The Arab violence that prompted President Clinton to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks at the White House on Monday is rooted in the most fundamental battle between Israelis and Palestinians: control of Jerusalem.
When Israel broke ground last month on new Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, it touched off more than two weeks of Palestinian rioting and suicide bombings by Muslim extremists that brought the peace process to a halt.Palestinians are protesting what they see as a 30-year strategy of annexation, construction and settlement whose goal is to gerrymander the boundaries and alter the population mix of the Holy City, still claimed by both sides as their capital.
Indeed, any explanation of the status of Jerusalem becomes a tangle of facts colored by politics, nationalism and religion - akin to a ward remap case in Chicago or the redrawing of a congressional district in the American South.
Over the centuries, Jerusalem has been seized and ruined in war 20 times, rebuilt 18 times, occupied by a succession of conquerors and endured at least 11 transitions from one religion to another, according to Israeli author Amos Elon in his book, "Jerusalem - City of Mirrors."
To Jewish residents of enclaves on the east side, and to Israelis in general, Jerusalem has now been re-united, never to be divided again. In fact, Israelis point out, Jerusalem throughout history has never been the capital of any Arab or Palestinian state, while the Bible states that King David established his capital in Israel 3,000 years ago.
In this century alone, Jerusalem was ruled by the Turks until 1917 and then by the British until 1948 when the Jordanians seized the Old City, East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the Jewish state's war for independence. The Israelis captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the Six Day War of 1967.
In 1967, there were 197,700 Jews, or 74.2 percent of the city's overall population, living in the western section of Jerusalem, while 68,600 Arabs, or 25.8 percent of the population, lived on the east side, according to the Israeli government.
While Israel points out that Jews have constituted a majority overall in Jerusalem since 1870, the number of Jews living on the east side of the city only surpassed the number of Palestinians living there in the early 1990s.
By 1995, Israel estimated, Jerusalem's population of 591,400 was comprised of 417,000 Jews, or 70.5 percent, and 174,400 Arabs, or 29.5 percent; most Arabs remained living on the east side.
Israelis consider the geographic transformation of Jerusalem to be the reunification of a city long viewed as the eternal, indivisible capital of the Jewish people. Arabs consider it an occupation that has never been officially sanctioned by international law or by the vast majority of other nations, including the United States.
"In 1967, we had zero Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem and zero settlers," observed Khalil Tufakji, a Palestinian cartographer and geographer who heads the Maps Department of the Arab Studies Society in Jerusalem.
Tufakji and human rights analysts estimated that Israel has constructed about 38,500 housing units for Jews and not one for Arabs.
But private construction for Arab housing has continued, according to Israeli government statistics. The Israeli Government Press Office reports that in 1967, there were 12,200 Arab-owned apart-ments in East Jerusalem and that the number had grown to 27,066 by 1995, an increase of 122 percent.
In addition, Netanyahu recently pledged to allow the building of 3,015 new housing units for Palestinians in 10 Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods, hoping they would compensate Arabs and defuse the controversy over new building of Jewish housing.
"They have made this pledge in the past, and now it has zero credibility," said Edward Abington, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem. "Now, on this last promise of 3,015 new houses, we take the Netan-ya-hu government at its word, and we will be watching to see if it follows through. And we will be reporting back to Washington on the actions they take."
Tufakji also said that large tracts of land were zoned "green areas" protected for environmental reasons from development, but that Jewish housing often went up in them later.