Neglected and stateless: How Jerusalem Palestinians may benefit from Gulf-Israel ties

When Jerusalem native Amer is asked for identification, he pulls out his Israeli identification card. When traveling internationally, he uses a temporary Jordanian passport. But when asked his identity, he answers neither Israeli nor Jordanian.

“I am Palestinian even if I do not have a Palestinian ID or passport,” said Amer. “My family is Palestinian, and I have relatives and friends living in the West Bank.”

A man prays in East Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, overlooking the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque compound on May 22, 2020. (AP)Emily Judd, Al Arabiya English

Amer, 31, lives in East Jerusalem, territory annexed by Israel following the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. At the time, the Israeli government granted Palestinians in the city the status of residents, rather than citizens.

That decision complicates the lives of an estimated 360,000 Jerusalemites today.

Permanent resident status enables these Palestinians to live in Jerusalem, but they are treated like foreign immigrants. They cannot vote in national elections and the Israeli government contributes less for their infrastructure and education systems compared to other citizens in the city.

Israel offers Palestinians in East Jerusalem the option to apply for Israeli citizenship. Historically most have declined with the reason that East Jerusalem is to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

A shopkeeper waits for customers in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in East Jerusalem on July 11, 2018. (AP)
A shopkeeper waits for customers in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in East Jerusalem on July 11, 2018. (AP)

Currently 72 percent of all Palestinian families in Jerusalem – concentrated in the area of East Jerusalem – live below the poverty line, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

But the UAE-Israel deal is about to change the situation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, according to Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.

Potential Gulf investment in East Jerusalem

Israel’s normalization with the UAE and Bahrain opens up Gulf investment to East Jerusalem, which will directly help Palestinian residents, according to Hassan-Nahoum.

Designer Natalie Tahhan works on a modern version of the traditional Palestinian thobe in her studio in East Jerusalem on Jan. 29, 2019. (AP)

“Jerusalem’s Arabs will benefit tremendously from the Israel-Gulf normalization process in many ways. The UAE has expressed interest in investing in East Jerusalem on the highest levels,” Hassan-Nahoum said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Hassan-Nahoum is using her leadership role in the UAE-Israel Business Council to help draw investment towards East Jerusalem and develop the area into a ‘Silicon Wadi’ – a high-tech village and industrial zone for Arabs in the city.

“We are hoping that extra investment from the Gulf in infrastructure and jobs will change the situation for East Jerusalem Arabs, and move the needle for the estimated 70 percent of the population living in poverty – which is absolutely unacceptable,” said Hassan-Nahoum.

A general view of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem below the al-Aqsa mosque compound, on July 1, 2020. (AP)
A general view of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem below the al-Aqsa mosque compound, on July 1, 2020. (AP)

The deputy mayor added that that healthcare and technology are two sectors with the most opportunity for development in the area.

“In East Jerusalem, we have Arab speakers, trained engineers, top notch education, and the passion for innovation and entrepreneurialism,” she added.

‘Abandoned’

Palestinian leadership – including President Mahmoud Abbas and his PA – condemned Israel-Gulf normalization, saying that Arab brethren in the UAE and Bahrain abandoned them.

However, the majority of East Jerusalem Palestinians feel abandoned by the PA, according to Khalil Shikaki, a political science professor and director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which polls Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

A Palestinian child walks near rubble in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on June 21, 2010. (AP)
A Palestinian child walks near rubble in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on June 21, 2010. (AP)

“East Jerusalem Palestinians tend to think that the PA is not doing enough to help them, that they have to rely on themselves, and rely more on Israeli markets for jobs and other needs,” said Shikaki.

Shikaki added that he thinks the PA is not to blame, but the separation barrier between Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“If there are investments made in East Jerusalem for Palestinians, that would benefit them,” he said.

Palestinians climb the Israeli separation barrier on their way to attend the first Friday prayers in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 10, 2019.(AP)
Palestinians climb the Israeli separation barrier on their way to attend the first Friday prayers in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 10, 2019.(AP)

While some Palestinians in East Jerusalem are skeptical of investment projects involving Israel, Hassan-Nahoum said there is no hidden agenda and that she is spearheading investment opportunities solely to develop East Jerusalem.

Shikaki said no one can blame Palestinians in East Jerusalem for their skepticism.

“They have been made many empty promises throughout the years,” said Shikaki.

By : Emily Judd – Al Arabiya English

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