Two years before they have agreed to discuss the future of Jerusalem, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization are stating their claims to the 5,000-year-old city with vigorous cries of righteous possession that ring, often literally, from the battlements of its ancient stone walls.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, wanting to broaden support for the transitional but controversial accord on Palestinian self-government, has pledged to continue a "jihad," which he explained as "a holy struggle," to make Jerusalem the capital of Palestine.Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, believing that Israelis will give up a lot of territory for peace but not yield an inch in Jerusalem, launched a campaign to prevent the PLO from "creating facts on the ground" and warned that he would not allow Palestinian institutions to turn the city into their de facto capital.
Mayor Ehud Olmert, an opponent of the autonomy accord, is threatening to bring hundreds of thousands of Israelis into Jerusalem to block any attempt by Arafat to pray here at Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest shrines. An initial protest by just 2,000 paralyzed the city center.
Other Israelis have hung banners from the walls of the Old City proclaiming Jerusalem "the eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people."
"The battle for Jerusalem has already begun," Israeli political commentator Yoel Marcus observed, noting that the emotions of both Israelis and Palestinians over Jerusalem make it unlikely that the issue can be postponed as agreed until 1996, when Israel and the PLO will negotiate Palestinian independence.
More than that, Marcus argued, many immediate questions - participation in Palestinian elections in the autumn, the borders of the West Bank when it gains self-rule, offices for the Palestinian Authority itself - put the future of Jerusalem on the agenda today.
Palestinians envision Jerusalem as a united city but the capital of two nations, Palestine and Israel. For Israelis, in the words of Rabin to a parliamentary committee, "Jerusalem is a closed issue - the Palestinians can dream, we can discuss it even, but Israel will not budge - it will remain united and under Israeli sovereignty."