JERUSALEM, JULY 6 -- Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek's office announced today that Kollek is planning to boycott next week's Bastille Day celebration sponsored by the French Consulate here to protest the longstanding diplomatic practice of holding separate social receptions for Arabs and Jews.
The policy of separate receptions is one of several western diplomatic practices Israelis contend deny the reality that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and, since 1967, has been united under its rule. But many Palestinians argue that to hold only one reception in the Jewish part of the city, where most of the consulates have their main offices, would amount to tacit recognition of Israel's 1967 annexation of their sector.
Many western nations, including the United States, say they do not want Jerusalem to be redivided but they contend its future should be the subject of negotiations among Israel, Jordan and Palestinian inhabitants of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Many maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv and have separate consulates here, refusing to recognize Jerusalem as the capital because it was supposed to be an international city under the long-defunct U.N. partition plan that created the state of Israel in 1948.
Ever since Israel conquered Arab East Jerusalem during the 1967 war, most of the city's seven western consulates have held separate celebrations of major events such as Christmas and their national days. Otherwise, they say, many Palestinians would refuse to attend.
The one exception has been the United States, which since 1984 has held single receptions for major holidays. This year's Independence Day celebration, held yesterday at the consulate in West Jerusalem, drew a mixed crowd of whom nearly half were Palestinians, according to Consul General Morris Draper.
French Consul General Jean-Claude Cousseran confirmed that his consulate will hold separate receptions July 14, one at his residence in West Jerusalem, the other at a church in the eastern sector.
Kollek decided to boycott the other consulates after attending yesterday's U.S. reception, Sevanah Meryn, his spokesman, said. Meryn said Kollek is not singling out France for criticism. that The French national day just happens to be next on the calendar, he said.
"Teddy's been fighting this for many years and he's decided the time has come to do something," Meryn said. "He thinks the consulates are here to try and bring groups together, not keep them separate. This doesn't mean they have to accept Israeli rule but it does mean accepting that Jerusalem is one city and should not be separated again."
But Palestinian newspaper editor Daoud Kuttab said the separate receptions are symbolically important to Palestinians. "We have no state of our own, we have no embassies, and so these consulates take on special importance to us," he said. "To have a separate party in East Jerusalem is one way of emphasizing that the city is occupied territory, just like the West Bank and Gaza."
Draper conceded that the U.S. practice of mixing the two sides has not always been a success. "We've had boycotts and some Arabs will not come, but we keep plugging away," he said. "We're supposed to be in the business of furthering the peace process and we think it's important that people on both sides meet and talk to one another."