In October, the Israeli Supreme Court put forward a compromise for the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah and the Delaware-based shell company, Nahalat Shimon, representing Jewish settlers seeking to evict them. The court gave the parties one month to respond to its terms. Last week, the deadline passed with neither side accepting the court’s recommendations as they were presented. The Palestinians rejected the proposal, and Nahalat Shimon’s conditional “yes” was so laden with caveats as to dilute the compromise of much of its meaning.

For the residents, there was a compelling case to accept the compromise and an equally compelling argument against it. The framework the court laid out did offer substantive improvements to the residents’ condition. The duration of their protected tenancy—established in the 1980s—was reset, effectively extending it for one-to-two generations, depending on the family. Residents would also be able to renovate their homes, reversing one of the more restrictive stipulations of their special status: under the original terms, renovations are a trigger for evictions. Most importantly, the residents would be allowed to continue to attempt to assert their ownership claims, while nominal rent payments would go through their attorney, not directly to Nahalat Shimon, thus sparing the Palestinians from having to formally recognize the settlers’ position, which they see as illegitimate.

On the flip side, the compromise is not a permanent solution. Rather, it is an incremental step, providing at best open-ended answers to the core issues, a problem the Sheikh Jarrah families highlighted in their statement after rejecting the court’s proposal, which would have prevented further litigation by the settlers for 15 years maximum. Part of the problem with the Sheikh Jarrah case is that it cuts to the heart of each side’s broader national narrative. Expulsion, as well as competing claims, not only over a few homes, but over Jerusalem and its environs, loom large. The crux of the dispute is an attempt to revisit and revise the results of the 1948 war in a neighborhood where displaced Palestinians relocated after Jewish residents fled the Jordanian Army seven decades ago. In all of this, the settlers seemed to have little reason to meet in the middle, given previous rulings in their favor. Already, another American company, Velpkin Inc., seems to be operating in Nahalat Shimon’s mold, laying claim to ten housing units where Palestinians currently live on the outskirts of Sheikh Jarrah, according to reports earlier this week. This, in turn, disincentivized the Palestinian residents from taking up any proposal from the court. Both sides would need to accept a compromise, and if the settlers were never going to, why suffer the indignity?

Given the complexity of their situation, the residents initially failed to find unanimity. Reporting from Jerusalem suggests that some families wanted to accept the court’s proposal on pragmatic grounds, while others favored turning it down from the outset. Pressure from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority may have helped tip the balance for rejection. Hamas even purports that its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, telephoned the residents imploring them to turn down the court’s proposal. Whether or not Haniyeh actually made such a call, the very claim speaks to Hamas’s desire to insert itself into the case. Recall that in May, Sheikh Jarrah provided Hamas with an excuse for commencing rocket barrages against Israeli civilians. The potency of anything related to Jerusalem makes Sheikh Jarrah hard for the competing Palestinian leaderships to ignore, and the residents’ success in drawing significant media attention to their plight made it inevitable that any decision they made would be scrutinized by other Palestinians.

So what happens next? The compromise was partly a product of the court’s reluctance to deliver a definitive ruling. Now that the parties have rejected it, the court will have to hand down a decision or find a new way to kick the can down the road. The May conflict between Israel and Hamas illustrated the case’s explosive potential, reinforcing the expectation that the Israeli government—especially the coalition inaugurated in June—will not want to actually evict the residents, even if the court rules for the settlers. That is cold comfort for the residents though, as it links their fate with the goodwill of the Israeli authorities. If this government’s calculus changes, or if political conditions are different in the future, they may not be so cautious. The Biden administration can and should insist that the status quo in Sheikh Jarrah remain frozen, but even this is a band-aid. Such steps may be all that is currently realistic, but as with the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there will never be a substitute for addressing the fundamental issues.

Photo credit: David Shankbone