The British Prime Minister David Cameron upset quite a few of us with this.
“I am well known for being a strong friend of Israel, but I have to say the first time I visited Jerusalem and had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what had happened with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem, occupied East Jerusalem, it is genuinely shocking,”
What's happened is not exactly ancient history in this city of 3,000 years, but it does represent nearly half a century. Insofar as we should define the modern world as what remained after World War II, with more than a hundred new countries on the map, then Israel's definition of Jerusalem since 1967 represents 70 percent of modern history, and should be well entrenched in the mind of a serious country's prime minister.
That it's not says something about the shaky status of the Jewish State, which says something about the continued shaky status of Jews.
Israel's own Prime Minister was quick to respond. He put his comments in the context of what aggressive Muslims have been doing in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria when they get control of places with someone else's monuments.
Netanyahu could have added that the Arab-ruled portion of the city that Israel captured in 1967 had sewage running in the streets, and that a historic Jewish cemetery and synagogues had been vandalized, with memorial stones used for paving. He also could have said that the city's Muslim population has grown from 55,000 to 281,000 since 1967, which is hardly the sign of a people oppressed by occupiers.“Only Israeli sovereignty prevents Islamic State and Hamas from setting aflame the holy places in the city, as they are doing across the Middle East.. . . only Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem ensures the rule of law for Arab residents and for all.”
Jerusalem's population of Christians, which includes the personnel of various churches from overseas, has remained nearly constant from 12,600 in 1967 to 14,000 recently. While there are Christian-Palestinian activists who charge that Christians are leaving on account of pressure from Jews, the greater truth is that their living alongside Muslims is not pleasant.
The population of Bethlehem provides an appropriate comparison. The city has been Arab since 1948, when Christians were 85 percent of the population. By 1998, they were only 40 percent of the population.
If there is oppression of the Arab residents of Jerusalem the greatest part of it comes from Palestinians who do what they can to keep the Arabs from voting in municipal elections. Their slogan of opposing the occupiers keeps the Arabs from exercising a major voice is the municipality by having the balance between ultra-Orthodox and other Jews.
There are considerable gaps between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, and Arab voting would help to shrink those gaps. Despite less than ideal conditions in their neighborhoods, however, polls taken by Palestinians show that more Arabs of Jerusalem prefer remaining under Israeli government than becoming Palestinians.
Cameron's comments were a shrill reminder, if we needed it, that the international community generally sees Israel's occupation of anything over the 1949 armistice lines as illegal pending an agreement with the Palestinians.
It's fair to say that the lack of resolution for Jerusalem and other elements of Israel-Palestine are largely the fault of Palestinian politicians unable to accept anything that Israel has offered, and their inability to respond with a compromise of their own.
For a detailed description of the weakness, chaos, or constipation among the leadership of Palestinian politics in the West Bank, see this.
Israelis argue about Jerusalem. Claiming that it must remain united under Israeli rule is an flabby slogan if it is anything more than a posture waiting to be bargained away. The city is already divided, with one hostile neighborhood behind a high wall with an impressive network of gate and guards controlling who leaves and enters. It's easy to imagine that an Israeli government would be willing to give up several problematic neighborhoods and their residents, if only there was someone to take them, and if their residents would agree to the transfer or accept it quietly..
Jerusalem's spiritual baggage, especially the Temple Mount/Haram esh Sharif is arguably the knottiest problem, along with Palestinians' preservation of refugee status for three or more generations, and demanding their return to homes that no longer exist.
If Cameron's remarks mean anything, they indicate that Israel cannot expect a decent hearing of claims that Jerusalem should be recognized as its capital, and that settlements in the West Bank are something other than an illegal infringement on what should be Palestinian.
The Israeli response to this condition might be described as a customary Jewish calculation of costs and benefits.
Israel has been decent enough with the Arab residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank, and has acquired enough military capacity to keep a greater power from exercising anything other than verbal denunciation.
Palestinians' efforts at violence, and occasional upticks in their frequency provide justification for the level of violence that Israel uses in response. Again, its punishment by the international community is limited to verbal onslaughts from the great and not so great.
Israel benefits from ample indications of Muslim barbarism. Videoed beheadings, the mass killing of prisoners, and destruction of non-Muslim historical sites add to the credit side of our ledger, and what is already there on account of politicians who turn down what has been offered by Israel or American mediators.
In such a context, Cameron does little more than remind us of Israel's undefined and shaky status.
He also provokes opposition parties in the Knesset to claim once again that the Prime Minister hasn't offered anything capable of moving the Palestinians toward an agreement.
That, too, we've heard before.Comments welcome
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem