“Jerusalem is a shared gift for humanity”.

Jerusalem: The Path to Palestinian-Israeli Peace

Saliba Sarsar*

The path to Palestinian-Israeli peace begins and ends in Jerusalem. Over the years, much has been written about Jerusalem[1] and much thought has gone into envisioning possible solution for its future status.[2]

Over the past two years, a very small group of Palestinian and Israeli researchers, Middle East policy analysts, and former peace negotiators have been in discussions about advancing peace between Israel and Palestine. Consensus has emerged for a confederal framework, dubbed the Holy Land Confederation (HLC), which may enable both Palestinians and Israelis to break through the current deadlock in the peace process. Whatever the outcome of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, the HLC can have a consequential impact on the culture of peace and on closer cooperation in Israel/Palestine for the good of both peoples.

This confederal plan is detailed in a 100-page document, “The Holy Land Confederation as a Facilitator for the Two-State Solution.”[3] Chapter 6 focuses on the question of Jerusalem, which is reprinted below. The hope is that Palestinians, Israelis, and others give serious consideration to this plan as they discuss the status of Jerusalem.

Chapter 6: “Jerusalem – Two Capitals and Coordination Between Them,” in Saliba Sarsar, ed. The Holy Land Confederation as a Facilitator for the Two-State Solution. Israel: Economic Cooperation Foundation, 2022.

Jerusalem is significant to the three faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and to many others. It is essential for justice, peace, equality, and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and in our world. All of Jerusalem’s inhabitants deserve to live a dignified life, with the ability to freely pursue and develop their daily lives, including access to adequate housing, jobs, education, medical care, municipal services, religious sites, and cultural activities. Demographically, geographically, and religiously, Jerusalem is the biggest and most important city in Israel/Palestine. However, since 1967 there has been mutual dependency of unequal sides, with East Jerusalem fully dependent on West Jerusalem.

This chapter presents the view of Jerusalem, as developed by the Holy Land Confederation (HLC): Al-Quds and Yerushalayim, the respective capitals of the two fully independent, sovereign states of Palestine and Israel. After listing general principles, it discusses relevant issues related to the two capitals in Jerusalem.

General Principles

  • Upon formation of the HLC, free movement is established within the Old City of Jerusalem, as foreseen in the Geneva Accords. Further liberalization steps, according to a clear timetable, including turning Jerusalem into a fully open city with free movement of people, goods, and capital between the two capitals of Al-Quds and Yerushalayim, are an integral part of the peace agreement. Five years after forming the HLC, steps will be taken to liberalize the border regime between the two States, including in Jerusalem. Both parties, however, have the right to defer such steps due to their continuous national interest.

  • Since East Jerusalem suffers from a lack of big investment in infrastructure and services – including paved roads, pavements, water, environmental and sewage systems, education systems, hospitals, and cultural institutions – it is difficult to move directly from over two generations of annexation to two disparate yet connected capitals. All the final parameters are clearly defined from the outset in the peace agreement, which is then followed by a period of gradual implementation. In Jerusalem, this includes creating Al-Quds municipal units, enabling free access between Al-Quds and the West Bank, capacity building of municipal and civil society, and removing the separation barrier.

  • In the first stage, Al-Quds severs itself from Yerushalayim, yet still maintains some linkage. The principle of minimal joint institutions guides the parties to avoid recreating colonial relations between the strong side and the developing side. Gradually, based on maximum equality and partnership, the areas of cooperation can expand.

  • Given that states have different perspectives and concerns than those of cities, the differences between Yerushalayim and Al-Quds must be bridged. The two parts of the city would not only function as urban entities, but also serve as the capital city of their respective states. Therefore, each state would play an essential and unique role in city affairs.

  • Immediate coordination is developed on both the state and municipal levels. For example, the two states would need to coordinate visa policies, as well as security and economic arrangements. On the municipal level, systematic cooperation is cultivated in areas such as emergency and health services, higher education, transportation systems, environmental protection, tourist attractions and festivals, holy and archeological sites, energy, and water systems [See Geneva Accords, Article 6.11, “Municipal Coordination.” https://heskem.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/English.pdf]. Work can begin in areas that are politically less sensitive and offer great potential benefit to a maximum number of citizens, or that focus on critical areas where lack of agreement would make it impossible to achieve peace.

  • A joint binational committee is established to monitor implementation of the Jerusalem chapter of the peace agreement and resolve disagreements that arise at the municipal level. The role of a third party in matters pertaining to the Old City is considered, based on the model proposed in the Geneva Accords. Over time, ad hoc coordination and cooperation arrangements may lead toward an efficient local joint framework.

  • An interreligious council consisting of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim representatives is established to facilitate coordination in matters of access to holy sites, religious holidays, festivals, and so forth. The council can also be a catalyst for understanding, reconciliation, and coexistence.

  • Short-term infrastructure development is required to facilitate the longer-term vision of a fully open Jerusalem, beyond the Old City.

Issues of Mutual Concern


A special international fund is established to support the needs of the two capitals: Al-Quds and Yerushalayim. The fund focuses on building the institutions of Al-Quds and upgrading its underdeveloped infrastructure and services. In addition, Al-Quds Israeli citizens continue to enjoy Israeli social insurance benefits from the years they paid into the system.

Israel and Palestine would also coordinate fiscal policy, including the value-added tax (VAT) and income tax. The Palestinian economy can only develop if there is an uninterrupted flow of goods, people, and funds right from the start.


There is currently only one supplier (Israel) of electricity for both parts of the city, but there are two administrative systems. Moreover, an Israeli agency supplies approximately 80 percent of East Jerusalem’s water needs, while a Ramallah-based company supplies the other 20 percent. The water comes from sources in both the West Bank and Israel. Around 80 percent of East Jerusalem’s water infrastructure (and 100 percent of West Jerusalem’s) is connected to the Israeli national water system. Any separation of water infrastructure would require time and entail considerable costs. The only feasible solution is a water agreement that separates the management systems but gives Palestinians ownership over the infrastructure in Al-Quds. This should be developed during the implementation period, based on the pending creation of a separate system.

Under the proposal for infrastructure development, the existing infrastructure networks remain intact during a period of 10 to 15 years, as agreed upon by both parties. During this period, the residents of Al-Quds and Yerushalayim continue to use their current network, even if based in the other city. Citizens of each side pay their own state providers for infrastructure services, and the provider settles accounts with the other side’s provider. Each municipality builds its own infrastructure with the goal of operating separate networks at the end of the period. The two parties can also mutually agree to share infrastructure beyond the agreement period.

Cross-Border Transportation

A complementary and integrated cross-border transportation system boosts the economies of Al-Quds and Yerushalayim. It is difficult to imagine tourists having to switch to a different transportation network when travelling from one part of Jerusalem to the other. Special arrangements should be formulated to facilitate cross-border transportation and movement – for instance, a light rail and/or a designated shuttle bus for movement between the two areas.


It is essential for the two separate police authorities to cooperate on combating crime. A joint police forum is created to implement safety measures, share data on crime and safety, and implement an integrated approach to protecting and improving the lives of residents on both sides.


Security is a broader concept than policing. It includes controlling and authorizing border crossings, combating threats, and providing a sense of security for both sides while maintaining law and order. Security arrangements for Jerusalem in the context of a final two-state peace agreement should reflect the new reality of peacetime, allowing citizens to enjoy the benefits while ensuring their safety is not compromised. This process will be a gradual one, according to the ongoing security situation.


Neighboring cities face the same environmental challenges. Thus, neither Yerushalayim nor Al-Quds would be able to address environmental problems on its own. It is in the interest of both parties to establish a joint committee to formulate and implement shared environmental policies.


A large amount of West Jerusalem sewage flows toward East Jerusalem and then to the West Bank, while a very small amount of East Jerusalem sewage flows toward West Jerusalem and then to Israel. The sewage flowing to the east is untreated, causing substantial pollution. Separating the sewage systems of al-Quds and Yerushalayim is possible but would be costly and create additional environmental problems. A better solution is to formulate an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that includes systematic sewage treatment and the reuse of treated water for agriculture or energy production. Procedures for drainage and solid waste management should also be implemented.

Cultural Heritage


Jerusalem and its surroundings have many archaeological sites, holy places, heritage monuments, and artifacts of local and international importance. In the two-state solution, some cultural heritage sites of special importance to Israelis would be under Palestinian jurisdiction, and vice versa. In the HLC, reciprocity is the guiding principle in protecting the heritage sites of the other side. The status quo vis-à-vis the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif should also be respected.

In addition, other recommendations are:

  • Expanding the bounds of the UNESCO World Heritage Site beyond the Old City, and implementing the internationally accepted regulations and bylaws pursuant to this classification.

  • Establishing a joint cultural heritage council, with UNESCO participation, to enhance bylaws and jointly compile a list of sensitive cultural sites. The joint committee would pay close attention to the national and religious importance of cultural heritage sites to both Palestinians and Israelis, in addition to their international dimension. Since a major component of culture in Jerusalem is living heritage, special arrangements would be required, including fair and free access in accordance with accepted regulations (e.g., capacity, security, religious practices, decorum, and so forth).

  • Drafting and implementing a cultural heritage management plan, in accordance with international practices, for the two capitals.

  • Ensuring maximum respect for heritage sites and involving UNESCO in implementing the Jerusalem agreement and delegating arbitration powers to it.

  • Excavating and removing all artifacts from the other side’s territory and returning them to their place of origin.

  • Giving each side legitimate space to express its collective memory and past, without stirring animosity or delegitimization. A peaceful resolution of the Jerusalem issue would not eliminate the two separate ethnic identities or erase painful collective memories.


Since 1967, Israel has unilaterally decided on Jerusalem’s municipal borders. In a confederal framework, both parties have a say in determining these borders. If Israel keeps all the Jewish neighborhoods/settlements within Jerusalem’s current municipal boundaries, Al-Quds would be able to expand alongside the municipal boundaries of Yerushalayim, as shown in Map 6.1.

Map 6.1: Extrapolation of Jerusalem boundaries based on the Geneva Accords

The areas adjacent to the municipal borders must be treated with sensitivity; neither party would have absolute liberty to develop its side without consulting the other party. Both parties would need to agree on land use along the borders.

Institutional Structure

Jerusalem and its environs comprise a complex geopolitical region. Considering this unique situation, and the experience in similar cities, we recommend allocating most of the administrative authority to the separate municipalities of Yerushalayim and Al-Quds, which would be primarily responsible for providing services to their respectable citizens.

The Geneva Accords proposes forming a Jerusalem Coordination and Development Committee (JCDC) “to oversee the cooperation and coordination between the Palestinian Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli Jerusalem municipality” [See Geneva Accords, Article 6.11. https://heskem.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/English.pdf]. The JCDC’s mandate would be to “ensure that the coordination of infrastructure and services best serve the residents of Jerusalem and … promote the economic development of the city to the benefit of all.” The JDCD would also “act to encourage cross-community dialogue and reconciliation.”

The Geneva Accords recommend the formation of subcommittees to tackle the issues of planning and zoning, hydro infrastructure, transportation, the environment, economic development and tourism, police and emergency services, holy sites, and maintaining the border zone [ See Geneva Accords, Article 6.11. https://heskem.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/English.pdf]. Other areas of coordination might include gas and electricity use, archaeological digs and assigning the locations of government buildings and foreign embassies. Fruitful cooperation on specific topics can lead to wider cooperation in other spheres of contestation.

Several issues must be resolved when examining the possible structure and responsibilities of the municipal institutions, including the desired level of coordination (i.e., minimum intervention) or cooperation (i.e., a greater degree of intervention), procedures for settling disputes, timetables and stages, and guidelines for electing representatives for shared institutions.

Rights of Permanent Residents in Jerusalem Who Will Become Palestinian Citizens

Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who are entitled to Israeli services as up to the day that the peace agreement is fully implemented will continue to enjoy those services for the period for which they already paid.


* Saliba Sarsar, Ph.D., born and raised in Jerusalem, is President and CEO of the Jerusalem Peace Institute. He is Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University.

1 Saliba Sarsar, “Select Bibliography on Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Peace Institute https://www.jerusalem-pi.org/select-bibliography-on-jerusalem/.

[2] See Gershon Baskin, “The Jerusalem Problem: The Search for Solutions.” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics & Culture, Vol. 8, no. 1 (2001), https://pij.org/articles/165/the-jerusalem-problem-the-search–for-solutions; Eugene Cotran, “The Jerusalem Question in International Law: The Way to a Solution,” Islamic Studies, Vol. 40, nos. 3&4 (Autumn-Winter 2001): 487-500; Azeem Ibrahim, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Jerusalem?” Al-Arabiya News, December 10, 2017 (updated May 20, 2020), https://english.alarabiya.net/views/news/middle-east/2017/12/10/How-do-you-solve-a-problem-like-Jerusalem-; Ir Amim, “Jerusalem as a Political Issue,” https://www.ir-amim.org.il/en/issue/jerusalem-political-issue; Meir Kraus, “Jerusalem: The Contours of a Possible Agreement,” Fathom (October 2019), https://fathomjournal.org/jerusalem-the-contours-of-a-possible-agreement/; Lior Lehrs, “Solving the Issue of a Divided Jerusalem,” The Jerusalem Post, June 5, 2021, https://www.jpost.com/opinion/solving-the-issue-of-a-divided-jerusalem-670182; Paolo Napolitano, “Jerusalem: The Heart of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union Policy Department, European Parliament, March 2012, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/briefing_note/join/2012/491443/EXPO-AFET_SP%282012%29491443_EN.pdf; United Nations, “The Status of Jerusalem,” Prepared for, and under the guidance of, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, United Nations, New York, 1997, https://www.un.org/unispal/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/The-Status-of-Jerusalem-Engish-199708.pdf; William James Stover and Marina Mankaryous, “Sovereignty Over Jerusalem: A Legal Solution to a Disputed Capital,” International Journal on World Peace, Vol. 25, no. 4 (December 2008): 115-136; John V. Whitbeck, “The Road to Peace Starts in Jerusalem: The ‘Condominium’ Solution,” 45 Cath. U. L. Rev. 781 (1996), https://scholarship.law.edu/lawreview/vol45/iss3/11.

3See also the two articles: Yossi Beilin and Saliba Sarsar, “Israeli-Palestinian Confederation is a  Way Forward for Peace,” The Jerusalem Post, February 17, 2022, https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-696830 and Hiba Husseini and Yossi Beilin, “An Israeli-Palestinian Confederation is the Best Path to Peace,” Foreign Policy, May 23, 2022, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/05/23/israeli-palestinian-confederation-peace/.

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