Daniel Seidmann distorts the reality of Jerusalem’s Palestinians at ‘Comment is Free’

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Daniel Seidmann

Daniel Seidmann is the founder of an NGO called Terrestrial Jerusalem (TJ), another foreign government-funded far-left political advocacy group which places almost the entire blame for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, even Palestinian violence, on Israel.  

Seidmann’s Jan. 9 column at ‘Comment is Free’ is titled ‘The myth of an undivided Jerusalem is collapsing under its own weight‘, but it is Seidmann who’s propagating myths about Palestinian identity and the future of Jerusalem.

Responding to a claim by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (following his recent re-election) that “the vast majority of the Arabs in Jerusalem prefer to be on the Israeli side” and “they don’t want the city divided,” Seidmann notes their relatively low voter turnout and then argues the following:

 The Palestinians didn’t vote in this election, just as they have refrained from voting in previous municipal elections, because they were making a statement about their own identities: “we are Palestinian, not Israeli”.

However, Seidmann is not basing his claim on empirical data.  Polls in fact demonstrate that, in the event Jerusalem is divided in a final peace agreement, a plurality of Palestinians would prefer living on the Israeli side of the city. In addition to the clear democratic advantages and important social benefits they’d retain by remaining residents of Israel, “those who chose Israeli citizenship most often mentioned freedom of movement in Israel, higher income and better job opportunities.”

Now, for Seidmann’s next deception, on the “disenfranchised” Palestinians.

Seidmann:

Only 2,965 of the East Jerusalem Palestinians – 1.9% of the Palestinian population – voted in Israel’s 2013 national elections, with another 95% denied the right to vote.

This bizarre situation exists because most Palestinians in “undivided Jerusalem” are legally classified as “permanent residents”, rather than citizens of Israel. As such, they do not enjoy the right to vote in national elections….

By disenfranchising Palestinians of East Jerusalem from national elections, Israel has declared unequivocally that these residents of Israel’s “undivided capital” are not, in fact, part of Israel’s body politic. 

What the ‘Comment is Free’ contributor doesn’t tell you is that (following the unification of the city in 1967), Palestinians on the formerly Jordanian “eastern” side of the city became legal residents of Jerusalem (and  permanent residents of Israel) and had the the right to request full Israeli citizenship. However, for various political and cultural reasons, only a small minority have chosen to exercise that right. As a result, only about 15,000 east Jerusalem Palestinians are Israeli citizens today.

Seidmann spends much of his column arguing for a final status agreement which includes a bi-national (divided) Jerusalem, an idea not only fraught with problems (as Yaacov Lozowick has written about so persuasively) but which ignores a tectonic shift” taking place within Palestinian society. In a recent article on “Israelization” of east Jerusalem’s Arabs, Ha’aretz’s Nir Hasson describes trends which are inconsistent with partition.

Nir Hasson

Along with the nationalist radicalization, widespread support for Hamas and violent clashes reported in the media, far-reaching changes are taking place among the local Palestinians. These processes can be described as “Israelization,” “normalization” or just plain adaptation. The Israeli authorities, with the Jerusalem Municipality at the forefront, are encouraging and in some cases fomenting this process, and displaying surprising bureaucratic flexibility along the way.

Examples of this trend are legion. They include: increasing numbers of applications for an Israeli ID card; more high-school students taking the Israeli matriculation exams; greater numbers enrolling in Israeli academic institutions; a decline in the birthrate; more requests for building permits; a rising number of East Jerusalem youth volunteering for national service; a higher level of satisfaction according to polls of residents; a revolution in the approach to health services; a survey showing that in a final settlement more East Jerusalem Palestinians would prefer to remain under Israeli rule, and so on.

But dry statistics tell only a small part of the story; other elements are not quantifiable. For example, there is the pronounced presence of Palestinians in the center of West Jerusalem, in malls, on the light-rail train and in the open shopping area in Mamilla, adjacent to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. These people are not street cleaners or dishwashers, but consumers and salespeople. Another phenomenon is the growing cooperation between merchants in the Old City and the municipality.

Everyone involved in developments in East Jerusalem agrees that a tectonic shift is occurring, the likes of which has not been known since the city came under Israeli rule in 1967. Opinion is divided about the source of the change. Some believe it sprang from below, propelled by the Palestinians’ feelings of despair and their belief that an independent state is not likely to come into being. Others think it is due to a revised approach to the eastern part of the city by Israeli authorities, spearheaded by the municipality. Everyone mentions the separation barrier, which abruptly cut off Jerusalem from its natural hinterland − the cities and villages of the West Bank − as a factor that compelled the Palestinians in Al Quds (“the holy sanctuary”) to look westward, toward the Jews.

The huge light-rail project, which cuts across the city and greatly facilitates access from the eastern neighborhoods to the city center, is also contributing to the transformation. Most of these changes are occurring below the radar of the Israeli public, but their consequences could be dramatic, particularly with regard to the possibility of dividing Jerusalem − and the country. 

Finally, in the context of Seidmann’s advocacy on behalf of again dividing the city, it’s worth remembering that  Jordan ethnically cleansed the Jewish residents when it conquered the eastern half of the city in 1949 and, similarly, it seems certain that all Jewish residents of a future Palestinian controlled east Jerusalem would similarly be expelled.  

In other words, those advocating for a divided Jerusalem not only ignore the wishes of Palestinians who live there, but are tacitly supporting a future in which co-existence between Jew and Arab in the city would be replaced by walls and ethnic cleansing. 

It’s truly mind-boggling how, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, self-professed progressive advocates such as Seidmann often find themselves adopting policies which will result in greater separation and less co-existence.

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