west) are Arabs, and are expected to grow (East Jerusalem has a population of 230 thousand Palestinians)- settlers account for only 1% of the population in those neighborhoods. For example, in 1990, there were 8,700 Palestinians in Silwan and zero Jews. Today there are 500 settlers and more than 20 thousand Palestinians.. This means the percentage of Jews to Arabs is increasing on the basis of the settler increase, from zero settler to 8,700 Palestinians (1990) to one settler to 40 Palestinians now.[3]

Fourth: Strategic Factors Unfavorable to the Israeli Side

1. Population: The number of Palestinians now in historic Palestine (2019) is 6.4 million compared to 6.3 million Jews. According to population growth rates, between 2030–2035, 54% of the population of Palestine will be Arabs, compared to 46% Jews. This is considered a major problem to Israel, that will lead to one of the following three possibilities:

a. Withdrawal from the West Bank, where there is a risk of diminishing the strategic depth of the Jewish state.

b. Non-withdrawal (Netanyahu’s project), where there’s the risks of a gradual transformation into a bi-national state, and other consequent risks.

c. Repeating the Gaza model, i.e., withdrawal from the least area of land with the largest possible Arab population. This requires the gradual displacement of Arabs, which would resemble the model of racial ghettos or “Bantustans.”

2. The possibilities of diverting US strategic attention from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region, hence the Importance of the region for the US would decrease, especially with the strategic problems facing the US, such as: the growing role of China, US energy independence, US economy problems (The world’s biggest debtor nation), growing poor income distribution, highest rate of crime of any industrialized nation.

3. Israel has failed (until now) to push the US or other Arab or international powers to confront Iran militarily, in order to let the power imbalances in the region grow.

4. Technological development of substate organizations, making it difficult to control its consequences in the future.

5. All international public opinion polls indicate a gradual decline in the degree of sympathy for Israel, which the latter knows has long-term risks.

6. There are widening cracks in Israeli society, with the Falashas, or with the Russians uniting under certain parties, in addition to the fact that there are old sensitivities known to the sub-cultures of the Israeli Zionist society.

7. There are concerns that instability in the Arab region may lead to changes in some regimes, making the conditions unsuitable to Israel; whether through military coups, revolutions, or chaos in some countries such as the Gulf states or Egypt, etc.

Fifth: The Future

According to the current available data, Jerusalem is facing major risks in the near and medium terms. According to available data, perceptions and indicators, we can determine Jerusalem’s future as follows:

This means that:

1. The probability of two states is 26%: with two tracks: two capitals and two municipalities 11%, and one capital with two sections 15%.

2. The probability of one state is 74%: with three tracks: one capital and two separate municipalities 22%, a municipality with two sections 26%, or one municipality 26%.

This indicates that according to current data, the track of Israeli domination is the most probable, and that according to current power balances, Israel will continue the Judaization of Jerusalem and changing its identity.

Sixth: The Israeli Approach

The Israeli approach concerning Jerusalem is: encouraging local Arab leaders to emerge, granting them municipal positions, and improving the living conditions of East Jerusalem and its environs. In Israel, many suggestions were discussed, such as:

1. Menachem Froman: One municipality with a religious department for Muslims and Christians.

2. Professor Emeritus of International Law Ruth Lapidoth suggested: The division of Jerusalem by religion, and postponing the issue of sovereignty for 30 years.

3. Another professor of law Shmuel Berkovitz suggested: Considering the holy sites “headquarters of the Palestinian diplomatic mission,” where sovereignty will be within their headquarters, but on the Israeli soil.

Seventh: Conclusion

The power balance will determine the future of Jerusalem, and it seems that, in the foreseeable future, local, regional and international power balances are not in the Palestinians’ favour. This means that Israel will use the power imbalances—as much as possible—in its best interest. It will accelerate harvesting the fruits of this imbalance, because it fears repercussions of the seven factors I referred to. This means that it will try to push more countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem (In 1982 Costa Rica moved its embassy back to Jerusalem, followed by El Salvador in 1984, however, in 2006 both countries announced their decision to relocate to Tel Aviv). It will also seek to change the demographics of Jerusalem, by harassing its residents to make them emigrate or relocate to other areas within the West Bank.

Facing the real risks mentioned above, requires the mobilization of all Palestinian, Arab, Islamic and international efforts, in order to preserve the Arab and Islamic identity of Jerusalem and its holy sites, and support its people.

[1] Amir Tibon, From Bill Clinton to Trump: The Never-ending Story of the Jerusalem Embassy Move, Haaretz newspaper, 6/12/2017,
[2] Zipi Israeli and Udi Dekel, “The Future of Jerusalem: Between Public Opinion and Policy,” INSS Insight No. 1057, 15/5/2018,
[3] Nir Hasson, Jerusalem’s Palestinians Hold the Key to Israel’s Future, Haaretz, 21/1/2018,

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 13/12/2019

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