The War Over Jerusalem

News Abroad

Dr. Daniel Mandel is a Fellow in History at Melbourne University and author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (Routledge, 2004).

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are foredoomed for now. The party conference of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in August – where the platform, resolutions and speakers from Abbas down rejected Israel’s self-identity as a Jewish state and any attempt to delegitimize terrorism against her – tells us as much. But diplomatic flurry often obscures matters, and one might believe that issues like refugees or borders remain the key – or Jerusalem.

In recent weeks, President Barack Obama returned Jerusalem to the limelight when he described continued Jewish apartment building in eastern parts of the city as being “very dangerous” – a euphemism for the threat of Palestinian violence. Then, this past week, the European Union backed Palestinian demands that eastern Jerusalem become a future Palestinian capital.

Jerusalem has been a diplomatic flashpoint since 1949. That is one of the less fortunate legacies of Dr. H.V. Evatt, Australian external affairs minister at the time.

In 1947, Evatt played a pivotal role in persuading the UN to adopt a partition plan calling for Arab and Jewish states in British-controlled Palestine. However, facing elections at home in December 1949 and with an eye to the large Australian Catholic vote, on which his Labor government depended, he ensured the plan called for internationalizing Jerusalem, which neither side wanted, but which the Vatican did.

It did not work out that way. Arabs rejected partition, with the result that Palestine was partitioned by war, not agreement. Jerusalem ended up divided between Israel and Jordan. Both opposed internationalization when Evatt successfully introduced a U.N. resolution to that effect this month sixty years ago.

International fixation on Jerusalem has been with us since, even if enthusiasm for internationalizing the city quickly receded. U.N. committees and trusteeship proposals devoted to Jerusalem provided a special, exploitable focus for the anti-Israel cause. But this was afforded practical outlet only when Israel came into possession of the city’s eastern half after repelling Jordanian assault in 1967.

Historically and religiously of relatively low importance to Islam – it is never mentioned in the Quran – Jerusalem used to transfix few Muslims, while its Jewish roots had once been freely acknowledged by them.

Under Jordanian control (1948-67) eastern Jerusalem had degenerated into a provincial backwater, of little interest to Arab rulers. Saudi princes never dropped in to Jerusalem to pray at the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa mosque when visiting the fleshpots of nearby Beirut. As late as the 1920s, publications of the Jerusalem waqf, the Muslim religious trust, spoke plainly of the Temple Mount, upon which the mosques are built, as the historical site of Jewry’s Temple.

Today, however, the picture is diametrically opposite.

In Khomeinist Iran, an annual Jerusalem Day parade instituted in 1979 and attended by crowds of up to 300,000 tops all other dates in the regime’s activist calendar. Fatah, which only mentions Jerusalem en passant in its constitutive documents, today boasts a terror group called the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

A profusion of Palestinian statements and Muslim clerical rulings on Jerusalem speak variously of an historical Jewish presence, if at all, as having been brief; of the non-existence of the biblical temples, or of their location elsewhere; and of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest extant site, being actually a Muslim one.

Such sentiments are disseminated widely in the Arab world. A popular piece of Egyptian graffiti declares “It’s our mosque, not their Temple.”

Moreover, Jerusalem has been successfully exploited by violence for diplomatic profit by Palestinian leaders. In 1996, Palestinian riots on the back of Yasser Arafat’s trumped up charge that Israel’s opening of an archeological tunnel endangered the mosques on Temple Mount produced criticism of Israeli provocation.

In 2000, a visit to Temple Mount by Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, pre-arranged with Arafat, was distorted by Palestinian media into a violation of Muslim sanctuaries (which had not in fact been entered), leading to international criticism of Israel and a Palestinian terror wave.

It would therefore appear that President Obama, to put the best construction on his words, did not know what he was doing when he spoke as though there was some correspondence between Israelis building apartments and Palestinians rioting – or worse.

To speak in these terms places a premium on Palestinian violence and increases the probability of its occurrence: the record shows it to be a paying proposition. Noting the European Union’s willingness to publicly side with Palestinian positions rather than support unprejudiced negotiations, Palestinians now have reason to believe that political capital might be exacted by a little violence. That means that trouble might follow, quite soon.

All of which carries the following implications. For the foreseeable future, peace negotiations will either not resume at all, or lead nowhere, certainly not to a lasting peace. Jerusalem will remain a flashpoint, with violence easily encouraged by public stances taken in favor of Palestinian positions. And Dr. Evatt’s 1949 resolution – conceived in a different world, motivated by domestic political calculations long forgotten – will demonstrate anew the law of unintended consequences.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

james joseph butler - 1/5/2010

I won't waste our time arguing whose 19th century census,(an oxymoronic construct, unless of course we're talking, which millenium?, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,HAPPY EPIPHANY! Christmas, those registers are ringing for goy and all,)is more discerning. I find it interesting that you chose a Jewish Marxist, sure he's THE Marxist, rather than the actual reporter, Farim, the goy, to dispatch your report.

I'm more interested in your idea that my president is encouraging "Arab violence and intransigence" by "encouraging hard-line positions" or, as you put it, "intransigent Arab positions". This after Sen. Obama, stated in his speech to AIPAC, 2008, that Jerusalem must remain the "undivided" capital of the Jewish state. This after my president has pledged his fidelity, "I've been in the foxhole with my Jewish friends." to the concept of one religion, one state. "How central they are to my success." Regarding the plight of the Jewish nation; "I've got it in my gut."

Obama is a 19th century white Virginian when it comes to Judea and Samaria. Ignornace and Chicago machine politics = Edward Said, who, what,Palewho? Who did I sit next to?

Now, O, is an enemy of your Israeli nation. Why? He's still black. See Youtube, young Jews' reactions, to a dark complected US pres.

Eliot, why waste time on Karl and Barack? You don't care, unless she believes in the original testament. Talmudic. Whoowaa. You're just like me. You want you're side to win.

Barack believes it's in his best interest. And you've won. Americans, witless, ahistorical, fools, think Israel represents Good. You and I know Israel represents the accretion of centuries of hate and ignorance on the part of the goyim.

The war on dumb will bloom and grow for decades thanks to fool like you.

Elliott Aron Green - 12/30/2009

butler, you're at it again. Why do you say that your source is more reliable than Cesar Famin in 1853?? Anyhow, another Frenchman, Gerardy Santine, calls Jews a majority in Jerusalem in a book published in 1860. Then, Yehoshua Ben Arieh gives the date of 1870 in his book. I won't go on because of the tedium of citing sources. And anyhow, I have business in town today. But let me know if you want more sources from me.

james joseph butler - 12/29/2009

Jews in Jerusalem did not become an "absolute majority" until the 1890's. Having viewed a number of demographic charts 1896 seems the most popular date for the ascendance of the Jewish population of Jerusalem to #1. But of course Mr. Marx is entitled.

Elliott Aron Green - 12/21/2009

Dr Mandel's last paragraph is realistic. I would like to add that even if an accord or agreement of some sort is reached, and such accord is called "peace", we should not conclude that in fact peace has been achieved. An agreement is not peace in itself, especially if it is violated, whether often or seldom. And we know that many or most interstate agreements are violated sooner or later. Now, since the PLO has a long history of violating agreements with fellow Arabs, why should any rational person believe that it would honor, keep or observe an accord with Jews, with Israel???

Further I agree with Mandel's hint that both President Obama and the European Union encourage Arab violence and intransigence by taking on or encouraging hard-line positions, I should say, intransigent Arab positions. According to the Oslo accords Jerusalem, borders, and settlements were to be left to negotiations at the end of the so-called "peace process" [final status talks]. It seems that the EU and the USA under Obama want to foreclose the outcome of negotiations by adopting Arab demands [for example, Abu Mazen has grown more intransigent since Obama became president].

On the other hand, Mandel is wrong to suggest that
"International fixation on Jerusalem has been with us since" Evatt's resolution in the UN. Indeed, there has been "International fixation on Jerusalem" for more than a thousand years, not just since the 1940s. The Crusades were just one manifestation of this "fixation."

At the same time, Mandel is right to point out that Jerusalem has often not been very important to Muslims. Indeed, Ibn Taymiyya, a Muslim theologian of about 750 years ago, argued that the city should NOT be important to Muslims and should not be considered a Muslim holy city, which status he reserved for Mecca and Medina. Ibn Taymiyya is significant nowadays since he is an inspiration for the militant jihadist Muslims of the Salafist/wahhabite/Muslim Brotherhood ilk.

Lastly, when speaking of Jerusalem, it should be borne in mind that Jews have been the absolute majority of Jerusalem's population since 1853, if not earlier [see Cesar Famin's book quoted and paraphrased by Karl Marx, inter alia]. Moreover, Muslims have been a minority in the city since at least 1800, whereas Jews and Christians together formed a majority at that time. The Jews in the city in 1853 were living under severe oppression, exploitation and humiliation, yet were still a majority. The state of the Jews in Jerusalem at that time is attested in the quotes/paraphrases by Karl Marx from Cesar Famin's book [New York Tribune, 15 April 1854].

omar ibrahim baker - 12/21/2009

Starting with a blatantly fallacious statement:
" Historically and religiously of relatively low importance to Islam – it( Jerusalem) is never mentioned in the Quran " (1)
the writer goes on to expound an equally fallacious premise: that its pivotal role in the Arab/Moslem-Zionist conflict is a newly developed factor!(2)
Re the religious dimension of the former (1):
-Jerusalem was the first Kibla to Islam; now it is Mecca
- Is the venue , the meta physical spring board of Prophet Mohamed's ONLY supra natural , metaphysical, act ( miracle): His nocturnal spiritual sojourn to Jerusalem ( Al Isra)and his ascension to heaven therefrom (Al Miraag) both as transcribed in the Koran (17/1).

According to Moslem tradition the the Rock, now in the mosque with its name ( Dome of the ROCK), is the exact physical point from which that heavens bound journey started!

Historically ; a cursory knowledge of the annals of the centuries long Crusaders' war(s) will unmistakeably indicate that Jerusalem, much more than any other lieu in Palestine, was the major enjeu, the trophy, for which both sides combated most for centuries.

Re his latter assertion (2); it is belied by the most rudimentary knowledge of post WWI annals of the conflict.
In a way the writer's own words refute his allegation by the noted fact that , considering its crucial importance to all three monotheistic religions, Jerusalem was NOT allocated to either party of the conflict in the Partition of Palestine resolution but was to be accorded an International status!