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The Jerusalem Syndrome

Emmanuel Navon


Hillary Clinton has a selective way of getting insulted. When Assad received Ahmadinejad in Damascus after the US had sent a new ambassador there, Clinton asked for an explanation and was told to mind her own business. But when the Israeli Housing Ministry announced the construction of additional homes in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, Clinton couldn't take it.The reaction of the international community to the "Ramat Shlomo" affair reveals double-standards, one-sidedness and an ignorance of historical facts.

Double-standards, because in the attempts to rebuild confidence between Israel and the Palestinians, only Israel is expected not to "provoke" the other side. The Palestinians, for their part, get away with everything. True, Biden asked the PA to cancel the inauguration of a square named after Dalal Mughrabi. But the inauguration was only pushed off and the fact is that you did not hear Hillary Clinton or Catherine Ashton scold the Palestinians about this provocation.

Mughrabi led one of the most horrendous terror attacks in Israel's history, perpetrated on 11 March 1978, when she and other terrorists hijacked a bus and killed 37 civilians. In December 2009, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas decided to sponsor a ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mughrabi's birth. A few months before, Abbas inaugurated a computer center named after Mughrabi. On 11 March 2009, PA television called Mughrabi and her accomplices "heroes." This year, the PA has planned on marking the 11 March event by naming a new square after Mughrabi. Biden happened to be in town on March 11, and so he asked Abbas to spare him the embarrassment (Israel shot itself in the foot by taking care of that).

How exactly is peace supposed to prevail between Israel and the Palestinians if the Palestinian leadership teaches its children that murdering innocent Israeli civilians is an act of heroism worthy of praise? If both Israel and the Palestinians are expected to show that they are sincere about peace, why do the Palestinians get away with teaching their children that killing Israelis is praiseworthy while Israel gets publicly scolded for adding a few apartments to an existing neighborhood that would anyways remain within Israel's jurisdiction in the framework of a peace agreement?

Then there is one-sidedness. By subscribing to the position that Israel is not entitled to build in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, the international community is siding with the Palestinians. East Jerusalem is not an occupied territory. When the British withdrew from their mandate on Palestine in May 1948, they left a legal vacuum behind them. The United Nations General Assembly resolution from November 1947 had recommended that Jerusalem be a corpus separatum, but this resolution (being a General Assembly resolution) was not legally binding, and was rejected by the Arabs anyway. With the signing of the 1949 armistice agreements between Israel and the Arab states that initiated the war, Israel became sovereign de facto in the western part of Jerusalem and Jordan in the eastern part.

Jordan's annexation of east Jerusalem was not recognized by the international community (with the exception of Britain and Pakistan). Its sovereignty there was the result of a war of aggression. Israel's sovereignty after June 1967, by contrast, was the result of a war of self-defense. This difference alone, as argued by former International Court of Justice member Judge Stephen Schwebel, makes Israel's rights and case much stronger than Jordan's. Yet Jordan was never dubbed an "occupier" in east Jerusalem, while Israel is.

In order to be considered "occupied" under international law (and in order for the Fourth Geneva Convention to apply), a territory must have been previously a sovereign country or part of a sovereign country. East Jerusalem was never part of a sovereign country in modern times. Either you consider Jordan's 1949 annexation as illegal and illegitimate, meaning Israel did not conquer sovereign land in 1967, or you do consider Jordan's 1949 annexation as legal and legitimate, meaning Israel's 1967 annexation is even more so since it was the result of a war of self-defense and not of aggression.

It is precisely because Israel did not conquer a sovereign country or part of a sovereign country when it entered the West Bank in 1967, and because Israel crossed an armistice line and not a border, that UN Security Council Resolution 242 calls for an Israeli withdrawal "from territories" (as opposed to "from the territories") conquered during the war, in the framework of a negotiated peace agreement. The Arab position is that Israel must withdraw from "all the territories" and that east Jerusalem is an occupied territory. Israel contests that position on firm legal and historical grounds. By calling Israel's building activities in east Jerusalem "illegal" and "illegitimate" (as opposed to calling the timing of the "Ramat Shlomo" announcement unfortunate), the international community is siding with the Arab position regarding Jerusalem and Resolution 242, and is dismissing Israel's position. In simple English, this is called one-sidedness.

The third and last issue is the ignorance of historical facts. The Economist recently ran an article on Jerusalem ("A city that should be shared," March 6, 2010) that completely ignores the desecration of non-Muslim sites by Jordan and by the PA, and which fails to mention why no agreement was reached on Jerusalem during the 2000 Camp David Summit. When east Jerusalem was under Jordanian control between 1949 and 1967, Jews were not allowed to pray at the Western Wall; fifty-eight synagogues and Jewish schools were destroyed in the Old City; and the Jewish cemetery of the Mount of Olives was systematically desecrated. After the PA gained control over the Waqf from Jordan in 1996, it engaged in acts of archeological vandalism under the Temple Mount, trying to erase any remnants of the two Jerusalem Temples.

The PA built two huge mosques under the Temple Mount: one in 1996 (the "Solomon's Stables" mosque), and one in 1999 (the "Al-Aqsa Al-Qadim" mosque). In both cases, the PA-controlled Wakf removed tens of thousands of tons of archeological rubble containing artifacts dating back to the First Temple period. The PA has also desecrated and partially destroyed the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus and the ancient Jericho synagogue.

By contrast, Israel is on record for preserving the integrity of all the Muslim sites that came under its jurisdiction in 1967 and for guaranteeing freedom of access to Muslim worshipers. In the 1970s and 1980s there was this ceremonial at UNESCO, where Muslim countries would ask the organization to look into Israel's alleged "desecrations" of Muslim sites; but those allegations were systematically rebuffed by UNESCO's own archeological expert (Prof. Raymond Lemaire) who actually praised Israel for its treatment of Muslim religious sites.

This is a strong argument against the division of Jerusalem: Israel is the only country that has shown (and continues to show) respect for Muslim and Christian holy sites, while the Palestinians have destroyed and desecrated (and continue to do so) Jewish and even Christian sites (In April 2002, during Operation Defensive Shield, Palestinian terrorists used the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem as a refuge and committed acts of vandalism there). But there is also the reason why recent attempts to share Jerusalem during peace negotiations have failed: The Palestinians refuse to even recognize Israel's connection to Jewish holy sites.

At Camp David in 2000, the Israeli delegation agreed to share Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state. The United States even went so far as to suggest Palestinian custodianship over the Temple Mount and full Palestinian sovereignty in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City. The deal faltered only when the Palestinians rejected the American proposal in favor of full Palestinian sovereignty over all parts of Jerusalem conquered by Israel in June 1967, including the Temple Mount itself. To this, then-prime minister Ehud Barak replied that Israel's sovereignty over the Temple Mount was "the Archimedes point of our existence." In response, the Palestinians claimed that no Jewish Temple had ever existed in Jerusalem and denied any connection between Israel and the Temple Mount altogether.

Considering the position of the Palestinian side, further negotiation on the matter of the Temple Mount might have seemed pointless. Nevertheless, even after the failed summit, Israel suggested division of sovereignty over the Temple Mount whereby a future Palestinian state would control the upper level, and Israel the lower one. In December 2000, then-Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami even offered the Palestinians full and exclusive sovereignty over the Temple Mount (including the lower level), provided merely that the Palestinians recognize the site's holiness to the Jewish people and prevent the destruction of Jewish remnants on the Temple Mount. Yet even that proposal was rejected by the Palestinians

By applying double-standards to Israel and the Palestinians on the question of confidence building measures, by publicly supporting the Palestinian position and dismissing Israel's on the legal status of Jerusalem, and by ignoring the record of Israel and of the Palestinians regarding the treatment of the holy places of other faiths, the international community is convincing Israel that setting facts on the ground seems indeed to be the only way for Israel to remain sovereign in its capital.