The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Advice for Moshe Leon, the incoming Mayor of Jerusalem: Exercise maximum sovereignty and maximal fairness, while seeking to strengthen the unity of Jerusalem; implement Government Decision 3790 to invest NIS 2.1 billion in Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem; advance plans for Jewish and Arab building beyond the 1967 lines in one package; and make higher education and high-quality employment for eastern Jerusalem residents a priority.


“I don’t envy you,” Abu Mazen said to me the last time we met eight years ago. “Why?” I asked him in surprise. “You have the hardest job I could imagine,” he answered. “You represent a non-functioning body facing a hostile population, in the most complex city in the world.”

The Abu Mazen mentioned here is not Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, but rather Muhamad Masri, the Chairman of the Community Authority of Beit Hanina and southeastern Jerusalem. Eighth years after that encounter, when I was leaving my position as Advisor to the Mayor of Jerusalem for Arab Affairs and the Director of the Eastern Jerusalem Department in the Municipality, I thought about what Masri had said.

It seems to me that there have been changes, essentially positive, regarding what he said. In the case of the “non-functioning body”, surveys carried out in recent years have shown that the level of satisfaction has risen among eastern Jerusalem Arabs regarding Jerusalem municipal services, such as education, social welfare, building licenses, etc. Masri was essentially right in his diagnosis that much of the eastern Jerusalem population is hostile to Israeli authorities, but it cannot be denied that there has been increased interaction between this population and both Israeli authorities and Jewish society in Jerusalem – in areas such as commerce, education, employment and health.

With respect to the third point mentioned by Masri, namely that Jerusalem is “the most complex city in the world,” indeed eastern Jerusalem was and remains one of the most complex places on earth. As time passes, the sovereign, socioeconomic and security challenges facing the Jerusalem Municipality and the Government of Israel have only intensified.

Based on my personal, professional experience, in this article I suggest policy guidelines for Moshe Leon, the incoming mayor, regarding eastern Jerusalem. I have worked with Leon for the last two years as part of my responsibility in the Jerusalem Municipality for the Arab neighborhood authorities. Leon, who has emphasized his commitment to reinforcing the unity of Jerusalem, has shown concern, thoroughness and attention to detail on the various issues. I am hopeful that, as Mayor, this practical and in-depth approach will continue to characterize his relationship to eastern Jerusalem.

Politician or Statesman?

The first decision, in my opinion, that Leon will have to make as mayor with respect to eastern Jerusalem, is whether he will seek to be a politician or a statesman. From a political perspective, the investment of time, attention and financial resources in the Arabs of eastern Jerusalem produces no benefits. The Arabs of eastern Jerusalem do not vote in the mayoral elections and it is reasonable to assume that this will continue in the future. They are not even represented on the City Council or by any party in the Knesset. Furthermore, they have no political or economic influence on decision making at the various levels. Moreover, the allocation of a large budget to the Arab neighborhoods—and even more so the publicizing of this investment in the media—leads to criticism among large sectors of the Jewish public in Jerusalem. Moreover, the political Left wants to divide the city and not to make any further investments in eastern Jerusalem.

Therefore, I believe that a major investment in the Arab population in Jerusalem can be based only on a broad strategic view of the importance of reinforcing the unity of Jerusalem. There is however another approach—one that is municipal in character—which emphasizes the commitment of the Jerusalem Municipality to improving the services to the city’s Arab residents, based on their residency status. However, the experience of the past (during the term of Mayor Uri Lupoliansky, for example) shows that this approach leads only to the bare, necessary level of effort and the devotion of only a minimal amount of attention. A mayor who manages a coalition that represents all sectors in Jerusalem (except for the Arabs), consisting of demanding council members, will relegate the issue of eastern Jerusalem to the margins, I fear.

This will occur unless Leon decides, as Mayor Nir Barkat did before him, that this issue is important to him from a geopolitical perspective. Such a decision will lead to the investment of time and managerial attention, financial resources, government connections and “time spent in the field” in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. There is no doubt that senior government officials, such as Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Zeev Elkin and the Jerusalem Police Chief Yoram Halevi, will be partners in such a pragmatic and comprehensive approach.

The fundamental problems of eastern Jerusalem are not in the hands of the Mayor but rather in those of the Government of Israel. Therefore, the Mayor cannot take a leading role in the political processes related to unity or division of the city as part of a peace process or as a unilateral move. The issue of the civil status of eastern Jerusalem Arabs (residents/citizens) is not in his hands either, but rather in those of the Ministry of the Interior. The issue of the Temple Mount has political ramifications (such as the role of Jordan there), and a security dimension, that is also managed by the government, rather than the Municipality.

Nonetheless, many issues that are directly related to the reinforcement of the city’s unity are decided on by the Mayor, even if not exclusively, including those related to budget, transportation, business, infrastructure, planning, employment and the socioeconomic gap between the two parts of the city.

Therefore, if Leon decides to strengthen the unity of Jerusalem or alternatively to weaken it, he can operate in several domains and shape the future character of Jerusalem.

Maximum sovereignty, maximal fairness

The guiding principle of the policy proposed here is “maximum sovereignty, maximal fairness” to reinforce the unity of Jerusalem. The practical implication of this outlook is the demonstration of governance and sovereignty in the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem in all facets of life: providing services to residents and enforcing the law, without fear or compromise in times of both calm and confrontation. This is based on a high level of commitment to fair treatment of the Arab population and providing broad and comprehensive solutions to its needs. The application of this rationale requires an appropriate budget that will make it possible. Indeed, it appears that from this point of view, Leon is taking office at a highly opportune moment.

During the final months of 2018, Government Plan 1775 for the development of eastern Jerusalem, which involves an investment of NIS 200 million in the Arab sector, is reaching its final stages, while maintaining a high rate of budget usage. The program has brought about positive change in the areas of culture, recreation, sport, education and social welfare and was one of the factors that has led to an improvement in the lives of Arab residents.

In addition, Government Program 3790, which will invest NIS 2.1 billion in the Arab community in Jerusalem, is in its early stages and it has the potential to bring about real change in the Arab neighborhoods. Although senior administrators in the Jerusalem Municipality and in government ministries are involved in the implementation of the project, the attention and monitoring of the program by the incoming Mayor will provide real momentum to the realization of the program.

Planning and Building Beyond the 1967 Lines

The most important issue facing the Mayor in the context of eastern Jerusalem is that of planning and building. Whether building for Jews and Arabs beyond the 1967 border is accelerated, slowed or frozen will more than anything else shape the demographic and political reality in Jerusalem. The advancement of development plans will not only influence the relative balance between Jews and Arabs in the city (which is currently 62 percent Jews and 38 percent Arabs), but it will also create a Jewish or Arab building continuum beyond the 1967 lines in a way that will affect the feasibility of dividing the city in the future.

Among the plans for building beyond the 1967 lines that have been waiting for discussion by the local committee (the municipal authority) or the district committee (the government authority), are those that include construction for both Jews and Arabs, such as Givat Hamatos; plans for Jews only, such as the expansion of Har Homa; and zoning plans for Arab neighborhoods, such as Beit Hanina and Beit Safafa.

The presentation of building plans beyond the 1967 lines for discussion by the district committee is a sensitive policy issue that is handled by the Prime Minister’s Office (and primarily with a view to the reaction of the US administration) and is directly affected by Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority and the moderate Arab states. My close involvement in this issue indicates that the main channel for the approval of building plans – both Jewish and Arab building – is their presentation for discussion before the district committee as a single package.

Packaging the two sectors together is the fairest approach for all the sectors in the city and is more palatable to the Israeli, American and international sensitivities. A possible ratio of the number of housing units presented for discussion could be according to the demographic ratio between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem – 2/3 Jews, 1/3 Arabs. In order to provide the district committee with a sufficiently broad “basket” of housing units for the two sectors, the plans should first be approved by the local committee, which is composed of city council members. The approval of building plans in the Arab neighborhoods by the local committee—where this sector has no representation—can be made possible if the Mayor puts his full weight behind the issue and is personally involved.

The advancement of building plans for the Arabs of eastern Jerusalem is aligned not only with the rationale of “maximum sovereignty, maximal fairness”; it is also the key to building for Jews beyond the 1967 lines, with the consent of the international community.

There is another important facet of the planning and building issue – arriving at an arrangement for ownership of land in eastern Jerusalem, based on the cooperative efforts of the Ministry of Justice and the Jerusalem Municipality. This process was initiated by outgoing Mayor Barkat and Justice Minister Shaked towards the end of Barkat’s term.

Currently, in the absence of an arrangement, there is no certainty as to the ownership of land in eastern Jerusalem and therefore there are cases of the private use of land by Arab residents, whether knowingly or unknowingly, which belong to the State or to Jewish owners. Currently the process of obtaining a building permit in Arab neighborhoods is based on the “Mukhtar procedure” according to which the applicant for a building permit must produce a variety of documents to prove ownership of the land. This includes purchase documents, wills, property tax confirmation, approval of the district surveyor, a declaration by the owner, and the signatures of neighbors and of two Mukhtars from the neighborhood confirming the historic connection of the family claiming ownership of the land. This practice is problematic since it gives excessive weight to community knowledge that is not sufficiently documented or official. However, this procedure is currently in use owing to the lack of any better alternative.

The lack of a land status arrangement also results in a large financial loss to the Municipality and the government since there is no formal reporting of real estate transactions carried out in eastern Jerusalem, which leads to a loss in revenue to unpaid purchase tax amounting to billions of shekels.

Demolition or Fines?

Another major component of the planning and building issue is the encouragement of legal building in the Arab neighborhoods on the one hand and the strict enforcement of planning and building laws in eastern Jerusalem on the other.

Currently, the Jerusalem Municipality is dealing with thousands of cases of illegal building in eastern Jerusalem. About 40 percent of the structures in eastern Jerusalem do not have a permit! The Municipality is handling only about 400 requests for building permits each year. Although this is still a small number, it represents an increase relative to the previous decade.

Increasing the proportion of legal building starts in the Arab neighborhoods is important, not only because it maintains the rule of law, but also because it affects the ability to develop the public domain in the neighborhoods. In areas where building is legal, it is possible to pave roads, remove garbage more efficiently and develop areas for commerce, sport, culture, and recreation, according to a formal and up-to-date urban or rural model. This model has taken shape in recent years in the neighborhoods of Shuafat, Beit Haninah, Beit Safafa, Sharafat, Tsur Baher and Wadi Joz.  The Municipality does not collect taxes and levies when the buildings are illegal.

The way to encourage legal building involves the establishment of a “green track” for those who wish to build legally and greater deterrence of illegal building. Creating greater deterrence can be achieved not only through demolition but also through financial punishment. Demolition of buildings undoubtedly creates a powerful deterrent and the Municipality is even obligated to carry them out by law.

However, demolition leads to a highly complex reality from the Israeli perspective. First, the demolitions raise the level of tension in the Arab neighborhoods and the hostility of the residents against the Municipality and the State. Second, the Palestinian Authority (PA) provides financing for the legal expenses of illegal builders and financial and community support for anyone whose home has been demolished by the Municipality.The PA projects an image as the rebuilder of a house demolished by the “Zionist occupier.” The ruins of a demolished house immediately become a political-nationalist symbol of the struggle against Israel.

Therefore, it appears that focusing on the imposition of heavier fines, making illegal building much more expensive than legal building, will create a more effective method of prevention, while avoiding the political windfall to the PA.

Regarding demolitions, I recommend focusing primarily on construction in its early stages, which requires greater monitoring. Strict enforcement with respect to building starts, together with greater fines on existing buildings, can create a high level of deterrence on the ground, which will lead the average resident to think twice before building illegally.

The Light Rail – A Basic Component of Jerusalem’s Unity

A second component, which is directly related to planning and building, involves roads and public transportation. The paving of north-south and eastern-west routes between the Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, together with the paving of internal roads within the Arab neighborhoods has a dramatic effect not only on residents’ quality of life but also on the strength of the city’s unity.

Naturally, the Light Rail plays a major role in facilitating access between the various parts of the city. In this context, consideration should be given to the fact that the attacks on the Light Rail during the waves of violence from 2014 to 2017 were a result not of the fact that Muhamad Abu Hadir was kidnapped near the rail line but that the Light Rail symbolizes the unity of Jerusalem in the eyes of its Arab residents.

The planning and implementation of the Light Rail’s Brown Line, which connects Atarot in northeastern Jerusalem to Jabil Mukaber and Umm Lisun in southeastern Jerusalem, will constitute a decisive step in reinforcing the unity of the city while at the same time will represent a quantum leap in easing movement through the city. (See the appendix for an aerial photo showing the route of the Brown Line).

With respect to roads, focus should be on the “American Road” (so-called because the early planning and paving of the road was initiated and financed by the US during the 1960s under the Jordanian regime).

The American Road starts south of Tsur Baher, which is in southeastern Jerusalem, continues on to the Kidron Valley, follows up the valley, and arrives near Derech Yericho at Ras Al Ammud. The main part of the road (in the Jabil Mukaber area) is currently under construction, with a budget of about NIS 162 million. The construction of the northern section of the road (which connects Ras Al Ammud to Jabil Mukaber) and the southern portion (in the Tsur Baher area) will constitute a major transportation improvement for the Arab residents and will ease the congestion on Derech Hevron.

Jerusalem Matriculation

The third component is education. In recent years, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Education have placed emphasis on the introduction of Israeli matriculation study tracks in the Arab education system in Jerusalem.

The Oslo Accords of 1994 established that eastern Jerusalem would use the curriculum of the PA (the “Tawjihi”). Accordingly, 110,000 students study according to a curriculum that does not make any positive mention of the existence of the State of Israel and includes incitement to violence against Jews and Israel.

Although the censorship of the curriculum carried out by the Municipality monitors inciteful content, it does not have much effect on what is learned in the classroom and on the discourse between a teacher and his pupils.

Therefore, the transition to an Israeli curriculum in Arabic, which includes positive material about the State of Israel and its institutions will have an important influence in terms of education, culture and security.

Indeed, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of Arab students studying toward an Israeli matriculation certificate. Currently there are 7,000 students on this track in the various schools, as opposed to just hundreds in the past.

Nonetheless, the policy of the Jerusalem Municipality and the government of Israel to channel pupils into the Israeli matriculation system has led to an aggressive response from the PA and their representatives in the Arab neighborhoods. They accuse educators in the official schools (of the Jerusalem Municipality) and non-official recognized schools (which receive budgeting from the Ministry of Education) of “normalization” (“Tatbiah” in Arabic) with respect to the “Zionist occupier” and acceptance of Israel’s plan for the “Judaization” of eastern Jerusalem. This situation puts the principals and the teachers in the schools under pressure that they find difficult to withstand.

In this context, it is suggested, first and foremost, that Mayor Leon create an in-depth dialogue with the school principals in eastern Jerusalem, who undoubtedly are currently the most important community leaders in the neighborhoods. The Mayor should make himself available to them to signal that they have support on this issue.

Second, public discourse on the curriculum should not emphasize the Israeli component (which would give it a political nature), but rather the access that Israeli matriculation provides to higher education and high-level employment. Palestinian education is based on rote learning, while the Israeli system emphasizes skills for analysis, thinking and deduction. Therefore, unlike the Palestinian program, it prepares youth to study in Israeli institutions of higher learning.

After many hours of discussion with Arab high school students in Jerusalem, I am certain that attending the Hebrew University is one of their main aspirations. Therefore, the labeling of this important educational process should shift from “Israeli matriculation” to that of access to higher education and high-level employment.

Due to the pressure on Palestinian parents in eastern Jerusalem not to register their children for the Israeli school system, it can be assumed that the annual growth in the number of students registered in it in coming years will remain small relative to the huge demand that exists. A different labeling of the process will make it easier to withstand community and political pressures.

In addition, an effort should be made to achieve greater access to higher education and high-level employment for students who are currently studying for the Israeli matriculation. The success of its graduates will make clear to future students the advantages of this track. Second, an effort should be made to expand the technical matriculation tracks (both high and low tech) for which there is the greatest demand.

Finally, the “Jerusalem matriculation” model designed by the pedagogical staff at the Education Authority in the Municipality is the one that should be implemented. The model seeks to create a framework of common discourse with educational figures in eastern Jerusalem in order to formulate a curriculum that will be acceptable to both sides. The “Jerusalem matriculation” will embody the pedagogical advantages of the Israeli matriculation, will neutralize the incitement to violence and will include the components of religion, history and culture, which are important to Arabs in eastern Jerusalem, as part of liberal arts study.

Teddy Kollek as a Model

The common discourse mentioned above is of the utmost importance. The identification of the Mayor of Jerusalem as someone who has a direct, intimate and father-like relationship with all of the city’s residents is crucial in the management of the city of Jerusalem in general and of eastern Jerusalem in particular. The Palestinians of eastern Jerusalem are accustomed to say that although they do not vote for the mayor, he is still the “father of all the residents – Jewish, Christian and Moslem.”

The late Teddy Kollek, the mythological Mayor of Jerusalem, admitted that during his term Israeli investment in eastern Jerusalem was negligible. Nonetheless, Kollek is remembered favorably by Arab residents and they feel great empathy towards him, due to his direct, personal and congenial relationship with the leadership of the various neighborhoods.

Therefore, my recommendation to Mayor Leon is to visit the Arab neighborhoods often, both formally and informally, and to be hosted in the homes of the leaders of the Moslem and Christian communities and to host them in his office, in the hope of creating mutual trust between the sides. These personal relations are critically important, in times of both calm and of confrontation.

Ongoing and direct interactions should also be held with the Jewish residents of eastern Jerusalem – in Nof Zion, Silwan Hatichona (Beit Yonatan) and its environs, the City of David, Maale Hazeitim, the Moslem Quarter, etc. These neighborhoods and their leaders are knowledgeable about what is happening on the ground and can contribute an important perspective to the discourse on eastern Jerusalem.


In conclusion, these are my policy guidelines for eastern Jerusalem:

  • “Maximum sovereignty, maximal fairness,” while seeking to strengthen the unity of Jerusalem.
  • Devoting attention, “office time” and “field time,” to the issue of eastern Jerusalem, while wearing the hat of a statesman rather than that of a politician.
  • Creation of close personal ties with leaders of the population in eastern Jerusalem – the Arab-Moslem leadership, the Christian leadership and the leadership of the Jewish neighborhoods.
  • An “open door” policy and personal ties with the most important Arab leaders in eastern Jerusalem – the school principals.
  • Close monitoring by the Mayor of the implementation of Government Program 3790 which involves an expenditure of NIS 2.1 billion on Arabs in eastern Jerusalem.
  • Personal involvement in the advancement of a land status arrangement in eastern Jerusalem, in cooperation with the Minister of Justice.
  • Advancement of building programs for both Jews and Arabs beyond the 1967 lines and its presentation as a single “package” for discussion by the District Committee.
  • Increasing the financial deterrent for illegal building and focusing on enforcement regarding building starts.
  • Advancement of the Light Rail Brown Line and the “American Road,” which will create a transportation continuum between northeastern and southeastern Jerusalem.
  • Promotion of Israeli high school matriculation with emphasis on access to higher education and high-quality employment.

I wish the incoming Mayor and the entire Jerusalem City Council success in these important tasks.

photo: Bigstock



Route of Light Rail Brown Line (Source: Master Transportation Plan for Jerusalem)

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