The relationship between the Jewish people and Jerusalem goes back to pre-Roman times. The following shows the campaign by the Romans against Jerusalem, destroying its that time Temple. Any tourist walking under the “Arch of Titus” in Rome completed in 81 CE, can see the following image:
More recent archaeological excavations carried out near the Temple Mount, uncovered a terraced street from the Herodian era, extended 600 meters to the Temple. The excavators think the drainage canals under the street are those mentioned by contemporary historian Josephus Flavius- who said the Romans trapped the Jews who hid under the streets.
In the following letter by Bar Kochba, written during (a next) revolt against Rome in 132-135 CE, he seeks to recruit "Galileans," which some scholars interpreted as Christians. Emperor Hadrian however, feared the revolt could spark the hopes of enslaved peoples across the Roman Empire. (G.W. Bowerstock, "A Roman Perspective on the Bar Kochba War," in W. S. Green, ed., Approaches to Ancient Judaism, 2, 1980).
In spite of popular believe, on the other hand Jerusalem is not connected to any events in Muhammad's life and is not mentioned in the Koran.
It was in the century after Muhammad's death, that politics, prompted the Damascus-based Umayyad dynasty, which controlled Jerusalem, to make this city sacred in Islam. Embroiled in fierce competition with a dissident leader in Mecca, the Umayyad rulers were seeking to diminish Arabia at Jerusalem's expense. They sponsored a genre of literature praising the "virtues of Jerusalem" and circulated re-invented accounts of the prophet's sayings or doings (called hadiths) favorable to Jerusalem. In 688-91, they built the Dome of the Rock, on top of the remains of the Jewish Temple. They also were the ones that reinterpreted the Koran to make room for Jerusalem.
However, when the Umayyad dynasty collapsed in 750, Jerusalem fell into near-obscurity. For the next three and a half centuries, texts praising the city lost favor and the construction of glorious buildings not only stopped, but existing ones fell apart (the Dome over the rock collapsed in 1016).
Judaism to compare this with the above has made Jerusalem a holy city over three thousand years ago and through all that time Jews remained steadfast to it. Jews pray in its direction, mention its name constantly in prayers, close the Passover service with the wistful statement "Next year in Jerusalem," and recall the city in the blessing at the end of each meal. The destruction of the Temple looms very large in Jewish consciousness; remembrance takes such forms as a special day of mourning, houses left partially unfinished, a woman's makeup or jewelry left incomplete, and a glass smashed during the wedding ceremony. In addition, Jerusalem has had a prominent historical role, is the only capital of a Jewish state, and is the only city with a Jewish majority during the whole of the past century. In the words of its current mayor, Jerusalem represents "the purist expression of all that Jews prayed for, dreamed of, cried for, and died for in the two thousand years since the destruction of the Second Temple."
One comparison makes this point most clearly: Jerusalem appears in the Jewish Bible 669 times and Zion (which usually means Jerusalem, sometimes the Land of Israel) 154 times, or 823 times in all. The Christian Bible mentions Jerusalem 154 times and Zion 7 times. In contrast Jerusalem or/and Zion appear not even once in the Qur'an.
So why does it now loom so large for Muslims? Why does King Fahd of Saudi Arabia call on Muslim states to protect "the holy city [that] belongs to all Muslims across the world"? Why suddenly do Muslims all over the world find Jerusalem one of their most pressing foreign policy issue?
Because of politics. An historical survey shows that the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rises for Muslims when Jerusalem has political significance.
The inhabitants of what now is called Palestine and Israel, at the start of the 20th Cent. considered themselves part of the Ottoman dominated Syrian provinces. Arab nationals from Nablus, Jerusalem and Jaffa considered themselves Ottomans or Syrians. The idea to call themselves 'Palestinians' came as a reaction to increasing migration by Zionist settlers from Europe especially after WWI.
A recent study using archival material describes the radicalization of this Palestinian movement, see underneath here
The Jerusalem Problem
In order to inflame Muslim opinion during the 1920’s, Arab nationalists under the leadership of Hajj Amin al-Husseini circulated doctored photographs of a Jewish flag with the Star of David flying over the Dome of the Rock. Hajj Amin al-Husseini also instigated a move to change the paved area in front of the generally recognized to be Jewish-Wailing (Western) Wall, which was transformed from a cul-de-sac into an open thoroughfare. The British one could argue helped politicize the issue by the decision to appoint Hajj Amin al-Husseini as grand mufti of Jerusalem
The heart of the Palestinian Arab argument at the time was that the Western Wall was primarily a Muslim holy site. According to Muslim traditions they claimed, it was where Muhammad tied his winged horse-, on whom he had miraculously flown from Mecca to Jerusalem before ascending to the heavens from the Temple Mount (see the wall below):
The International Commission for the Wailing Wall, also known as the Shaw Commission, was appointed by the British with League of Nations approval. It still indicated that it preferred a voluntary solution to the controversy, but it ultimately drafted a decision formally confirming Jewish rights of access to the Western Wall. But, backing the British, it also accepted a highly restrictive interpretation of what these rights entailed. For example, the commission ruled that Jews could not bring benches or chairs to the Wall area, and an ark containing Torah scrolls could only be brought on special holidays. This reflected the commission's understanding of the status quo under the Ottoman Empire. (Report of the Commission Appointed by His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and with the Approval of the Council of the League of Nations, to Determine the Rights and Claims of Moslems and Jews in Connection with the western or Tyailing Tyall at Jerusalem , London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1931).
The commission did not contest the Muslim claim to ownership over the Wall and the pavement in front of it, but it utterly rejected the notion that al-Buraq was tethered in the area where the Jews prayed, suggesting that this location was further south. Hence it concluded, "Under these circumstances the Commission does not consider that the Pavement in front of the Wall can be regarded as a sacred place from a Moslem point of view.” It traced the Jewish use of the site for prayer back to the fourth century CE, adding for further corroboration the accounts of the Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela from 1167, written before the area was declared waqf property. (Ibid.) These results were totally unacceptable to the mufti and the Supreme Muslim Council, who now rejected the legal competence of any international body except a Shariah court to settle questions about Muslim holy sites. (Esco Foundation for Palestine, Palestine: A Study of Jewish, Arab, and British Policies, Volume Two (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947, 614).
Husseini then sought to further internationalize his struggle. The Supreme Muslim Council authorized him to invite Arab and Muslim leaders to a World Islamic Conference in Jerusalem slated for December 1931. When the conference opened the attendance initially looked impressive-about 130 delegates from twenty-two countries. Important states were absent, though. Turkey did not attend and even sought to subvert the conference, concerned that it would become a forum for restoring the caliphate and undermining the secular regime of Ataturk. The Saudi leader, King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, diplomatically explained that the invitation to the Jerusalem conference had arrived too late. In all likelihood a Saudi decision had been taken to boycott the whole event. (Y. Porath, The Palestinian Arab National Movement: 1929-1939 From Riots to Rebellion, London, 1977, 10).
Their approach was colored by their experience in organizing the Congress of the Islamic World in Mecca back in 1926. That conference had ended acrimoniously, with its resolution to meet annually in Mecca coming to naught. Five years later, Ibn Saud was not going to lend his weight to a Jerusalem conference that might succeed where the Mecca conference had failed. Clearly, Husseini had not convinced international Muslim leaders that Jews were threatening Islamic holy sites. In fact, the purpose of the whole event was not entirely clear. Husseini had stressed to invitees that the conference would deal with the Buraq aI-Sharif. In his public call to the conference, however, Shawkat Ali said nothing about the Buraq aI-Sharif, but rather spoke more generally about how Muslims might defend their civilization
Husseini's conference was convened on December 6, 1931, which corresponded on the Islamic calendar to the day that Muhammad ascended to the heavens from the Temple Mount . At the opening of the conference, Husseini's supporters resorted to their tried and true tactic of disseminating doctored photos, this time showing Jews with machine guns attacking the Dome of the Rock. The use of this transparent propaganda alienated many delegates, who held a protest meeting at the King David Hotel presided over by Husseini's Palestinian rival, Ragheb Bey al-Nashashibi, the Jerusalem mayor. Husseini's congress sought to establish a permanent body that would convene every two years. The executive committee of the congress was headed by Husseini, thus giving him a pan-Islamic title and platform for the first time. The congress also announced the need to establish an Islamic university in Jerusalem, which apparently was not looked on favorably by the religious leadership at al-Azhar in Egypt . Adopting a resolution proclaiming the sanctity of the Buraq al-Sharif, the congress rejected the report of the "Wailing Wall Commission." Finally, it formally decided to deny Jews access to the al-Aqsa Mosque, despite the fact that Jews had their own religious reasons for staying away from the Temple Mount . Notably, during these disputes over the Western Wall Husseini did not adopt the tactic later embraced by Vasser Arafat of denying in total the religious history of the Jews. For example, the Supreme Muslim Council, which Husseini had headed since 1921, published an English-language book in 1924 for visitors to the Temple Mount area titled A Brief Guide to al-Haram ai-Sharif Jerusalem. The book's historical sketch of the site related that "the site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest (perhaps from pre-historic) times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute." The 1930 edition remained unchanged despite the 1929 Western Wall riots. The Supreme Muslim Council did not engage in Temple Denial , as Arafat's generation would decades later. Beginning in 1936, Jerusalem 's position in Palestinian politics was greatly affected by what became known as the Arab Revolt, although the revolt did not initially break out in Jerusalem. Husseini and the Arab Higher Committee-another new body under his leadership-declared a nationwide strike. In July 1937, the British finally cracked down on the mufti, who hid out on the Temple Mount for three months. (Meron Benvenisti, City of Stone: The Hidden History of Jerusalem,Berkley, 1996, 79).
The area had become a hiding place for weapons and explosives by Palestinian Arabs. In October 1937, Husseini fled British Palestine, first heading for Lebanon , then Iraq and finally Europe, where he met in Berlin with Adolf Hitler during November 1941 and became a close ally of the Nazi cause. (He would seek asylum after the war, fearing he would be prosecuted as a war criminal.) In the meantime, back in 1937, the Palestinian strike metastasized into an armed revolt, with volunteers arriving from neighboring countries. Other leaders arose to lead the Palestinian Arabs' military struggle. A major side effect of the 1936 Arab Revolt was that rural chieftains in British Mandatory Palestine provided much of the revolt's leadership, Jerusalem , in fact, lost its pre-eminent place in Palestinian politics. For example, of the 281 Arab officers involved, only ten (or 3.5 percent) came from Jerusalem. (Michael C. Hudson, "The Transformation of Jerusalem: 1917-1987 AD," in Kamil J. Asali, ed., Jerusalem in History: 3000 BC to the Present Day, 1997, 256).
Amin al-Husseini next became known for his meetings in Berlin with Adolf Hitler. After discussions Grand Mufti and Hitler, the German Africa Corps landed in Libya in February 1941, the critical phase for extending the Holocaust to Palestine began.
On November 26, 1942, al-Husseini, cast from Berlin a public radio speech in Arabic in what became a striking example of the translation of Nazi propaganda into the idioms in the Arab world even today.” Jews and capitalists have pushed the United States to expand this war, in order to expand their influence in new and wealthy areas.- America is the greatest agent of the Jews, and the Jews are rulers in America.”
Martin Cüppers and Klaus-Michael Mallmann, in their study of 2006 "Halbmond und Hakenkreuz, on the basis of countless examples, reject the research opinion that has prevailed up to now which assumes irreconcilable ideological differences between Arab Nationalists and National Socialists. The National Socialists planned mass murder also of the Jews in Palestine in 1942. Mallmann and Cüppers conclude that the only thing that prevented a "German-Arab mass crime" against the Jews was the defeat of the Germans in North Africa.
It was noteworthy that prior to the adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution in November 1947 calling for the partition of Palestine, the representatives of the Palestinian Arabs did not make the issue of Jerusalem their primary focus. Jama al- Husseini, the mufti's cousin, who presented the Palestinian Arab position before the United Nations, still used pan-Arab motifs in making the case of the Arab Higher Committee that he represented: "one consideration of fundamental importance to the Arab world was that of racial homogeneity." He explained that "the Arabs lived in a vast territory stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean , spoke one language, had the same history, tradition, and aspirations." He referred to the threat of an "alien body" entering the Middle East region. (Document 4: "UN General Assembly Resolution 181 on the Future Government of Palestine," Ruth Lapidoth and Moshe Hirsch, eds., The Jerusalem Question and Its Resolution: Selected Documents, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1994, 13-14).
In fact even when Muslims retook Jerusalem in 1948, they quickly lost interest in it. In spite of 'Abdallah being crowned as "King of Jerusalem", the Hashemites had little affection for Jerusalem. In fact, the Hashemites made a concerted effort to diminish the holy city's importance in favor of their capital, Amman. Jerusalem had served as the British administrative capital, but now all government offices there (save tourism) were shut down. The Jordanians also closed some local institutions (e.g., the Arab Higher Committee) and moved others to Amman (the treasury of the Palestinian waqf, or religious endowment).
Their effort succeeded. Once again, Arab Jerusalem became an isolated provincial town, now even less important than Nablus. The economy stagnated and many thousands left Arab Jerusalem. While the population of Amman increased five-fold in the period 1948-67, Jerusalem's grew just 50 percent. Amman was chosen as the site of the country's first university as well as of the royal family's many residences. Perhaps most insulting of all, Jordanian radio broadcast the Friday prayers not from al-Aqsa Mosque but from a mosque in Amman.
Nor was Jordan alone in ignoring Jerusalem; the city virtually disappeared from the Arab diplomatic map. No foreign Arab leader came to Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967, and even King Hussein visited only rarely. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia often spoke after 1967 of yearning to pray in Jerusalem, yet he appears never to have bothered to pray there when he had the chance. Perhaps most remarkable is that the Palestinian Liberation Organization's founding document, the Palestinian National Covenant of 1964, does not even once mention Jerusalem.
All this abruptly changed after June 1967, when the Old City came under Israeli control. As in the British period, Palestinians again made Jerusalem the centerpiece of their political program. Pictures of the Dome of the Rock turned up everywhere, from Yasir Arafat's office to the corner grocery.
The April 1949 Armistice Agreement
As a result of the First Arab-Israeli War, Jerusalem was divided, with its Old City coming under the occupation of the Arab Legion of the Hashemite Kingdom of ]ordan. Relations between Israel and Jordan over Jerusalem were supposed to be governed by their April 3, 1949, Armistice Agreement. According to Article VIII of the armistice, both sides undertook to guarantee free access to Mt. Scopus as well as the resumption of the "normal functioning" of its "cultural and humanitarian institutions." The same article also assured "free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions and the use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives." If Article VIII had been implemented, Israelis would have been able to visit the Old City of ]erusalem and pray at the Western Wall. The Jordanians were to obtain road access to Bethlehem and the provision of Israeli electricity to the Old City. To work out the modalities of these principles, the same article called on both governments to appoint representatives to a "Special Committee" that was supposed to formulate detailed plans. True, there was a regular Israeli convoy to Mt. Scopus, but the Special Committee was disbanded even before its meetings got under way, so that no arrangements could be put in place for reopening Hebrew University or the Hadassah Hospital . More significant, Israelis were denied access to both the Western Wall and the Mount of Olives during the entire period of Jordanian rule. Jordan further barred non-Israeli Jews from the Western Wall, demanding that tourists present a certificate of baptism before a visa would be granted. Formally, the Jordanians maintained that the scope of the Special Committee needed to be broadened to include other holy sites inside Israel such as those in Nazareth. (Tawfik al- Khalil, Jerusalem from 1917 to 1967, Amman: Economic Press, 90-92).
The true motivation behind Jordanian policy in these years was revealed in a frank exchange on February 23, 1951, between Jordanian prime minister Samir al-'Rifa'i and an Israeli envoy, Reuven Shiloah. Al-Rifa'i disclosed why his country had no intention of implementing its armistice obligations under Article VIII-Jordan simply had nothing to gain from the armistice any longer. Jordan no longer needed access to the Bethlehem road from Israel-the Jordanians had built another road instead-and the Old City would no longer need Israeli electricity after Jordan worked out a different source of electrical power. (Raphael Israeli, Jerusalem Divided: The Armistice Regime 1947-1967, London, 2002, 58).
Noticing that the British and U.S. ambassadors to Israel in 1954 were presenting their credentials to the Israeli president in Jerusalem, one Palestinian writer bemoaned that Israel had made Jerusalem into a capital while Jordan had reduced it "from a position of preeminence to its Current place that does not rise above rank of a village." (Kimberly Katz, Jordanian Jerusalem: Holy Places and National Spaces, University Press of Florida, 2005, 85).
Christianity in Jerusalem also suffered setbacks. Starting in 1953, the Jordanians decided that Christian institutions would face restrictions in buying land in and around Jerusalem. There were worldwide protests against the Jordanian actions, leading the Jordanians to suspend the application of some of these provisions. Nonetheless, according to one historical account, two years later the British consul-general wrote a cable about an "anti-Christian tendency" evident in Jordanian behavior. (Wasserstein, 193).
By the 1960s Christian schools were told that they would have to close on Fridays instead of Sundays, which had been their past practice. In this difficult environment, the Christian population of Jerusalem declined from 25,000 in 1948 to 10,800 in 1967. (Address of Foreign Minister Abba Eban to the Knesset, June 30, 1971. See John M. Oesterreicher, "Jerusalem the Free," in Oesterreicher and Sinai, 258)
It would be erroneous to conclude however that during the period of its rule, Jordan essentially cut itself off from Jerusalem; Jordan always sought to invest in the area of the Temple Mount. Between 1952 and 1959, the Jordanians undertook a new restoration project at the Dome of the Rock. The U.S. began to receive reports in 1960 that Jordan planned to treat Jerusalem as a second capital. (Document 31, "Aide Memoire Delivered by the United States Department of State to the Prime Minister of Jordan Concerning the Intention of Jordan to Treat the City of Jerusalem as Its Second Capital, 5 April 1960," in Lapidoth and Hirsch, 160).
During the period of Jordanian rule, another political body would come to influence the struggle for Jerusalem: the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It was founded in May 1964 by a conference of four, hundred delegates meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem. Its first head, Ahmad Shukeiry, was a Palestinian who served as a Saudi Arabian diplomat until he fell out with the Saudi leadership. The early PLO was completely controlled by Egypt, which sponsored the proposal for its creation at an Arab Summit meeting in order to reduce the relative responsibility of the Arab states to resolve the Palestinian issue. The PLO covenant rejected Jewish claims to Palestine and the validity of the League of Nations mandate. But it did not specifically single out Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, which are not even mentioned in the covenant-either in its original version promulgated in 1964 or in its 1968 rendition. (Wasserstein noted that there was no mention of Jerusalem either in its ten-point political statement issued in Cairo on June 8,1974). The early PLO had good reasons to leave Jerusalem out of its founding charter. It did not want to antagonize its Jordanian hosts.
For a short period of four years in the mid-1930s, Arafat's widowed father sent him from Cairo to Jerusalem to live with his mother's family. He was a child volunteer to one of the assistants to the mufti, who became for Arafat a figure to be emulated. In order to sustain the legend that he promoted about his past, Arafat would argue that he fought in the First Arab-Israeli War under Abdul Qader al-Husseini, who was both the mufti's cousin and one of the main Palestinian commanders who died in the battle for Jerusalem. Arafat did fight in the 1948 war, but not with the Palestinians as he maintained. Instead, he was recruited into the Egyptian tmits that were organized by the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. (M. Shemesh, The Palestinian Entity 1959-1974: Arab Politics and the PLO, London, 1996).
Even after Arafat's takeover of the PLO, certain aspects of the organization's unique approach to the Jerusalem question only became evident many years later. Arafat's real political constituency that sustained him in power over the years was located in the Palestinian refugee camps, first on the East Bank in Jordan, and then in Lebanon. The Palestinian elites in East Jerusalem were not part of that constituency and even presented a potential alternative leadership, at times, to Arafat's organization, which was based far away in Lebanon and later in Tunisia. Due to the PLO's refusal for several decades formally to renounce terrorism or meet any of the minimal pre-conditions that the U.S. set for a diplomatic dialogue, the East Jerusalem leadership would be able to meet U.S. secretaries of state, while Arafat could not even see a U.S. ambassador.
Because Arafat had a different political constituency, he was willing to agree to tactical concessions in Jerusalem that were unacceptable to the local leadership. In fact, looking ahead a number of decades, one of the reason that Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was willing to pursue a secret negotiating track with the PLO in Oslo-which eventually led to the signing of the Declaration of Principles in 1993 on the White House lawn-was precisely because the PLO was willing to exclude Jerusalem from any interim self-governing arrangements for the Palestinians.
Indeed, while Jerusalem played a central role in Yasser Arafat's rhetoric, he was willing to set the Holy City aside, when pressed in negotiations, in the years that followed.
By then of course, the 1967 Six-Day War had revolutionized the situation of Jerusalem by bringing about its reunification after nineteen years. Moreover, the specific conditions out of which the conflict erupted created new legal rights and diplomatic terms of reference that would replace the armistice agreements of 1949; for the armistice agreements had patently failed, and something new was needed in their stead. But the immediate causes of the war were related to developments on other fronts. Military tensions along the Israeli-Syrian front rose steadily from April 1967, provoking the Soviet Union deliberately to mislead Egypt into believing that an Israeli strike on Syria was imminent.
As a result, the Egyptian regime under President Gamal Abd aI-Nasser took three critical steps that led inevitably to war. First, Nasser massed 80,000 troops in Egyptian Sinai along Israel 's southern Negev border. Next, to give credibility to his threat, the Egyptian president demanded that the UN Emergency Force that had been deployed for a decade along that sensitive border zone withdraw-and UN secretary-general U Thant complied. Finally, Nasser announced a naval blockade of Israel's southern port of Eilat. All shipping between the port and the Red Sea and Indian Ocean was thus threatened by artillery positions Egypt had emplaced adjacent to the narrow Straits ofTiran, near the tip of the Sinai peninsula. The Egyptian president's military buildup had taken on a momentum of its own. He announced his intentions on May 26, 1967: "The battle will be a general one and our basic objective will be to destroy Israel." (Document 39, "Nasser's Speech to Arab Trade Unionists," May 26,1967, Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin, eds., The Israeli-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, New York: Penguin Books, 1984, 176).
But Internationalization had already patently failed back in 1948; the UN hadn't lifted a finger to break the siege of Jerusalem, leading Prime Minister Ben-Gurion to declare in 1949 that the elements in Resolution 181 that related to Jerusalem were "null and void." Now the EU was resurrecting a superannuated UN General Assembly resolution that had been utterly rejected by the Arab side in 1947 and had been abandoned afterwards by the Israelis after they had waged a bitter war, with no international help, in Jerusalem's defense. In any case, it had not been a legally binding international agreement, but only a failed recommendation of the UN. The newly articulated EU position only radicalized the Palestinians.
The official Palestinian Authority newspaper al-Ayyam quoted on March 14, 1999, the conclusion of the leading Palestinian negotiator, Abu Ala': "The [EU's] letter asserts that Jerusalem in both its parts-the Western and the Eastern-is a land under occupation." It should be stressed that Abu Ala' was thought by most Israelis to be pragmatic; he was the senior PLO official in the Oslo back channel that led to the Oslo Agreement. Yet even his position had hardened. Just over one year before Camp David, Arafat emerged from a meeting with UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and spoke to reporters in Arabic about Resolution 181. On March 25, his representative to the UN, Nasser al-Kidwa, then wrote a letter to Annan that was released as a UN document in which he argued that the old partition boundaries from Resolution 181 were what the international community had accepted. This argument not only could be used to refute Israel 's claims to East Jerusalem, but could egually be applied to West Jerusalem as well. Meir Ben-Dov, Historical Atlas of Jerusalem, New York: 2002 , 214).
In fact Yasser Abd Rabbo, the Palestinian Authority minister of information, confessed on a television program broadcast on November 17, 2000 on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera network that there was "a consensus among Palestinians that the direct goal is to reach the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the June 4, 1967, borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, [but] regarding to the future after that, it is best to leave the issue aside and not to discuss it."
Thus despite the unprecedented concessions offered by Barak regarding Jerusalem , especially in comparison with every preceding Israeli prime minister since 1967, the PLO did not offer any corresponding readiness to compromise on territorial matters. Arafat in essence insisted on receiving 100 percent of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. He was only willing to concede land in these territories if he received equivalent compensation via a land swap from unpopulated territories inside of pre-1967 Israel like the arid Halutza area of the Negev. This in spite of the fact that Resolution 242 from November 1967, which had served until Camp David as the basis of Israeli - Palestinian agreements, did not articulate any need for a land swap.
In fact Faisal al-Husseini was far more revealing about the PLO's ultimate intentions during the Oslo years. He compared Arafat's use of the Oslo peace process to a Trojan horse that allowed the PLO to get the Israelis to open "their fortified gates and let it inside their walls." The real strategic goal of the PLO, he explained, had been a Palestine "from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea," and not a mini-state in the West Bank. (Donald Little, "Jerusalem under the Ayyubids and the Mamluks: 1187-1516 AD,180).
Salim Za'anun, the chairman of the Palestine National Council, stated in an official PA newspaper that the PLO covenant calling for Israel's destruction had never changed and hence remained in force. To give these words added authority, they were written up in the official Palestinian Authority newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida on January 1, 2001.
Black smoke came out of Bethlehem's Manger Square, next to the Church of the Nativity, where on April 2, 2002, a joint Hamas- Fatah Tanzim force of thirteen ('terrorists') held the clergy as hostages for thirty-nine days:
In fact also according to shi'ite echatology according to the President of Iran Ahmadinejad, the destruction of Israel is one of the key global developments that will trigger the appearance of the Mahdi the 12th Imam of Meshad. In his first UN General Assembly address, Ahmadinejad closed with a prayer that the Mahdi's arrival be quickened: "Oh mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one." Dr. Bilal Na'im assistant to the head of the Executive Council of Hizballah, discussing the details of how the Mahdi is supposed to appear before the world, writes that initially the Mahdi reveals himself in Mecca "and he will lean on the Ka'abah and view the arrival of his supporters from around the world."
From Mecca the Mahdi next moves to Karbala in Iraq. But his most important destination, in Na'im's description, is clearly Jerusalem. It is in Jerusalem from where the launching of the Mahdi's world conquest is declared. He explains, "The liberation of Jerusalem is the preface for liberating the world and establishing the state of justice and values on earth." (Search for Common Ground in the Middle East, Program Update 2006).
As I explained at the start of this website, there is a common misperception that preoccupation with the coming of the Mahdi occurred only in the world of Shiism; but in fact, Sunni Islam has generated a number of figures who claimed to be the Mahdi, including the famous Mahdi of Sudan who fought General Gordon and the British in the 1880s, and most recently Muhammad al-Qahtani, who with his brother-in-law, Juhaiman al- Utaibi took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979.
Even those who downplay the influence of Islamic apocalyptic literature on the public at large admit that it has a strong following among Islamic radicals.
Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Sunni organization that gave birth to many jihadist groups. Without forfeiting its ties to militant Sunni networks Khaled Mashaal (left), the Damascus-based Hamas leader, meets with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (right) in Tehran on February 20, 2006:
During the years of Oslo, Jordan lost much of its influence over the administration of Islamic affairs on the Temple Mount to the Palestinian Authority, but it has been seeking to recover it as of late. (Jerusalem Post, October 11, 2006, Edgar Lefkovits, "Jordan Plans New Temple Mt. Minaret," Jerusalem Post, October 11, 2006). In fact one could wonder if Arab states like Saudi Arabia would do better, by supporting the moderate role of Jordan in these administrative issues today. No state should have an interest in radical Islamic sermons in the al-Aqsa Mosque calling for the overthrow of various UN recognized countries that include in fact, Arab regimes.
Palestinian nationalism’s first enemy is Israel, but if Israel ceased to exist, the question of an independent Palestinian state would not be settled. All of the countries bordering such a state would have serious claims on its lands, not to mention a profound distrust of Palestinian intentions. The end of Israel thus would not guarantee a Palestinian state. One of the remarkable things about Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was that no Arab state moved quickly to take aggressive steps on the Gazans’ behalf. Apart from ritual condemnation, weeks into the offensive no Arab state had done anything significant. This was not accidental: The Arab states do not view the creation of a Palestinian state as being in their interests. They do view the destruction of Israel as being in their interests, but since they do not expect that to come about anytime soon, it is in their interest to reach some sort of understanding with the Israelis while keeping the Palestinians contained.
The emergence of a Palestinian state in the context of an Israeli state also is not something the Arab regimes see as in their interest — and this is not a new phenomenon. They have never simply acknowledged Palestinian rights beyond the destruction of Israel. In theory, they have backed the Palestinian cause, but in practice they have ranged from indifferent to hostile toward it. Indeed, the major power that is now attempting to act on behalf of the Palestinians is Iran — a non-Arab state whose involvement is regarded by the Arab regimes as one more reason to distrust the Palestinians.
Therefore, when we say that Palestinian nationalism was born in battle, we do not mean simply that it was born in the conflict with Israel: Palestinian nationalism also was formed in conflict with the Arab world, which has both sustained the Palestinians and abandoned them. Even when the Arab states have gone to war with Israel, as in 1973, they have fought for their own national interests — and for the destruction of Israel — but not for the creation of a Palestinian state. And when the Palestinians were in battle against the Israelis, the Arab regimes’ responses ranged from indifferent to hostile.
The Palestinians are trapped in regional geopolitics. They also are trapped in their own particular geography. First, and most obviously, their territory is divided into two widely separated states: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Second, these two places are very different from each other. Gaza is a nightmare into which Palestinians fleeing Israel were forced by the Egyptians. It is a social and economic trap. The West Bank is less unbearable, but regardless of what happens to Jewish settlements, it is trapped between two enemies, Israel and Jordan. Economically, it can exist only in dependency on its more dynamic neighboring economy, which means Israel.
Gaza has the military advantage of being dense and urbanized. It can be defended. But it is an economic catastrophe, and given its demographics, the only way out of its condition is to export workers to Israel. To a lesser extent, the same is true for the West Bank. And the Palestinians have been exporting workers for generations. They have immigrated to countries in the region and around the world. Any peace agreement with Israel would increase the exportation of labor locally, with Palestinian labor moving into the Israeli market. Therefore, the paradox is that while the current situation allows a degree of autonomy amid social, economic and military catastrophe, a settlement would dramatically undermine Palestinian autonomy by creating Palestinian dependence on Israel.
The only solution for the Palestinians to this conundrum is the destruction of Israel. But they lack the ability to destroy Israel. The destruction of Israel represents a far-fetched scenario, but were it to happen, it would necessitate that other nations hostile to Israel — both bordering the Jewish state and elsewhere in the region — play a major role. And if they did play this role, there is nothing in their history, ideology or position that indicates they would find the creation of a Palestinian state in their interests. Each would have very different ideas of what to do in the event of Israel’s destruction.
Therefore, the Palestinians are trapped four ways. First, they are trapped by the Israelis. Second, they are trapped by the Arab regimes. Third, they are trapped by geography, which makes any settlement a preface to dependency. Finally, they are trapped in the reality in which they exist, which rotates from the minimally bearable to the unbearable. Their choices are to give up autonomy and nationalism in favor of economic dependency, or retain autonomy and nationalism expressed through the only means they have — wars that they can at best survive, but can never win.
The present division between Gaza and the West Bank had its origins in the British mandate. Palestine was partitioned between Jews and Arabs. In the wake of the 1948 War, Arabs lost control of what was Israel; the borders that emerged from this war and lasted until 1967 are still recognized as Israel’s international boundary. The area called the West Bank was part of Jordan. The area called Gaza was effectively under Egyptian control. Numbers of Arabs remained in Israel as Israeli citizens, and played only a marginal role in Palestinian affairs thereafter.
During the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel occupied both Gaza and the West Bank, taking direct military and administrative control of both regions. The political apparatus of the Palestinians, organized around the PLO — an umbrella organization of diverse Palestinian groups — operated outside these areas, first in Jordan, then in Lebanon after 1970, and then in Tunisia after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel. The PLO and its constituent parts maintained control of groups resisting Israeli occupation in these two areas.
The idea of an independent Palestinian state, since 1967, has been geographically focused on these two areas. The concept has been that, following mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinians, Palestine would be established as a nation-state based in Gaza and the West Bank. The question of the status of Jerusalem was always a vital symbolic issue for both sides, but it did not fundamentally affect the geopolitical reality.
Gaza and the West Bank are physically separated. Any axis would require that Israel permit land or air transit between them. This is obviously an inherently unstable situation, although not an impossible one. A negative example would be Pakistan during the 1947-1971 period, with its eastern and western wings separated by India. This situation ultimately led to the 1971 separation of these two territories into two states, Pakistan and Bangladesh. On the other hand, Alaska is separate from the rest of the United States, which has not been a hindrance. The difference is obvious. Pakistan and Bangladesh were separated by India, a powerful and hostile state. Alaska and the rest of the United States were separated by Canada, a much weaker and less hostile state. Following this analogy, the situation between Israel and the hypothetical Palestine resembles the Indo-Pakistani equation far more than it does the U.S.-Canadian equation.
The separation between the two Palestinian regions imposes an inevitable regionalism on the Palestinian state. Gaza and the West Bank are very different places. Gaza is about 25 miles long and no more than 7.5 miles at its greatest width, with a total area of about 146 square miles. According to 2008 figures, more than 1.5 million Palestinians live there, giving it a population density of about 11,060 per square mile, roughly that of a city. Gaza is, in fact, better thought of as a city than a region. And like a city, its primary economic activity should be commerce or manufacturing, but neither is possible given the active hostility of Israel and Egypt. The West Bank, on the other hand, has a population density of a little over 600 people per square mile, many living in discrete urban areas distributed through rural areas.
In other words, the West Bank and Gaza are entirely different universes with completely different dynamics. Gaza is a compact city incapable of supporting itself in its current circumstances and overwhelmingly dependent on outside aid; the West Bank has a much higher degree of self-sufficiency, even in its current situation. Under the best of circumstances, Gaza will be entirely dependent on external economic relations. In the worst of circumstances, it will be entirely dependent on outside aid. The West Bank would be neither. Were Gaza physically part of the West Bank, it would be the latter’s largest city, making Palestine a more complex nation-state. As it is, the dynamic of the two regions is entirely different.
Gaza’s situation is one of pure dependency amid hostility. It has much less to lose than the West Bank and far less room for maneuver. It also must tend toward a more uniform response to events. Where the West Bank did not uniformly participate in the intifada — towns like Hebron were hotbeds of conflict while Jericho remained relatively peaceful — the sheer compactness of Gaza forces everyone into the same cauldron. And just as Gaza has no room for maneuver, neither do individuals. That leaves little nuance in Gaza compared to the West Bank, and compels a more radical approach than is generated in the West Bank.
If a Palestinian state were created, it is not clear that the dynamics of Gaza, the city-state, and the West Bank, more of a nation-state, would be compatible. Under the best of circumstances, Gaza could not survive at its current size without a rapid economic evolution that would generate revenue from trade, banking and other activities common in successful Mediterranean cities. But these cities have either much smaller populations or much larger areas supported by surrounding territory. It is not clear how Gaza could get from where it is to where it would need to be to attain viability.
Therefore, one of the immediate consequences of independence would be a massive outflow of Gazans to the West Bank. The economic conditions of the West Bank are better, but a massive inflow of hundreds of thousands of Gazans, for whom anything is better than what they had in Gaza, would buckle the West Bank economy. Tensions currently visible between the West Bank under Fatah and Gaza under Hamas would intensify. The West Bank could not absorb the population flow from Gaza, but the Gazans could not remain in Gaza except in virtually total dependence on foreign aid.
The only conceivable solution to the economic issue would be for Palestinians to seek work en masse in more dynamic economies. This would mean either emigration or entering the work force in Egypt, Jordan, Syria or Israel. Egypt has its own serious economic troubles, and Syria and Jordan are both too small to solve this problem — and that is completely apart from the political issues that would arise after such immigration. Therefore, the only economy that could employ surplus Palestinian labor is Israel’s.
Security concerns apart, while the Israeli economy might be able to metabolize this labor, it would turn an independent Palestinian state into an Israeli economic dependency. The ability of the Israelis to control labor flows has always been one means for controlling Palestinian behavior. To move even more deeply into this relationship would mean an effective annulment of Palestinian independence. The degree to which Palestine would depend on Israeli labor markets would turn Palestine into an extension of the Israeli economy. And the driver of this will not be the West Bank, which might be able to create a viable economy over time, but Gaza, which cannot.
From this economic analysis flows the logic of Gaza’s Hamas. Accepting a Palestinian state along lines even approximating the 1948 partition, regardless of the status of Jerusalem, would not result in an independent Palestinian state in anything but name. Particularly for Gaza, it would solve nothing. Thus, the Palestinian desire to destroy Israel flows not only from ideology and/or religion, but from a rational analysis of what independence within the current geographical architecture would mean: a divided nation with profoundly different interests, one part utterly incapable of self-sufficiency, the other part potentially capable of it — but only if it jettisons responsibility for Gaza.
It follows that support for a two-state solution will be found most strongly in the West Bank and not at all in Gaza. But in truth, the two-state solution is not a solution to Palestinian desires for a state, since that state would be independent in name only. At the same time, the destruction of Israel is an impossibility so long as Israel is strong and other Arab states are hostile to Palestinians.
Palestine cannot survive in a two-state solution. It therefore must seek a more radical outcome — the elimination of Israel — that it cannot possibly achieve by itself. The Palestinian state is thus an entity that has not fulfilled any of its geopolitical imperatives and which does not have a direct line to achieve them. What an independent Palestinian state would need in order to survive is:
· The recreation of the state of hostilities that existed prior to Camp David between Egypt and Israel. Until Egypt is strong and hostile to Israel, there is no hope for the Palestinians.
· The overthrow of the Hashemite government of Jordan, and the movement of troops hostile to Israel to the Jordan River line.
· A major global power prepared to underwrite the military capabilities of Egypt and those of whatever eastern power moves into Jordan (Iraq, Iran, Turkey or a coalition of the foregoing).
· A shift in the correlation of forces between Israel and its immediate neighbors, which ultimately would result in the collapse of the Israeli state.
Note that what the Palestinians require is in direct opposition to the interests of Egypt and Jordan — and to those of much of the rest of the Arab world, which would not welcome Iran or Turkey deploying forces in their heartland. It would also require a global shift that would create a global power able to challenge the United States and motivated to arm the new regimes. In any scenario, however, the success of Palestinian statehood remains utterly dependent upon outside events somehow working to the Palestinians’ advantage.
The Palestinians have always been a threat to other Arab states because the means for achieving their national aspiration require significant risk-taking by other states. Without that appetite for risk, the Palestinians are stranded. Therefore, Palestinian policy always has been to try to manipulate the policies of other Arab states, or failing that, to undermine and replace those states. This divergence of interest between the Palestinians and existing Arab states always has been the Achilles’ heel of Palestinian nationalism. The Palestinians must defeat Israel to have a state, and to achieve that they must have other Arab states willing to undertake the primary burden of defeating Israel. This has not been in the interests of other Arab states, and therefore the Palestinians have persistently worked against them, as we see again in the case of Egypt.
Paradoxically, while the ultimate enemy of Palestine is Israel, the immediate enemy is always other Arab countries. For there to be a Palestine, there must be a sea change not only in the region, but in the global power configuration and in Israel’s strategic strength. The Palestinians can neither live with a two-state solution, nor achieve the destruction of Israel.