16 November 2000 (Newsroom)
Arabs are gathering signatures calling for an independently governed
referendum that would give them the right to choose between Israeli
and Palestinian sovereignty once a Palestinian state is established.
under the leadership of Zuhair Hamdan, the 47-year-old head of
the largest clan in the Tsur Bahr neighborhood of East Jerusalem,
have collected more than 12,000 signatures calling for a referendum
before any decisions on Jerusalem are made between Israel and
the Palestinian Authority (P.A.).
of the referendum drive believe it would help stop growing alienation
from Jewish neighbors while securing their plight in a future
Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Jerusalem's Arabs, who carry the
status of permanent Israeli residents, have a higher standard
of living than Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Their citizenship
entitles them to free movement and work opportunity throughout
Israel and access to all of Israel's social programs, including
health insurance, free school education, retirement benefits,
and unemployment payments. Though
they claim to suffer discrimination, Jerusalem's Arabs have been
much less resistant to the Israelis than their West Bank and Gaza
in Jerusalem view the referendum effort as naive and dangerous,
since it openly challenges the Palestinian Authority and its West
Bank constituency. The latest poll conducted at the Bir Zeit University
of Ramallah showed that 92 percent of West Bank students oppose
a peace treaty without East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian
state. Only 21 percent of the Palestinians polled were ready to
accept Israeli sovereignty even in West Jerusalem, which is part
of pre-1967 Israeli territory.
responded to accusations of "collaborating with Israel" by citing
his former membership in P.A. President Yasser Arafatís elite
guard, Force 17. Hamdan was a member from 1968 to 1972 in Jordan,
Lebanon, and Syria. In 1974 he returned to Jerusalem as part of
a family reunification program. "The P.A. is a failed experiment,"
Hamdan declared recently. "Arafatís way is bloodshed. This is
how it was in Jordan in the 1970s and later in Lebanon. A leader
who spills the blood of his own people has failed."
In the past,
Hamdan has criticized the P.A. for corruption and the conduct
of its police, asserting that they have kidnapped Arab residents
who carry Israeli identification, extorted money from them, and
persecuted the P.A.'s critics.
the 200,000-strong Arab community of East Jerusalem say they lament
the collapse of mutual trust between Jews and Arabs in the city.
Neighborly relations survived years of the first intifada but
almost have died in the current month-long wave of violence. Arab
shop-owners of the Old City are concerned that terrorist attacks
on Israelis have created a feeling of deep suspicion and have
stanched the influx of foreign tourists and Jewish customers.
Arabs have petitioned the International Court of Justice in the
Hague, requesting that the referendum be held under the auspices
of an independent third party. They have sent letters to United
States President Bill Clinton and United Nations Secretary General
Kofi Annan, expressing concern that they will find themselves
handed over to the control of the Palestinian Authority without
having been consulted. Both
Clinton and Annan have promised to look into the matter.
this referendum as meaning that we donít want the Palestinian
Authority, that we want to remain under Israeli rule," Hamdan
notes. "No. I just want to give people the chance to express their
opinions. Maybe the majority wants the Palestinian Authority,
or Israel, or even Jordan."
he would like to see Jerusalem's Arab villages remain under Israeli
sovereignty while being granted a large measure of neighborhood
autonomy. "For 33 years, we have been part of the state of Israel,"
he said. "But now our rights have been forgotten."
attorney handling Hamden's case admits it is unprecedented, as
the international court hears requests from nations, not individuals.
"We are trying to work through a U.N. committee, either Middle
East or Human Rights," said Omri Kabiri, deputy head of the Israeli
Bar Association. "The U.N.F can then turn to the court and request
a referendum. But in that case, both Israel and the P.A. must
agree to accept the courtís judgment so its decision can be enforced.
The other option is if one of the countries, either Israel or
the P.A., were to accept this petition, then that country could
go directly to the court."
Yehuda Blum, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations,
dismisses the entire case as political, not legal: "The parties
involved are preparing something for political propaganda," he
said. "It is ridiculous for any lawyer to promote such a request."
As for Israel taking up the petition, Blum said that "Israel is
not going to request an international ruling on something that
it sees as falling within its domestic jurisdiction. Not only
would Israel not request such a thing but would vigorously oppose
Moshe Hirsch of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem believes the
case does not fall under the legal definition of self-determination.
"International human rights law gives the right to self-determination
to people," he said. "But some experts believe that this applies
only if the state doesnít grant citizens adequate participation
in governmental processes. And I donít believe that is true in
this case. Citizens in Israel have the right to vote for the Knesset
and the prime minister. Should the government decide to transfer
a part of the state to another country and this is approved by
the Knesset, then legally there is no need to ask the residents
involved for approval."
city councilor Roni Aloni believes, however, that the proposed
referendum will get widespread support in Israel, appealing to
the political left "because it is human rights, and to the right
because they are interested in having these areas remain part
of Israel." Source: