The stridency of the Obama administration’s attitude about Israeli settlements in the West Bank has stunned some observers, not the least of whom is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself. Even more troubling to the Israelis is the State Department’s recent scolding of Ambassador Michael Oren about a 20-unit apartment project financed by a wealthy American philanthropist who purchased the former Shepherd Hotel property in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, adjacent to a compound of Israeli government buildings. What is stunning about this latest U.S. policy is that the project in question is in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, in an Eastern Jerusalem neighborhood that, if the Palestinians have their way, ostensibly will be the capital of their putative state; more disturbing is the fact that U.S. diplomats have now decreed that Israeli construction in Jerusalem itself constitutes the forbidden settlement activity.
Speaking to the Jerusalem Post in July, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly was clear that the U.S. considers building projects in East Jerusalem to be in violation of the settlement “freeze” that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been calling for; Kelly said very pointedly that “We're talking about all settlement activity, yes, in the area across the line,” meaning that, henceforth, any territory beyond the 1949 Green Line is to be off limits to Jews. Mr. Netanyahu did not hesitate to immediately reject the U.S.’s suggestion to facilitate the redivision of the Jewish state’s sacred capital, tersely but directly asserting that Israel “cannot accept such a ruling on East Jerusalem.”
In characterizing East Jerusalem—or any part of Jerusalem, for that matter—as territory that Israel “occupies” but over which it enjoys no sovereignty, the Obama administration is misreading, once again, the content and purpose of 1967’s U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 that suggested an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” it acquired in the Six Day War. Critics of Israeli policy who either willfully misread or deliberately obscure the resolution’s purpose say that the Jewish State is in violation of 242 by continuing to occupy the West Bank and Jerusalem, including what is mistakenly now referred to as “Arab” East Jerusalem. But the drafters of Resolution 242 were very precise in creating the statute’s language, and never considered Jerusalem to have been “occupied” by Israel after the Six Day War. Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Arthur Goldberg, one of the resolution’s authors, made this very clear when he wrote some years later that “Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate . . . At no time in [my] many speeches [before the UN] did I refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory.”
Along with their unwavering and various demands, including a “right of return” of all refugees and sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the Palestinians now insist that Jerusalem must be divided to give them a capital in its eastern portion as the location of their new state. But these have always been points for future negotiations, at least before the State Department gave public expression to its new view that East Jerusalem—a patchwork community where some 200,000 Jews and 270,000 Arabs currently live―has already been assumed to be the Palestinian capital, and that Jews should no longer build or live there. That view is troubling, and not just because of the settlement issue, Israeli security concerns, and the fate of the Shepherd Hotel project; it is troubling because it reveals a pattern in which Arabs endow Jerusalem with intense significance to serve purposes of political expediency. In fact, observed scholar of Islam and Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes, “An historical survey shows that the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rises for Muslims when Jerusalem has political significance. Conversely, when the utility of Jerusalem expires, so does its status and the passions about it.” When Jordan illegally annexed the West Bank and purged Jerusalem of its Jews from 1949 to 1967, for example, Jerusalem’s stature declined. But Israel’s recapture of the territory in 1967 changed the political landscape, including an Arab desire for Jerusalem, suggesting to Dr. Pipes that “the Muslim interest lies not so much in controlling Jerusalem as it does in denying control over the city to anyone else.”
Ever since the Camp David meetings in 2000 when Ehud Barak opened the door to a divided Jerusalem in his negotiations with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians have been relentless in creating a false impression of how important Jerusalem is to them, while, at the same time, they have de-Judaized Jerusalem and tried to obscure the Jewish relationship with and continuing presence in the holy city, something Middle East scholar Martin Kramer has called their desire to effect “a reversal of history.”
Writing in al-Hayat al-Jadida, in March of 2009, for instance, Dr. Tayseer Al-Tamimi, PA Chief Justice of religious court and Chairman of Supreme Council of Islamic Law, absurdly claimed that "Jerusalem is the religious, political and spiritual capital of Palestine,” meaning a Palestinian Palestine, and that “the Jews have no rights to it." But the true danger of the Palestinian thinking about Jerusalem—and, indeed, about all of the Palestine that they covet, including Israel itself—was crystallized in Yasser Arafat’s own view that he expressed in a July 2000 edition of al-Hayat al-Jadida. “I will not agree to any sovereign presence in Jerusalem,” he wrote, referring to the thorny issue of who, Israel or the Palestinians, would have sovereignty of the Holy Basin, “neither in the Armenian quarter, nor in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, neither in Via De La Rosa, nor in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They can occupy us by force, because we are weaker now, but in two years, ten years, or one hundred years, there will be someone who will liberate Jerusalem [from them].”
“Liberating” Jerusalem, of course, does not mean transforming it into a pluralistic, open city where members of three major faiths can live freely and practice their religions openly. Liberating Jerusalem for the Palestinians would be more in keeping with the type of liberation that Transjordan’s Arab League effected when they burned and looted the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem in 1948, expelled and killed its hapless Jewish population, destroyed some 58 synagogues, many hundreds of years old, unearthed gravestones from the history-laden Jewish cemetery on the Mount Olives and used them for latrine pavers, and barred any Jew from praying at the Western Wall or entering the Temple Mount. That same predilection to destroy religious property was on display again shortly after Camp David when a crazed Palestinian mob took sledgehammers to Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish holy site, and completely obliterated it as Palestinian policemen stood idly by and watched.
But false irredentist claims, Islamic supremacism which compels Jews and Christians to live in dhimmitude under Muslim control, and an evident cultural and theological disregard for other faiths— while troubling in the battle over sovereignty in Jerusalem—are not, according to Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, the most dangerous aspects of a diplomatic capitulation which would allow the Palestinians to claim a shared Jerusalem. In his engaging book, The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City, Gold points to a far more troubling aspect: in their desire to accede to Arab requests for a presence and religious sovereignty in Jerusalem, the State Department, EU, UN member states, and Islamic apologists in the Middle East and worldwide may actually ignite jihadist impulses they seek to dampen with their well-intentioned, but defective, diplomacy. Why? Because, as Gold explained, “In the world of apocalyptic speculation, Jerusalem has many other associations—it is the place where the messianic Mahdi [the redeemer of Islam] is to establish his capital. For that reason, some argue that it also should become the seat of the new caliphate that most Islamic groups—from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda—seek to establish.”
When Arafat gave expression to the eventual “liberation” of Jerusalem as a sacred and unending ambition for the Palestinian cause, he defined it as a recapture of what had been, and should be, in his view, Muslim land, just as the eventual extirpation of Israel and the reclamation of all of Palestine would accomplish. The establishment of the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem is the first important step in the long-term strategy to rid the Levant of Jews and reestablish the House of Islam in Palestine. “Jerusalem’s recapture is seen by some as one of the signs that ‘the Hour’ and the end of times are about to occur,” Gold suggested. “And most importantly, because of these associations, it is the launching pad for a new global jihad powered by the conviction that this time the war will unfold according to a pre-planned religious script, and hence must succeed.”
So far from creating a political situation in which both parties—Israelis and the Palestinians—feel they have sought and received equal benefits, such negotiations and final agreements would have precisely the opposite effect: destabilizing the region and creating, not the oft-hoped for Israel and Palestine “living side by side in peace,” but a incendiary cauldron about to explode into an annihilatory, jihadist rage. Those in the West who are urging Israel “to redivide Jerusalem by relinquishing its holy sites,” Dore cautioned, “may well believe that they are lowering the flames of radical Islamic rage, but in fact they will only be turning up those flames to heights that have not been seen before.” If the State Department and other Western diplomats are intent on mollifying the Arab street by pressuring Israel to divide Jerusalem as a peace offering to the Palestinians, it may well be setting into motion the exact opposite result: a jihadist, apocalyptic movement invigorated by the misguided diplomacy of the West that, once more, asks Israel to sacrifice its security and nationhood so that Islamists can realize their own imperial ambitions at the Jewish state’s expense.