O Jerusalem! Sa­cred to Three Faiths, Cap­i­tal of One?

Policy - - In This Issue - Jeremy Kins­man

Among the vast bat­tal­ions of ex­perts who’ve grown old in the past four decades mas­ter­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of the Mid­dle East peace process, there’s been a the­ory—an out­lier in the canon—that maybe the only thing that would dis­lodge the im­passe was a sta­tus quo-ex­plod­ing me­te­orite. Don­ald Trump’s recog­ni­tion of Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael in De­cem­ber prob­a­bly wasn’t that pos­i­tive dis­rup­tor. Vet­eran diplo­mat Jeremy Kins­man takes us through the past and present of the world’s most dis­puted square kilo­me­tre.

Jerusalem. Where Man meets God, the Holy City for all three monothe­is­tic faiths, where God spoke to Solomon of the promised land, where Je­sus Christ was cru­ci­fied and res­ur­rected, and where Mo­hammed as­cended to heaven to re­ceive the se­cond pil­lar of Is­lam.

And where, as Si­mon Se­bag Mon­te­fiore writes in Jer­susalem: The Bi­og­ra­phy, be­liev­ers in each of those three nar­ra­tives also be­lieve “this city be­longs to them alone.”

When Don­ald Trump an­nounced on Dec. 6, 2017 that the U.S. would move its em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem, it seemed he was de­cid­ing that the Holy City now

be­longed to Is­raelis alone. Trump al­most cer­tainly did not un­der­stand the in­ter­na­tional im­pli­ca­tions of the de­ci­sion. The epi­cally dis­puted sta­tus of Jerusalem is ar­guably the old­est and most fraught in­ter­na­tional ir­ri­tant that hu­mans know.

King David cre­ated there the cap­i­tal of the Jew­ish tribes of Judea in about 1000 BC. Solomon built their First Tem­ple, ini­ti­at­ing Jerusalem’s Jew­ish mil­len­nium. Baby­lo­ni­ans and Per­sians briefly oc­cu­pied the city, as did Egyp­tians, whose cur­tail­ing of Jew­ish re­li­gious prac­tices in 167 BC ig­nited the Mac­cabee Re­volt, ush­er­ing in a last re­gal Jew­ish cen­tury be­fore the Ro­mans ar­rived. Rome’s King Herod re­spected Jew­ish pre­rog­a­tives, but op­pres­sive suc­ces­sors made the cru­ci­fix­ion of rebels rou­tine (in­clud­ing that of the non­vi­o­lent Jew­ish re­former, Je­sus of anti-Rome Galilee). A Jew­ish up­ris­ing in 70 AD led Ro­man satrap Ti­tus to ex­pel Jews from Jerusalem.

Em­peror Con­stan­tine’s con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­ity in 312 AD ush­ered in cen­turies of Chris­tian pil­grim­age to Jerusalem as well as the vin­dic­tive and of­ten bru­tal cru­sades. Muhammed ig­nited the Arab Awak­en­ing in the 7th cen­tury. A trans­for­ma­tive re­former, he rev­ered Je­sus as well as Moses and shared their be­lief in the bib­li­cal prophecy of a com­ing Apoc­a­lypse in Jerusalem.

The Arab caliphate took Jerusalem from the re­ced­ing east­ern Ro­man Em­pire in 638 AD. The city’s sa­cred prayer sites were ini­tially shared, but Arab rulers built the golden Dome of the Rock, the third­most holy site in Is­lam af­ter Mecca and Me­d­ina, which, as Se­bag Mon­te­fiore wrote, would be­come a “shrine of resur­gent Is­lam and the totem of Pales­tinian na­tion­al­ism.” Mus­lim rule of Jerusalem would last for about 1,300 years, first un­der Arabs, then un­der Ot­toman Turks who took the city in 1517 and held it un­til Bri­tish gen­eral Sir Ed­mund Al­lenby, com­man­der-in­chief of the Egyp­tian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force, took the city in 1917. Mean­while, Jews were dis­persed. Many who had lived peace­fully for cen­turies in Ot­toman Spain un­til King Fer­di­nand and Queen Is­abella re­pos­sessed Spain for Chris­tian­ity in 1492 and ex­pelled them re-mi­grated across the re­main­ing Ot­toman Em­pire and Chris­tian Eu­rope. But a Jew­ish rem­nant sur­vived as a small mi­nor­ity in Pales­tine.

By the late 19th cen­tury in Eu­rope, mil­i­taris­tic na­tion­al­ism ac­com­pa­nied by anti-semitism typ­i­fied by the Drey­fus Af­fair in France in 1894 en­cour­aged the no­tion of a re­turn to the orig­i­nal Jew­ish home­land. The fa­ther of mod­ern Zion­ism, Theodor Herzl, con­vened the First Zion­ist Congress in Basel in 1897.

In 1917, the van­guard Zion­ists were elated by Bri­tain’s Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion, a 67-word let­ter from Lord Arthur James Bal­four to Lord Wal­ter Roth­schild sup­port­ing “the es­tab­lish­ment in Pales­tine of a na­tional home for the Jew­ish peo­ple,” with­out prej­u­dice to the “civil and re­li­gious rights of ex­ist­ing non-Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties.” As was ev­i­dent when the cen­te­nary of the dec­la­ra­tion was marked in Novem­ber, 2017, Jews and Arabs re­main bit­terly di­vided in their views on the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion as ei­ther Is­rael’s foun­da­tional doc­u­ment or an im­pe­rial death sen­tence for Arab Pales­tine.

By the 1920s, more than 30,000 Jews flee­ing Rus­sian pogroms had joined agri­cul­tural vil­lages in Pales­tine funded by wealthy Euro­pean Jew­ish bene­fac­tors such as Roth­schild, though the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity had cho­sen to sail to Amer­ica. In the 1930s, more than 60,000 Jews em­i­grated from Nazi Ger­many to Pales­tine, which was then un­der the Bri­tish Man­date of­fi­cially be­gun in 1920. Their grow­ing num­bers prompted an Arab up­ris­ing known as the Great Re­volt from 1936-39. Jew­ish sur­vivors of the Holo­caust streamed to Pales­tine af­ter 1945, mul­ti­ply­ing the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion dra­mat­i­cally and val­oriz­ing the cause of a na­tional state for Jews in Pales­tine.

Is­rael’s founders, David Ben-Gu­rion and Golda Meir, hoped Arabs would agree to share the land. But as Arab hos­til­ity and Jew­ish re­solve deep­ened, par­ti­tion in­creas­ingly be­came the most vi­able so­lu­tion. Mil­i­tant Arabs and Jews pre­pared for in­evitable con­flict as 100,000 Bri­tish sol­diers tried to keep the lid on the vi­o­lence.

Amer­i­can lead­er­ship, with Soviet sup­port, per­suaded the new United Na­tions in 1947 to di­vide Pales­tine, giv­ing 57 per cent to the Jew­ish peo­ple, while as­sign­ing in­ter­na­tional sta­tus to Jerusalem to en­sure ac­cess to the Old City’s holy sites for all three re­li­gions. Trau­ma­tized by what they viewed as loss of their land, Arabs launched a war against Jew­ish forces which, though im­promptu, ben­e­fited from in­ge­nious im­pro­vi­sa­tion in weapons man­u­fac­ture and clan­des­tine ac­qui­si­tion from abroad. The stale­mated 1948 war was a vic­tory for Is­rael’s sur­vival, though Arabs re­fused to ac­cept it.

Bloody fight­ing and what Pales­tini­ans and some Is­raeli his­to­ri­ans de­scribe as forced ex­pul­sions drove 600,000 Arabs from their vil­lages now lo­cated in the Jew­ish state. They lan­guished as refugees in UNad­min­is­tered camps for gen­er­a­tions, mak­ing an as­serted “right of re­turn” to their for­mer homes a core is­sue for the Pales­tini­ans in the Mid­dle

Is­rael’s founders, David Ben-Gu­rion and Golda Meir, hoped Arabs would agree to share the land. But as Arab hos­til­ity and Jew­ish re­solve deep­ened, par­ti­tion in­creas­ingly be­came the most vi­able so­lu­tion. Mil­i­tant Arabs and Jews pre­pared for in­evitable con­flict as 100,000 Bri­tish sol­diers tried to keep the lid on the vi­o­lence.

East peace process. Though the city was di­vided by barbed wire, Is­rael de­clared Jerusalem—in ef­fect West Jerusalem—its cap­i­tal on De­cem­ber 11, 1949.

In 1967, over-con­fi­dent Arab forces un­der Egypt and Syria at­tacked Is­rael and were swiftly crushed by a now­su­pe­rior and mod­ern Is­raeli mil­i­tary. In the Six Day War, Is­rael cap­tured the Si­nai Desert, the West Bank of the Jor­dan River, and East Jerusalem— in­clud­ing the Old City—set­ting the stage for the pro­tracted in­ter­na­tional drama over its do­min­ion. In Res­o­lu­tion 242, the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil called on Is­raeli forces to with­draw from “ter­ri­to­ries oc­cu­pied” in the con­flict and di­rected all to re­nounce hos­til­ity, re­spect oth­ers’ sovereignty, and set­tle the refugee prob­lem. The 1967 war elated Is­rael, hu­mil­i­ated Arabs, and jump-started mil­i­tant Pales­tinian na­tion­al­ism un­der the new Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Is­rael’s stern se­cu­rity and per­mis­sive set­tle­ment poli­cies in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries and Arab/Is­lamic vi­o­lent op­po­si­tion be­gan decades of feed­ing off each other. Mil­i­tant Arabs launched ter­ror­ist hi­jack­ings and at­tacks, no­tably mur­der­ing 12 Is­raeli ath­letes at the 1972 Mu­nich Olympic Games. Is­rael re­sponded by pre-emp­tive and puni­tive tar­geted reprisals. Early suc­cess for the Arab coali­tion in the last out­right Arab-Is­raeli war in 1973 (to re­cover Si­nai and the Golan Heights) re­vived Arab pride and shocked Is­raelis. It prompted the di­rect Is­rael-Egypt con­tacts that led to the Camp David Ac­cords that for­mal­ized bi­lat­eral peace and re­turned the Si­nai Penin­sula to Egypt. How­ever, for Jerusalem, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Me­nachem Be­gin in­sisted that it “will re­main the eter­nal cap­i­tal of Is­rael and that is that.”

Af­ter 50 years of a peace process char­ac­ter­ized by chronic games­man­ship in­ter­rupted by oc­ca­sional break­throughs but with­out a fi­nal res­o­lu­tion, most of UNSC Res­o­lu­tion 242 re­mains un­ful­filled as Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans strug­gle to ac­cept co-ex­is­tent, ad­ja­cent re­al­i­ties. Jerusalem has been both the highly sym­bolic and ter­ri­to­rial heart of the prob­lem.

Over that time, as the pros­per­ity, pop­u­la­tion, in­ter­na­tional stature and self-re­liant mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity of Is­rael swiftly grew, Is­rael’s re­al­ity be­came un­de­ni­able to all but fa­nat­ics. France-men­tored nu­clear de­vel­op­ment led to a non-ac­knowl­edged nu­clear weapons ca­pa­bil­ity that has but­tressed the cred­i­bil­ity of Is­raeli de­ter­rence im­mea­sur­ably.

In prac­tice, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity largely ac­cepted that Jerusalem was ef­fec­tively Is­rael’s cap­i­tal, rou­tinely meet­ing the Is­raeli PM and of­fi­cials in their par­lia­men­tary and other of­fices in West Jerusalem. Is­raeli pol­icy in­creas­ingly tried to change “facts on the ground” by build­ing Jew­ish hous­ing in Pales­tinian-ma­jor­ity East Jerusalem and sup­port­ing Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries that now con­tain over 700,000 in­hab­i­tants. Many are ul­tra-ortho­dox who hold that the West Bank com­prises the an­cient Jew­ish lands of Judea and Sa­maria that be­long im­mutably to Is­rael by bib­li­cal fiat. For most busy na­tion­build­ing Is­raelis, the Pales­tinian re­al­ity has been felt prin­ci­pally when it threat­ened their daily se­cu­rity. For their part, Pales­tini­ans face the Is­raeli re­al­ity daily. The oc­cu­pied sta­tus of the West Bank un­der Is­raeli mil­i­tary rule (ac­knowl­edged by the Supreme Court of Is­rael) con­tin­ues to en­close them ev­ery day, cir­cum­scrib­ing their civil rights and cre­at­ing a per­ma­nent hu­man­i­tar­ian disas­ter within the Mid­dle East’s most ad­vanced in­dus­tri­al­ized democ­racy.

When Arab states joined in a del­i­cate and es­sen­tial coali­tion with western coun­tries to evict Sad­dam Hus­sein from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War, it in­volved an un­der­stand­ing that an ef­fort to re­solve Pales­tinian is­sues would fol­low and the sub­se­quent Oslo Ac­cords cre­ated Pales­tinian in­terim self-gov­ern­ment. The go­ing was made tougher when a Jew­ish ex­trem­ist set­tler as­sas­si­nated Is­raeli PM Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. But in 2000, Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans fi­nally neared agree­ment on bor­ders, land swaps, and set­tle­ments. But PLO leader Yasser Arafat blinked over the han­dling of Jerusalem, and the op­por­tu­nity for a com­pre­hen­sive peace set­tle­ment slipped away. It was buried by the se­cond and more lethal Pales­tinian in­tifada up­ris­ing against Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion, when sui­cide bombers struck Is­raeli cities (73 in 2000-2003) caus­ing in­tol­er­a­ble havoc and grief. Is­rael con­structed a 708-kilo­me­ter long bor­der se­cu­rity wall that cut the bomb­ings and eased Is­raeli se­cu­rity fears. But it hard­ened the sep­a­ra­tion of peo­ples while dulling the ur­gency of ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The 1967 war elated Is­rael, hu­mil­i­ated Arabs, and jump-started mil­i­tant Pales­tinian na­tion­al­ism un­der the new Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Is­rael’s stern se­cu­rity and per­mis­sive set­tle­ment poli­cies in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries and Arab/Is­lamic vi­o­lent op­po­si­tion be­gan decades of feed­ing off each other.

Is­rael uni­lat­er­ally ended its costly oc­cu­pa­tion of the Gaza Strip in 2005. But a Ha­mas gov­ern­ment Gazans elected the fol­low­ing year fa­cil­i­tated rocket at­tacks on Is­rael, prompt­ing a cy­cle of reprisals and a high-ca­su­alty war in 2008. Notwith­stand­ing ef­forts by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and both Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton and her suc­ces­sor, John Kerry, the peace process has since been largely mori­bund, a state of af­fairs most ob­servers at­tribute mostly to the in­tractabil­ity of Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu. For­mer Is­raeli PM Ehud Barak

main­tains Is­raelis want a two-state “di­vorce” from Pales­tini­ans in order to move on. Pew Re­search polls con­firm ma­jor­ity Is­raeli sup­port for the two-state route, partly in ex­pec­ta­tion that higher Pales­tinian de­mog­ra­phy in a sin­gle state would doom Is­rael as a Jew­ish democ­racy. Stav Shaf­fir, the youngest mem­ber of the Knes­set, as­serts “our democ­racy de­pends on our se­cu­rity, a Jew­ish ma­jor­ity, so we need a sep­a­ra­tion from the Pales­tini­ans and a two-state so­lu­tion.”

Ne­tanyahu gives lip ser­vice to an even­tual two-state so­lu­tion but does noth­ing to ad­vance it. He told CNN re­cently that while Pales­tini­ans could have all the “pow­ers to gov­ern them­selves,” Is­rael will main­tain mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity con­trol of the West Bank to sup­press their “power to threaten us.” Barak dis­putes the ne­ces­sity of what would amount to per­pet­ual oc­cu­pa­tion, which, as Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Sig­mund Gabriel re­cently warned, car­ries grave costs to Is­rael. Is­rael’s cur­rent right-wing govern­ing coali­tion un­der Ne­tanyahu in­cludes min­is­ters who con­flate re­li­gious faith and po­lit­i­cal pur­pose to un­der­mine the no­tion of two states, and even to press for an­nex­a­tion of parts of the West Bank. Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Gi­lad Er­dan de­clared “It doesn’t mat­ter what the na­tions of the world say. The time has come to ex­press our bib­li­cal right to the land.”

Ne­tanyahu has re­sisted the fa­tal an­nex­a­tion ini­tia­tive but his vul­ner­a­bil­ity to sub­stan­tial po­lice ac­cu­sa­tions of bribery and fraud threaten his po­lit­i­cal sur­vival. As his pop­u­lar­ity plum­mets, he will need the sup­port of coali­tion part­ners, how­ever ex­treme.

Mean­while, the re­gion is be­ing desta­bi­lized by the ef­fects of the wars that have dev­as­tated Syria and Iraq as Iran and Is­raeli ally Saudi Ara­bia move to im­prove their re­spec­tive po­si­tions in the area, fur­ther dis­tract­ing Is­raelis and Arab states from the ur­gency of re­new­ing the peace process. Pales­tini­ans are dis­con­so­late. Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas (who, like Ne­tanyahu, has been in of­fice too long) called Trump’s rash de­ci­sion to move the U.S. Em­bassy to Jerusalem a “slap in the face” and sev­ered con­tact with the U.S. In re­turn, the mer­cu­rial Trump cut ever-more vi­tal hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance. What now? While it never seems a good time for con­ces­sions, it is hard to see po­lit­i­cal ac­tors with sur­vival wor­ries in Is­rael, Pales­tine and the US de­liv­er­ing es­sen­tial com­pro­mises in­clud­ing over the Pales­tinian ex­pec­ta­tion East Jerusalem could be their cap­i­tal. So, why did Trump rock the boat now? His tar­get au­di­ence was the fun­da­men­tal­ist and mes­sianic evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian core of his po­lit­i­cal base whose loy­alty he needs, given his own em­bat­tled sta­tus. Also, the Repub­li­can Party, since the at­tacks of 9/11, has be­come pho­bic about Mus­lims, another favourite theme of the U.S. pres­i­dent. Brook­ings polls show Amer­i­cans gen­er­ally are 2-1 against mov­ing the em­bassy, but GOP vot­ers are slightly in favour. No­tably, Jew­ish Amer­i­cans (mostly Democrats, many of whom op­posed Ne­tanyahu’s po­lit­i­cal stunts in the U.S. Congress against Obama over Iran) op­pose it 3-1. Glob­ally, Trump’s move is seen as a neg­a­tive. The United Na­tions over­whelm­ingly voted to con­demn it for one-sid­ed­ness. (NAFTA-fo­cused Canada ducked with an ab­sten­tion.)

Han­nah Pollin-Galay of Tel Aviv Univer­sity writes that the de­ci­sion “De­stroyed hope on both sides. It gives right-wing na­tion­al­ists the…sense they are right…re­warded for not lis­ten­ing to Pales­tini­ans, for not shar­ing holy ground. That is dis­as­trous, the most dan­ger­ous thing imag­in­able.” But Trump’s rookie en­voy to Is­rael, his ex-lawyer Ja­son Green­blatt, ar­gues it only re­flects an “ob­vi­ous re­al­ity” and does not prej­u­dice fi­nal bound­ary is­sues or Jerusalem’s sta­tus quo on holy site ac­cess, though most Amer­i­can ne­go­tia­tors from decades past see “tak­ing Jerusalem off the ta­ble” to be break­ing apart the core ne­go­ti­at­ing pack­age and get­ting noth­ing in re­turn.

Per­haps Trump re­al­izes his in­flated idea he could bro­ker a peace process with per­sonal en­voys whom even Ne­tanyahu ac­knowl­edges ap­proach the is­sues as just a sort of real es­tate deal is now im­per­iled.

In mid-Fe­bru­ary he tried to re-bal­ance his po­si­tion, point­edly stat­ing that he is “not sure that Is­rael is look­ing to make peace,” adding that Is­raeli set­tle­ments “are some­thing that very much com­pli­cate and al­ways have com­pli­cated mak­ing peace.” Ul­ti­mately, a ne­go­ti­ated out­come has to ad­dress the cur­rent tragedy that Is­raeli poet Haim Gouri, in I Am a Civil War, de­scribes as one in which “those in the right fire on those in the right.” Is­rael faces a ter­ri­ble dilemma as both the “only na­tion in the West that is oc­cu­py­ing another peo­ple,” and “the only na­tion in the West that is ex­is­ten­tially threat­ened” (Ari Shav­its). But Pales­tini­ans are also ex­is­ten­tially stressed.

The core is­sue of Jerusalem es­pe­cially in­cites deeply emo­tional na­tion­al­ist and re­li­gious pas­sions. Per­sonal faith com­mands re­spect. But if there is one over­rid­ing ne­ces­sity for reach­ing the com­pro­mises that have to be the ba­sis of a vi­able peace process for the sake of the peo­ple, it would be to keep God out of it.

Ne­tanyahu has re­sisted the fa­tal an­nex­a­tion ini­tia­tive but his vul­ner­a­bil­ity to sub­stan­tial po­lice ac­cu­sa­tions of bribery and fraud threaten his po­lit­i­cal sur­vival. As his pop­u­lar­ity plum­mets, he will need the sup­port of coali­tion part­ners, how­ever ex­treme.

The au­thor ded­i­cates this ar­ti­cle to the mem­ory of Michael Bell, twice Canada’s Am­bas­sador to Is­rael and also Am­bas­sador to Egypt and Jor­dan, who de­voted the end of his life to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in Jerusalem. Con­tribut­ing writer Jeremy Kins­man is a for­mer Cana­dian am­bas­sador to Rus­sia, the U.K. and EU. He is af­fil­i­ated with the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. kins­manj@shaw.ca

Wikipedia photo

The Jew­ish prayer site at the Western Wall/Tem­ple Mount and the Dome of the Rock/Al-Aqsa Mosque com­plex, the third holi­est site in Is­lam, be­hind it.

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