Bethlehem, the capital of Palestine

“Arab nationality in general, and specifically Palestinian nationalism, has become more of a religious thing.”

Holy Land Custodian launches Christmas season from Jesus' birthplace Bethlehem  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Holy Land Custodian launches Christmas season from Jesus' birthplace Bethlehem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The world is myopic in declaring Jerusalem’s Temple Mount site Islamic, and the Western Wall, the retaining wall supporting the Temple Mount, as not a part of Israel.
Palestinians demand that Jerusalem should be their capital. They seem to have support from a hesitant Trump administration.
I have a solution to the impasse.
Let Bethlehem be their capital.
They insist on telling the world how much they care for the birthplace of Jesus, whom they call “a Palestinian messenger.” They claim to care for Christianity, even as Bethlehem’s Christian population shrinks from an overwhelming majority in 1995, when Israel gifted the prosperous town to Yasser Arafat in a peace gesture, to less than 12% today.
They allege that this Christian flight from Bethlehem was caused by Israel’s security barrier. But isn’t it strange that the Muslim population increased during the same period? Their propaganda makes the barrier into an ethnic-cleansing, anti-Christian wall. Nonsense.
According the Israeli statistics, Bethlehem’s population grew from 14,439 in 1967 to over 27,000 today.
It’s only the demographics that have changed. Far less Christians, far more Muslim, and far more radical Hamas influence.
Haaretz journalist Danny Rubenstein, after a 40-year study of Palestinians, wrote: “Arab nationality in general, and specifically Palestinian nationalism, has become more of a religious thing,” meaning traditionally Muslim. This is seen playing out in Jerusalem. Palestinian demands are meant to drive Jews away from their holy sites and heritage, as they did to Christians in Bethlehem.
Journalists Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff describe in their book The Seventh War; How We Won and Why We Lost the War how Muslim street thugs along with terrorists threatened Bethlehem Christians, took over their homes and businesses when they fled, as Palestinian officials turned a blind eye to the violence and theft by ignoring Christian complaints.
Today, Hamas is strong in Bethlehem.
Municipal elections were suspended in September 2016 over worries Hamas would gain an overall majority. The international community should be concerned that a once-strongly Christian town has become a Hamas stronghold. But it turns a blind eye to this abuse of a once-Christian Bethlehem.
Bethlehem – the capital of Palestine.
Let’s make it an issue. Let’s see if the Christian world will accept their most holy place turned into the capital of those who see themselves as spearheading the Islamic world.
Bethlehem is the universal expression of a failed policy of turning the other cheek. Those who were silent over the loss of their Christian heritage in Jerusalem when UNESCO, at the behest of the Muslim world, converted the Jewish Temple into an exclusively Islamic holy shrine, and impotent over the massed slaughter of Christians in the Muslim Middle East, will do nothing about Bethlehem.
The only defective political effort is the sight of replacement theologians gathering annually in Bethlehem for their “Christ at the Checkpoint” charade. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that this place is now in the hands of Islamic Hamas, these delusional pastors hate Israel so much they pervert the cause of the Christian exodus into a “Blame Israel” campaign. They would surely sanctify Bethlehem becoming the crowning glory of the Palestinian throne.
It is crystal clear that, by the ballot or by the bullet, Hamas will usurp power in any Palestinian state with the same bully tactics that have given them control of Gaza and Bethlehem. This would make any gesture of granting the Palestinians any part of Jerusalem a gift from hell and a poisoned thorn in the weakened side of Israel.
It is reasonable to assume that a Palestinian state would destabilize into a second “Hamastan” that would not only threaten a shrunken Israel, but make the Hashemite kingdom across the River Jordan even shakier than it is today.
Eighty percent of Jordan’s population claim to be Palestinian. A vulnerable Israel would be in no position to prevent the overthrow of the king in a popular uprising in Jordan. The Palestinians could claim Amman as yet another trophy capital. Black September, anyone? It is fair to ask how many capitals the Palestinians need? They have two already. Hamas, firmly based in Gaza City, considers itself the true leader of the Palestinian cause.
The Palestinian Authority are tentatively holding power in Ramallah where their founding hero, Yasser Arafat, is buried.
So why do they need a third capital? Basically, it follows an ancient Islamic tradition: the expansion of the Caliphate with the powerful message of conquest by building imposing mosques on the ruins of other faiths.
Following the conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 by Saladin, they perched their mosque directly over the ruins of the Jewish Temple.
President Trump visited the Western Wall and then went to Bethlehem to tell PA President Mahmoud Abbas about peace and tolerance.
He ignored Abbas’s recent words about Jewish “filthy feet” defiling Jerusalem holy places, places built by Jews, while Jews maintain the freedom of worship banned by the PA and the Muslim Wakf for Jews on the Temple Mount.
In the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center by Muslim terrorists on 9/11, some ignorant souls said that building a mosque where the Twin Towers once stood would be an expression of American “tolerance.”
Perhaps the same naïve sense of “tolerance” should apply in allowing the Palestinians re-inter the remains of Yasser Arafat, the original Islamic arch-terrorist, in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity.
So let’s continue to promote Bethlehem as the Palestinian capital.
It makes as much sense as insisting that Jerusalem is theirs.
The author is the senior associate for public diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.