Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Land ?

The Answer to the Jerusalem Question

By Alexander Rose

In mediaeval maps, Jerusalem was depicted as the centre of the world. Little has changed. This year alone, the golden city has not only played host to a visit from His Holiness, but also the starring role in the interminable, yet strangely hypnotic, Arab-Israeli peace process, now in its 50th year. Soon, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will gather outside Washington to discuss a framework agreement for a final-status treaty, which is (optimistically) scheduled for September, just before the U.S. election.

The Jerusalem Question is but one of four contentious areas obstructing a final-status treaty, yet, as the Pope might say, it is the rock upon which the peace talks are founded. The long-time Israeli position is clear. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. That's it. The current Palestinian position is similarly succinct. As the chairman of the Palestinian National Council undiplomatically put it last year: "Who do these fools think they are? Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine."

Yet, since 1967 Palestinians and their supporters had more modestly held out for a Jerusalem divided between a Jewish, western portion and an eastern, Arab entity. That's why for decades Palestinians upheld the (in)famous UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, which called for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories of recent conflict." These were the areas captured from Egypt, Syria and Jordan by Israel during the Six-Day War: specifically, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the Sinai and the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

Just which "territories of recent conflict" are meant, however, is frequently misconceived owing to the cleverly deliberate omission of the definite article "the" before "territories." It is an open question, therefore, whether the Israelis should wholly or partially withdraw from all the territories. Since the Camp David accords, the Israelis have been willing to trade "land-for-peace" everywhere but East Jerusalem, which the Jordanians aggressively annexed in 1948-49.

What's so special about East Jerusalem? It contains the Old City, which in turn contains the holiest places in Judaism - the Western Wall and the Temple Mount - as well as the Dome of the Rock and such supreme Christian sanctuaries as the Holy Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa.

The Israelis fear that if East Jerusalem were handed over to the Palestinians, not only would access to the Wall, the Jewish Quarter and the Jewish graveyard on the Mount of Olives be subject to Yasser Arafat's say-so, but conditions in the Old City itself would deteriorate to pre-1967 Jordanian levels. Between 1948 and 1967, 34 out of 35 synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were sacked; the area touching the Wall was deliberately turned into a slum; and of the 50,000 Jewish tombstones on the Mount of Olives, no fewer than 38,000 were smashed or used as paving stones to army latrines. Small wonder that, soon after uniting Jerusalem, the Knesset passed a law protecting the Holy Places of all religions against desecration and ensuring freedom of access and prayer.

But since last year, Resolution 242 has fallen by the wayside. Palestinian negotiators have instead quietly resurrected the forgotten "UN Resolution 181" of November 1947 - more commonly known as the "Partition Resolution," which proposed dividing Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.

According to Resolution 181 (and the related Resolution 303 of 1949), Jerusalem was to be a corpus separatum administered by the UN and divided between east and west. The Palestinian Authority's ambitious new negotiating strategy calls for upholding "the spirit of the partition resolution and its principles without conceding internationalization of the city [my Italics]." (It's worth noting that only the Vatican desires some kind of "special status" nowadays. Hence the importance of the Pope remaining politically aloof during his visit).

The aim is to persuade U.S. President Bill Clinton, who hopes to leave office with a "Peace Treaty" under his belt, to support the switch from 242 to 181 so that the PA can up the ante in future talks by claiming huge swathes of Israel plus half of Jerusalem.

It's an ingenious strategy, and one for which the Palestinian negotiators should be congratulated. But it is decisively flawed in that the League of Arab States haughtily rejected Resolution 181 on may 15, 1948 - a day after the creation of Israel and the subsequent invasion by five Arab armies - and it was superseded by the 1949 cease-fire lines, thereby rendering it void.

So, there really isn't a Jerusalem Question after all. Thanks to the League of Arab States and Jordanian opportunism in 1967, it's already been solved. Possession being nine-tenths of the law, a united Jerusalem belongs to Israel. Perhaps some will find this solution inequitable, but divided cities rarely find peace. Look at Nicosia, Cold War Berlin and Mitrovica in Kosovo.

Let that not be the fate of Jerusalem.

Source: National Post, March 22, 2000

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