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Centre for Geopolitics

Providing historically-grounded solutions to enduring geopolitical problems

The Arab-Israeli conflict has been considered one of, if not the most intractable conflict over the past decades. One of the many issues that have made its solution elusive is the status of Jerusalem, which within the framework of a two-state solution both Israel and the Palestinians claim as their capital. Indeed, the topic is so contentious that in previous negotiations such as the Oslo accords Jerusalem was usually left for the end of talks, when agreement was reached on everything else.

The peace process has been halting for a while now. As part of the ‘Westphalia for the Middle East’ project, a conference held at Peterhouse, Cambridge, was dedicated to the case of Jerusalem within the Arab-Israeli conflict and what role it could play in future efforts to find a solution to the questions of Israel/Palestine. Organised by the Forum on Geopolitics in conjunction with the Harvard Negotiation Task Force on November 8th-9th, the event brought together a range of experts on the topic representing views from the various conflict partners such as Israel, Egypt or Palestine. The historical lens of the Peace of Westphalia was introduced to serve as historical backdrop and potential inspiration for how to approach the issue.

Opening the conference with a keynote, Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary General and Chief of Staff of the Arab League of Arab States, pointed to the potential of a Jerusalem settlement to kickstart wider negotiations for a settlement of the Israel/Palestine settlement. However, he pointed out that any such process would be difficult without a real will to compromise on all sides of the negotiating table. A panel discussion with Prof. Marc Weller from the Lauterbach Centre at Cambridge, Nomi Bar-Yacoov at Chatham House, Koby Hubermann from the Israeli Peace Initiative and Rami Dajani from the Tony Blair Foundation, moderated by Malik Dahlan from Harvard’s Negotiation Task Force, considered the different angles of such an approach focusing on prioritizing a settlement over Jerusalem. One question which came to the fore was whether and how religious representatives could and should be involved in such a process. This question was also dealt with in Dr. Lena Oetzel’s (University of Salzburg) presentation about the key components of the religious aspects of the Westphalian settlement in 1648.  Another theme which was highlighted in particular by Prof. Menachem Klein (Bir-Ilan University) and Prof. Wendy Pullan (Cambridge) was challenges of daily life in Jerusalem and the impact of administrative divisions of the city.

Of course, no two-day conference can provide an attempt to a solution for such a complex question as a Jerusalem settlement. Neither was that its purpose. Instead, the presentations and discussions helped to bring out which issues were considered central to the case of Jerusalem and how it might relate to future discussions about a ‘Westphalia for the Middle East’.