As an example of what the insightful commentator Melanie Phillips referred to as a “dialogue of the demented” in her book The World Turned Upside Down, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is continuing a long tradition of attempting to de-Judaize Jerusalem by expressing his mendacious notion that, as he put it, “Jerusalem has a special flavor and taste not only in our hearts, but also in the hearts of all Arabs and Muslims and Christians,” and “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Palestinian state and without it there will be no state.” The same scholar of history who wrote a doctoral dissertation that questioned the extent and truthfulness of the Holocaust was now making his own historical claim that there had never been a Jewish presence and history in the world’s holiest city.
In recent weeks, Abbas has been at it again, adding new layers of rhetoric to his tactical campaign to de-Judaize Jerusalem, in general, and to the Temple Mount, specifically. In an October PA TV broadcast, Abbas made the breathtakingly absurd claim that Jews not only had no historic claim to the Temple Mount, but they also should never even be allowed to have their presence known at that location. “The settlers have arrived . . . ,” he said. “This is our Sanctuary, our Al-Aqsa and our Church [of the Holy Sepulchre]. They have no right to enter it . . . [or] right to defile it. We must prevent them . . . .”
Only in an alternate, Orwellian universe could only one group of people on earth—Jews—be enjoined from praying on the single site most holy to their faith, and, moreover, be told that their presence there is not only provocative but is repugnant and befouls the very ground on which those of another faith—Muslims—have staked a triumphalist religious claim and now wish gather and pray.
This attempt to airbrush out a Jewish presence from Jerusalem—in fact, all of historic Palestine—is not a new message for Abbas, of course. In 2000 he expressed similar contempt for the idea that a Jewish temple had ever existed on the Temple Mount and that, even if it had existed, the offenses committed by Israel against the Palestinians negated any claim Jews might have enjoyed, absent their perfidy. “Anyone who wants to forget the past [i.e., the Israelis] cannot come and claim that the [Jewish] temple is situated beneath the Haram,” Abbas absurdly asserted in an article in Kul Al-Arab, an Israeli Arabic-language weekly newspaper. “ . . . But even if it is so, we do not accept it, because it is not logical for someone who wants a practical peace.”
Judging by the October 30th statement by U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, forgetting the past is something in which the John Kerry’s office is also complicit. “We’re extremely concerned by escalating tensions across Jerusalem and particularly surrounding the Haram al-Sharif, Temple Mount,” Psaki said, pointedly, and dangerously, referring to the Temple Mount by its Arab name first and thereby fortifying, and seeming to lend equal weight to, the Palestinian’s spurious claim to spiritual and territorial rights to the site, and to the wider area described now as East Jerusalem.
“It is actually critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric and preserve the status quo,” she added, suggesting that Jews not be allowed to pray on the Mount and that the status quo prohibiting Jews from praying on the site be ordered to continue so as to not incite Muslim sensibilities.
But in characterizing East Jerusalem —or any part of Jerusalem, for that matter —as territory that Israel “occupies” but over which it enjoys no sovereignty, Abbas (and U.S. State Department, too) is misreading, once again, the content and purpose of 1967’s U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 that suggested an Israeli withdrawal “from territories [not all territories]” it acquired in the Six-Day War. Critics of Israeli policy who either willfully misread or deliberately obscure the resolution’s purpose say that the Jewish State is in violation of 242 by continuing to occupy the West Bank and Jerusalem, including what is spuriously now referred to as “Arab” East Jerusalem. But the drafters of Resolution 242 were very precise in creating the statute’s language, and they never considered Jerusalem to have been occupied by Israel after the Six-Day War. Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Arthur Goldberg, one of the resolution’s authors, made this very clear when he wrote some years later that “Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate[.] . . . At no time in [my] many speeches [before the U.N.] did I refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory.”
Along with their unwavering and various demands, including a “right of return” of all refugees and sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the Palestinians now insist that Jerusalem must be divided to give them a capital in its Eastern portion as the location of their new state. That view is troubling because it reveals a pattern in which Arabs endow Jerusalem with intense significance to serve purposes of political expediency. In fact, observed scholar of Islam and Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes, “[a]n historical survey shows that the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rises for Muslims when Jerusalem has political significance. Conversely, when the utility of Jerusalem expires, so does its status and the passions about it.” When Jordan illegally annexed the West Bank and purged Jerusalem of its Jews from 1949 to 1967, for example, Jerusalem’s stature declined. But Israel’s recapture of the territory in 1967 changed the political landscape, including an Arab desire for Jerusalem, suggesting to Dr. Pipes that “the Muslim interest lies not so much in controlling Jerusalem as it does in denying control over the city to anyone else.”
Ever since Camp David, and intensifying in the violence against Jews on the Temple Mount and throughout Jerusalem in recent weeks, the Palestinians have been relentless in creating a false impression of how important Jerusalem is to them, while, at the same time, they have de-Judaized Jerusalem and tried to obscure the Jewish relationship with and continuing presence in the holy city— something Middle East scholar Martin Kramer has called their desire to effect “a reversal of history.”
But the true danger of the Palestinian thinking about Jerusalem—and, indeed, about all of the Palestine that they covet, including Israel itself—was revealed in Yasser Arafat’s own view that he expressed in a July 2000 edition of al-Hayat al-Jadida when he threatened that “They can occupy us by force, because we are weaker now, but in two years, ten years, or one hundred years, there will be someone who will liberate Jerusalem [from them].”
“Liberating” Jerusalem, of course, does not mean transforming it into a pluralistic, open city where members of three major faiths can live freely and practice their religions openly. Liberating Jerusalem for the Palestinians would be more in keeping with the type of liberation that Transjordan’s Arab League effected when they burned and looted the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem in 1948; expelled and killed its hapless Jewish population; destroyed some 58 synagogues, many hundreds of years old; unearthed gravestones from the history-laden Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and used them for latrine pavers; and barred any Jew from praying at the Western Wall or entering the Temple Mount. That same predilection to destroy religious property was on display again shortly after Camp David, when a crazed Palestinian mob took sledgehammers to Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish holy site, and completely obliterated it as Palestinian policemen stood idly by and watched.
Abbas’s disingenuous and lethal tactics in inciting rage against Jewish “interlopers” and “defilers” of Muslim holy ground are not new. Scholars and archeologists remember, for instance, the howls of outrage that arose from the Arab world in February 2007, when Israeli authorities initiated a project to rebuild a ramp to the Mugrabi Gate, an entrance to the Temple Mount plaza and the Al Aqsa Mosque platform that had been damaged in an earlier storm. Riots and protests began immediately, with accusations against Israel coming from throughout the Arab world for its “scheme” and treachery in digging under and threatening to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque itself. The committee of Muslim scholars in Jordan’s Islamic Action Front, for one, “urge[d] … jihad to liberate Al Aqsa and save it from destruction and sabotage from Jewish usurpers”—a spurious claim, since construction was taking place well outside the Mount platform, some 100 meters from the mosque, and clearly posed no possible threat. It is also an oft-repeated charge, repeatedly used by Arabs against Israel as a way of inciting hatred toward Jews for their alleged perfidiousness and guile. Israeli columnist Nadav Shragrai has referred to this tactic as the “Protect the Al Aqsa Mosque” blood libel—a propaganda tool that has been employed since the 1920s to cause mistrust of Jews when the then-Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, Hitler’s Middle East ally, exhorted Muslims everywhere to defend Islamic holy places in Jerusalem from the pernicious Jews, causing riots, bloodshed, and 133 Jewish deaths.
But false irredentist claims, Islamic supremacism which compels Jews and Christians to live in dhimmitude under Muslim control, and an evident cultural and theological disregard for other faiths— while troubling in the battle over sovereignty in Jerusalem—are not, according to Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, the most dangerous aspects of a diplomatic capitulation which would allow the Palestinians to claim a shared Jerusalem. In his engaging book, The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City, Gold pointed to a far more troubling aspect: in their desire to accede to Arab requests for a presence and religious sovereignty in Jerusalem, the State Department, EU, UN member states, and Islamic apologists in the Middle East and worldwide may actually ignite jihadist impulses they seek to dampen with their well-intentioned, but defective, diplomacy.
Why? Because, as Gold explained, “In the world of apocalyptic speculation, Jerusalem has many other associations—it is the place where the messianic Mahdi [the redeemer of Islam] is to establish his capital. For that reason, some argue that it also should become the seat of the new caliphate that most Islamic groups—from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda—seek to establish.”
When Yasser Arafat in July 2000 gave expression to the eventual “liberation” of Jerusalem as a sacred and unending ambition for the Palestinian cause, he defined it as a recapture of what had been, and should be, in his view, Muslim land, just as the eventual extirpation of Israel and the reclamation of all of historic Palestine would accomplish. The establishment of the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem is the first important step in the long-term strategy to rid the Levant of Jews and reestablish the House of Islam in Palestine. “Jerusalem’s recapture is seen by some as one of the signs that ‘the Hour’ and the end of times are about to occur,” Gold suggested. “And most importantly, because of these associations, it is the launching pad for a new global jihad powered by the conviction that this time the war will unfold according to a pre-planned religious script, and hence must succeed.”
So far from creating a political situation in which both parties—Israelis and the Palestinians—feel they have sought and received equal benefits, such negotiations and final agreements would have precisely the opposite effect: destabilizing the region and creating, not the oft-hoped for Israel and Palestine “living side by side in peace,” but an incendiary cauldron about to explode into an annihilatory, jihadist rage. Those in the West who are urging Israel “to redivide Jerusalem by relinquishing its holy sites,” Dore cautioned, “may well believe that they are lowering the flames of radical Islamic rage, but in fact they will only be turning up those flames to heights that have not been seen before.” If the State Department and other Western diplomats are intent on mollifying the Arab street by pressuring Israel to divide Jerusalem as a peace offering to the Palestinians, it may well be setting into motion the exact opposite result—a jihadist, apocalyptic movement invigorated by the misguided diplomacy of the West that, once more, asks Israel to sacrifice its security and nationhood so that Islamists can realize their own imperial and theological ambitions at the Jewish state’s expense.