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There is a future for Palestinians in Jerusalem

Last month, one of my friends took me on a tour of the Old City with my son

Alastair McPhail

Published: Updated:

Last month, one of my friends took me on a tour of the Old City with my son. We jostled with the crowds shopping at Damascus Gate. We ate kaek. We smelt the pungent spices and coffee. We felt humbled by the sight of Christian, Muslim and Jewish worshippers heading towards their holy sites. Jerusalem is beautiful. I am lucky to live here.

But I share the concern of many Palestinians that the Palestinian character of East Jerusalem is being eroded. I have watched the events of my year here with consternation. I have seen settlement building outside my window in Sheikh Jarrah. I have heard the sounds of clashes coming from the Mount of Olives and Wadi al-Joz and detected the whiff of tear gas in the air. I have walked past the empty building of Orient House. I have crossed several checkpoints surrounding the city.

There can be no justification for violence, including as a way to change or preserve Jerusalem’s status

Alistair McPhail

The Palestinian character of East Jerusalem must be preserved, and the British government is determined to play its role in doing so. We are committed to a negotiated two state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital. As EU Foreign Ministers have said, we must safeguard the position of East Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital. How are we working to do this?

Moving forward

Firstly, by our presence here. I and the eight other Consuls General in Jerusalem have a unique role. We have a responsibility to engage with Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, to understand the challenges that they face and to encourage actions which can help build a better future. We do not accept the annexation of East Jerusalem. Until final status negotiations are complete, we will continue to view Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, a city with a distinct status.

Secondly, we support Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem and the vital work they do to serve the people of East Jerusalem and provide local community leadership. We helped the MADAA creative center in Silwan to renovate its premises, enabling hundreds of young people and women from Silwan to do sports and arts activities. We provided funding to the Hakawati Palestinian National Theatre to run its puppet festival, providing enjoyment for xxx children. We upgraded the facilities at the Burj al Luqluq center in the Old City, which is now used by xxx people weekly.

We will continue to call for the re-opening of other Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem which have been closed down, including the Orient House, the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other institutions in the city. They have a role to play in serving the people of Jerusalem and taking positive action for the future. And alongside active Palestinian institutions, it is important that there is space for moderate Palestinian leadership in the city. Palestinian officials should be able to serve Jerusalemites. And Palestinians living in East Jerusalem should be fully represented.

Thirdly, we support Palestinian development and oppose settlement building in East Jerusalem. We are working with the Jerusalem Community Advocacy Network to support families separated by residency rules or at risk of losing their homes. We are supporting the International Peace Cooperation Centre’s work on urban planning in Palestinian neighborhoods. Settlement activities in East Jerusalem are not legitimate. With the international community, we will continue to condemn settlement building in East Jerusalem as illegal and push the Israeli government to stop.

Jerusalem’s status

However, there can be no justification for violence, including as a way to change or preserve Jerusalem’s status. We unreservedly condemn all violence, whoever the perpetrators are. It harms all communities. We welcome the courageous words of President Mahmoud Abbas condemning last week’s terrible attacks on the synagogue in Jerusalem and support all those working to de-escalate tensions and promote calm. This is vital as part of allowing more positive progress to be made.

Last month, I listened to the enthusiastic chants of the Al-Issawiya girls’ football team and their supporters as they played on their community pitch. A couple of weeks later, sitting at home, I could hear the noise of the clashes in the same neighborhood. The Issawiya girls and other young people of Jerusalem, whether Palestinian or Israeli, deserve a future of peace and hope.

When our Prime Minister visited in March, he dared us to imagine the prize of taking difficult steps towards peace and a two state solution: a future “Palestine without checkpoints”. A place where it is possible to visit family and friends wherever they may be, a place of dignity, freedom and security for the Palestinian people. Today I dare you to imagine a future Jerusalem without checkpoints. A shared capital where Palestinians and Israelis can travel freely and without fear to visit family or to shop. Where neighbourhoods can build parks and new houses. Where active Palestinian institutions are serving citizens under committed, elected Palestinian leadership.

There is a future, in Jerusalem, for Palestinians.

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Alastair McPhail CMG OBE is the British Consul General to Jerusalem and was the United Kingdom's first Ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan, appointed in July 2011 when the country gained independence. He had served as Consul-General from 16 March 2011. McPhail left South Sudan in March 2013 and was appointed to be British Consul-General in Jerusalem from January 2014. McPhail was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 2014 New Year Honors for services to British interests in South Sudan.

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