It is often said that the future of Jerusalem depends in large part on the future of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While this is undoubtedly true, change and improvement in Jerusalem can be achieved independently of any final peace agreement.
It is often said that the future of Jerusalem depends in large part on the future of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While this is undoubtedly true, change and improvement in Jerusalem can be achieved independently of any final peace agreement. In fact, transformation in Jerusalem may actually aid the resolution of the larger conflict.
This realization is behind a new project that we have developed at MIT, called Just Jerusalem: Vision for a Place of Peace. Our aim is to generate new ideas and discussions about Jerusalem as it might be in the future — a just city shared in peace by its residents, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, Palestinian or Israeli. What would it take to make a city claimed by two nations and central to three religions “merely” a city, a place of difference and diversity in which contending ideas and citizenries can coexist in benign yet creative ways?
Why at this time in history would we want to think about a new vision for Jerusalem as a city that is institutionally autonomous from competing nation-states while at the same time capable of collectively embracing all the distinctive religious or ethnic groups that people it? To embark on such a project, which calls for an analytical bypassing of nation-states and rethinking the concept of citizenship, will invite controversy and opposition both within and outside the Middle East, primarily because it entails working against the grain of prevailing approaches to conflict resolution.
Jerusalem’s long and complex history not only shows us how destructive were early 20th century efforts to impose a nation-state logic on this religiously and ethnically diverse city, which for centuries had functioned relatively well without a single sovereign nation. It also offers some clues as to how and why efforts to imagine a city belonging to no nation-state(s) might bring it one step closer to peace.
During the Ottoman period, in fact, long before struggles for the creation of a single sovereign national state in this territory, a multiplicity of institutional arrangements governed servicing and representation in the city, and they operated in ways that led to relatively peaceful coexistence among the city’s Jews, Muslims and Catholics. By no means are we proposing an uncritical return to a period of imperialism. However, in this early period the binary — or even tripartite — understanding of space and identity that now generates so much controversy was almost completely absent. This suggests that the linking of land, people, and nationality — which now serves as the unquestioned basis for almost all negotiations — is just one of the many possible ways the city could and has been organized.
Such observations suggest the importance of thinking about alternative models for organizing and managing the city.
Just Jerusalem: Vision for a Place of Peace is a project determined to generate new ideas and discussions about Jerusalem as it might be in the future. It is an interdisciplinary initiative led by MIT’s Center for International Studies (CIS) and Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP).
As an international competition it calls for visions of Jerusalem that transcend nationalist discourses and instead focus on the questions of daily life and the “right to the city” for all its inhabitants today as much as in the future. All entries to the competition will be expected to describe what it would take to create this type of urban arena by the year 2050.
The competition addresses the belief that the nature of the city, and the way out of its conflicts, cannot be reduced to a single, negotiated view. In the case of Jerusalem, such consensus-building strategies are often part of the problem, leading to conflict over the terms and outcomes — not to mention perceived betrayals — of negotiation. The process of negotiation pretends that all parties are brought to the table as equal partners; yet this is rarely, if ever, the case.