The Arabs living in eastern Jerusalem are in a unique category compared to other Arabs in the region for two principle reasons: from the international perspective, they are not Palestinians, and from the Israeli perspective, they are Israeli. That is not true for any other Arab in the region.
The United Nations in 1947 had sought for all of greater Jerusalem and greater Bethlehem to be an international “holy basin”, but the 1948-9 Arab-Israeli war divided the region into Israeli-controlled and Jordanian-controlled territory. It’s why most countries do not recognize even the western part of Jerusalem as Israeli and move their embassies there, as they want the Holy Basin to be divided through negotiations. The same holds for the eastern part of the city.
From the Israeli perspective, they took the western part of Jerusalem in a defensive war in 1949, and then Bethlehem and eastern Jerusalem in another defensive war in 1967, making the acquisitions completely legal (reacquisitions actually, as all the land was part of the Palestine Mandate). Israel annexed eastern Jerusalem and extended the borders into a new municipality. All Arabs who have not been convicted of terrorism are allowed to apply for Israeli citizenship and thousands have done so.
The trend towards favoring Israel continues to grow.
In December 2022, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) conducted a poll of Arabs from eastern Jerusalem, and compared the results to a poll it conducted in 2010. The trend towards favoring being part of Israel over a potential Palestinian state grew.
There were 22 areas in which the Arabs thought that their daily lives improved, compared to only five in which they deteriorated (and two of them were about taxes). Access to the al Aqsa Mosque (+11%), retirement benefits (+11%), access to travel throughout Israel (+12%), access throughout the West Bank (+21%), overall standard of living (+21%), and obtaining a passport and flying out of Ben Gurion Airport (+22%) are just some examples.
The improvements are directly related to Israel’s governance. When asked to whom they turn when they have an issue, almost no Arab turned towards the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian NGOs or international NGOs which pepper the landscape. Almost everyone turns to either a family member or the Israeli government exclusively.
That is not to say that everything is good and people are satisfied with the Israeli government’s administration. The vast majority of Jerusalem’s Arabs are still angered by the Security Barrier and checkpoints which cause delays (89% and 87%, respectively). The perception of level of crime dropped significantly (from 84% in 2010 to 63% in 2022) as did the perception of corruption of Israeli officials (from 78% to 66%). However the levels of perceived intimidation increased, from border guards (54% to 65%), Jewish civilians (51% to 61%) and Palestinian groups (20% to 29%).
As the Palestinians consider holding presidential elections this year as announced in October 2022 as part of the Algiers Declaration endorsed by the United Nations, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is likely to raise a commotion about having Arabs in Jerusalem participate. According to the PCPSR poll, only 6% of the eastern Jerusalem Arabs said they would vote. Abbas uses Israel’s refusal to allow Jerusalemites to participate in Palestinian elections as an excuse to not hold them, when in truth, he knows that Hamas would trounce him, as shown in numerous PCPSR polls.
Significantly, when asked what they would like to see in a final settlement, the preference among Jerusalem’s Arabs is for being part of Israel TRIPLED, while only one-third would want to see Jerusalem become part of a Palestinian state, down from half.
Not surprisingly, the number of Jerusalem Arabs who would welcome being Israeli citizens over becoming a citizen of Palestine jumped as well.
The immediate reaction to the findings is perhaps surprise, as Jerusalem is considered the thorniest issue to resolve in the conflict. But Jerusalem’s Arabs are finding that becoming Israeli and part of a stable economic powerhouse is preferable to being under corrupt Arab rule.
As it relates to the most difficult of the thorniest issues, the Jewish Temple Mount / al Aqsa Mosque, the polls findings were shocking. Arabs believe that their access to al Aqsa will be BETTER under Israeli sovereignty than Palestinian sovereignty!
Perhaps that is the reason Abbas, Hamas and even the Jordanian king are actively trying to stoke anger about the Old City of Jerusalem and the al Aqsa Mosque: they see that the local Arabs are embracing Israel.
Jerusalem’s Arabs appreciate the benefits of being under Israeli administration and are increasingly showing their preference that all of Jerusalem should be under Israeli sovereignty.
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