Open Essay

The Road to Jerusalem

Sumantra Bose is professor of international and comparative politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His most recent book is Secular States, Religious Politics: India, Turkey, and the Future of Secularism (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
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The future of the Biblical city has been clouded by further anxiety, even foreboding, by the Trump declaration

ISRAEL HAD MUCH to celebrate in 2017. The 120th anniversary of the birth of the Zionist movement commemorated the first Zionist congress convened in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian based in Vienna. ‘Zionism is an infinite ideal,’ billboards announce to passengers arriving at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport. Then there was the 50th anniversary of the ‘unification’ of Jerusalem by the Six Day War of June 1967. As if all this good karma were not enough, the Jewish state received Trump’s gift of Jerusalem on the eve of Hanukkah, which commemorates a mythical re-dedication of Judaism’s Second Temple in Jerusalem 2,200 years ago. ‘Zion’ is one of Jerusalem’s biblical names. When Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a Pole, moved to the Holy Land after World War I, he settled in Jerusalem and made the city the focus of his activities. Jabotinsky became the founder of ‘Revisionist’ Zionism, a minority faction of the movement. He died in 1940, but his ethos of militancy and domination of enemies through physical force and armed strength came to define the State of Israel and pervades its politics today. The Likud Party was born of the Revisionist tradition and virtually the entire spectrum of right-wing Zionism reveres Jabotinsky.

In 1929, Jabotinsky led thousands in a march on the Western (‘Wailing’) Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, next to and just below the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound with its two 7th century Islamic monuments, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque. The march triggered an explosion of violence across Palestine, which was governed by Britain as a ‘Mandate’ territory from 1920 to 1948—a hybrid of colony and protectorate—along with neighbouring Transjordan (France held the Mandates over Syria and Lebanon under the League of Nations regime). The 1929 eruption left 133 Jews and 116 Arabs dead, and hundreds more injured.

The existential threat posed by the Zionist state-building project to Palestine’s Arabs—who were 92 per cent of its population in 1920, reduced to 68 per cent in 1946 by three decades of Jewish immigration, largely from central and eastern Europe—intensified during the 1930s. From 1936 to 1939, Mandatory Palestine saw a large-scale ‘Arab Revolt’ against the British government for its unholy collusion with Zionist colonisation; between 1920 and 1939, at least 365,000 Jewish settlers arrived in the Holy Land. At the revolt’s peak in 1938, the insurgents took control of Jerusalem’s Old City—Al-Quds—for several months. Postage stamps issued by the uprising showed the Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulchre—the latter being the centrepiece of the Old City’s Christian Quarter—side by side under the slogan ‘Palestine for the Arabs!’.

A royal commission dispatched from London suggested the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states in 1937. Its proposal allocated one-third of Palestine to the Jewish state, including the entire coastal plain—the most desirable land, between Haifa and Tel Aviv—as well as the entire Galilee region in the north. The territory assigned to the Jewish state had at least 225,000 Arabs, whom the mainstream Zionist leaders David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann wished to ‘transfer’ wholesale to the proposed Arab state, which was to be attached to Transjordan. Partly in recognition of the acute sensitivities over Jerusalem and its sacred sites, the British proposed to retain under a residual Mandate a swathe of land extending inland from the Mediterranean port of Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv, to envelop Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the partition formula and called for the eventual independence of an undivided state of Palestine ‘with protection of all legitimate Jewish and other minority rights and safeguarding of reasonable British interests’.

The 1937 partition proposal did not progress; indeed, in 1939, London did a volte face and published a ‘White Paper’ on Palestine which envisioned independence in ten years for a single state of Palestine with a power-sharing government of Arabs and Jews. The White Paper also capped Jewish immigration into Palestine at a maximum of 75,000 over the next five years, after which any further immigration would require ‘the Arabs of Palestine…to acquiesce’. All shades of Zionism condemned the White Paper’s approach.

Under the peculiar post-1967 Israeli framework, two parallel and unequal cities emerged in Greater Jerusalem: a Jewish city located in pre-1967 West Jerusalem and the post-1967 annexed areas, and an Arab city in the pre-1967 East Jerusalem and the post-1967 annexed suburbs

In 1947, however, a majority of the eleven members of a United Nations Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) recommended Palestine’s partition into two national states. This plan gave 56 per cent of Mandatory Palestine’s territory to the Jewish state, although Jews at the time were one-third of the total population. The areas allocated to the Jewish state, again including the entire coastal plain, had over 400,000 Arab residents (along with about 500,000 Jews), a third of the Palestinian Arab population.

The plan was voted on in the UN General Assembly on November 29th, 1947, and passed with 33 countries in favour, 13 against and 10 abstentions. The United States and the Soviet Union both voted in favour, Britain abstained, and India was one of the 13 member-states voting against. The Indian representative argued against partition and in favour of a bi-national state of Palestine with equal rights for Arab and Jewish citizens and power-sharing between their leaders. VD Savarkar condemned the Indian stance; an avid supporter of Zionism, he had written in the early 1920s that ‘if the Zionists’ dreams are ever realised—if Palestine becomes a Jewish State—it will gladden us almost as much as our Jewish friends’. The RSS’s MS Golwalkar shared this view; he wrote in the late 1930s that ‘the children of Israel are exiles from their own country and have no place to call their own’, and ‘the recent attempts at rehabitating Palestine with its ancient population of Jews are nothing more than an effort to reconstruct the broken edifice and revitalise the Hebrew National Life’.

Recognising the exceptionally sensitive place of Jerusalem/Al-Quds in the conflict, the UNSCOP plan kept the city out of the ambit of its two-state solution. Instead, Greater Jerusalem including Bethlehem was to be, as per UNGA Resolution 181 (II) of November 29th, 1947, an internationally administered corpus separatum between the two states, with a ‘special international regime’. The follow-up UNGA Resolution 194 of December 11th, 1948, resolved that ‘in view of its association with three world religions’, Greater Jerusalem ‘should be placed under effective United Nations control’.

By the time of the latter resolution, Greater Jerusalem had been divided by the war that engulfed Palestine in 1948. Until April, the Palestinians had the upper hand over the Jewish forces in the battle for Jerusalem. But the tide turned rapidly from April 8th, when the Palestinian commander Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini was killed during a fierce fight for Qastal, a strategic hilltop village overlooking the western approach to the city. The next day, April 9th, Jewish forces killed up to 254 Arab men, women and children while capturing Deir Yassin, another village on the city’s western outskirts. On April 13th, Palestinians ambushed a Jewish convoy en route from inner-West Jerusalem to an enclave on Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem housing the Hebrew University campus and the Hadassah hospital. Of the convoy’s 113 people, 78 were killed and 24 wounded.

Between May and July 1948, the Jewish/Israeli forces based in urban West Jerusalem—where the holdout Arab neighbourhoods of Talbiyeh, Qatamon and the German Colony fell on April 30th—tried very hard to capture the walled Old City, but were repulsed by soldiers of the Arab Legion, a crack British- trained Jordanian force. Even as the steadily victorious Israeli forces extended the new Jewish state’s territory to 78 per cent of Mandatory Palestine by the end of 1948, the surrender of the Old City’s Jewish Quarter to the Arab Legion in July marked the end of the Zionists’ drive to achieve full control of Jerusalem. That failure was reversed 19 years later.

AFTER THE 1967 conquest, the Israelis created a much expanded Jerusalem municipality consisting of 38 sq km of West Jerusalem (where Israel had sited its major political institutions in the 1948-67 period), the 6.5 sq km of the 1948-67 Jordanian municipality of East Jerusalem (which had included the Old City), and an additional 64 sq km to the north, east and south of the city annexed from the West Bank. This entire area of around 110 sq km was declared as Israel’s eternal and indivisible capital. From the late 1970s, often using dirt-cheap Palestinian labour, about a dozen new Jewish residential neighbourhoods—as illegal under international law as post-1967 settlements in the West Bank proper—were built in an arc-like pattern on expropriated land in these added municipal areas to the north, east and south of Jerusalem’s urban core. Currently, around 40 per cent—about 250,000 of 600,000—of the Jerusalem municipality’s Jews live in these added areas, often cheek-by-jowl with much poorer and under-serviced Palestinian neighbourhoods.

The post-1967 Israeli regime of Greater Jerusalem devised a special status for the expanded municipality’s Palestinians, who are currently about 37 per cent of its population: 330,000- plus people of around 900,000. Whilst denied Israeli citizenship, unlike the 20 per cent of the State of Israel’s population who are Arab Palestinians, the Greater Jerusalem Palestinians were formally not considered to be under occupation (unlike the West Bank Palestinians), and were given access to some Israeli social benefits such as healthcare services and the right to vote in city elections. The vast majority of Greater Jerusalem Palestinians have always boycotted city elections—their typical turnout has been 3-5 per cent.

Under the peculiar post-1967 Israeli framework, two parallel and unequal cities emerged in Greater Jerusalem: a Jewish city located in pre-1967 West Jerusalem and the ring of new neighbourhoods in the post-1967 annexed areas, and an Arab city located in pre-1967 East Jerusalem and the post-1967 annexed areas of the suburbs. Teddy Kollek, a relative liberal, was the mayor of this sprawling agglomeration for over a quarter- century, until end-1993. His last city budget, in 1992-93, allocated just six per cent of its expenditure to the Palestinian areas, and the per capita allocation was the equivalent of $900 in the Jewish areas and $150 in the Palestinian areas. Today, Palestinians are 37 per cent of the Jerusalem municipality’s residents but their areas receive 11 per cent of the city’s budget.

Unlike their armchair drum-beaters active from Washington to New Delhi, Jewish Israelis and their future generations will have to live in this city and this land, alongside the masses of stateless, seething Palestinians

Post-1967 proposals for a two-state solution have reflected a self-evident fact: that Jerusalem cannot belong exclusively, for both historical and contemporary reasons, to one people and one state. In 1978, Walid Khalidi, an eminent Palestinian scholar then based in Lebanon, born in Jerusalem in 1925, published an article in the American journal Foreign Affairs which diverged radically from the then position of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). He argued that ‘the frontiers of 1967 with minor and reciprocal adjustments are the most realistic in the circumstances’ in demarcating the boundaries between Israel and a sovereign Palestinian state. At the time, he was right; there were as yet only 7,000-odd Jewish settlers in the post-1967 Occupied Territories (the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem). He proposed that the right of return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants —about 715,000 displaced in the 1948 war and about 320,000 in the 1967 war (250,000 West Bank, 70,000 Gaza Strip)—should be restricted to a Palestinian state formed on the 22 per cent of Mandatory Palestine outside the borders of the internationally recognised State of Israel. Khalidi wrote that East Jerusalem was the ‘natural capital’ of the Palestinian state, and noted that this ‘would involve the partition of the city along the 1967 lines, but not necessarily a return to the status quo ante bellum in all its details’. He pointed out that ‘the frontiers could remain open between the capital of Israel in West Jerusalem and the capital of Arab Palestine in East Jerusalem’, and suggested both a joint, cross-border body of Israelis and Palestinians tasked with ‘certain essential common services’ for the city and ‘a grand, inter-faith council’ of Muslim, Christian and Jewish representatives to administer a regime for the Old City’s holy sites, which, he stressed, must include ‘an irreversible right of access to the Wailing Wall’ for Jews.

In December 2000, the White House published a cogent outline, ‘the Clinton parameters’, of the essentials of a two-state solution. Its appearance was tragically belated, as the post-1993 Oslo peace process had broken down, the second intifada was underway, and Clinton himself was about to demit office. It proposed a Palestinian state on 95 per cent of the West Bank (except the biggest Israeli settlement blocs) and all of the Gaza Strip, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to that state. On Jerusalem, the parameters stated: ‘What is Arab in the city should be Palestinian and what is Jewish should be Israeli; this would apply to the old city as well’. This implied that all the Arab neighbourhoods of inner-city East Jerusalem should become part of a Palestinian capital, and the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City, and the Haram al-Sharif, should come under Palestinian sovereignty. West Jerusalem and the post-1967 Jewish neighbourhoods north, south and east of it would form an Israeli capital recognised by the world, and Israel would gain sovereignty over the Old City’s Armenian and Jewish Quarters, and the Western Wall.

Fifty years ago, the enlarged Jerusalem municipality declared by Israel had a three-fourths Jewish population. That majority has declined over time to about 62 per cent, and the demographic shift in favour of the Palestinians has led to efforts to re-engineer the city’s borders yet again in the 21st century. The tool is the Israeli ‘security’ or ‘separation’ barrier that snakes across and around Jerusalem. It is most noticeable as a high, greyish concrete wall, which it is in parts, though largely it consists of a two-tiered fence with a patrol road in between. Its efficacy as a security device is at best limited, but what its twisting trajectory does is to exclude some of the Palestinian areas which are part of the municipality, areas which contain around a third of the municipality’s Palestinian population. At the same time, the barrier’s planned route traverses a serpentine arc deep inside the West Bank, to the east of Jerusalem, taking in Israeli settlements such as the 40,000-strong Maaleh Adumim.

The objective seems two-fold. First, to engineer a de facto Greater Jerusalem that is more Jewish and less Palestinian, and second, to severely disrupt the territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank (aka Samaria and Judea). In other words, to destroy the territorial basis of any Palestinian state on the West Bank with a capital in East Jerusalem. The implementation of this barrier route to Jerusalem’s east, and the construction of further Israeli settlements in the large area thereby bitten off from the West Bank, has been stayed for nearly two decades by the opposition of successive US presidents and administrations, but perhaps not for much longer.

The exclusive Israeli claim to holy Jerusalem endorsed by Trump thus serves the purpose of negating the possibility of any Palestinian state adjoining Israel with a foothold (capital) in the city. The resistance to any sort of sovereign Palestinian state, even a moth-eaten one, is rooted in the nature of Zionism, especially its Revisionist brand, which asserts the exclusive right of Jews to the whole land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River (and in some historic versions, the claimed patrimony extends to the east bank of the river as well; that is, the present-day Hashemite kingdom). The nature is reinforced by habit, as Zionism has always been about the acquisition of more and more land and the implantation of settlers therein. A compulsive glutton cannot stop eating, even when it causes indigestion and gives rise to lifestyle diseases.

The problem is that this maximalist Zionism is at odds with reality. The population of the land between the Sea and the River is fully one-half Arab Palestinian. Greater Jerusalem itself has hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in and around three sides of the city (except to the west). All variants of Palestinian politics are present in Arab Jerusalem—the working-class southeast Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sur Bahar is a known Hamas stronghold, while the middle-class northern neighbourhood of Beit Hanina is a bastion of secular nationalists. Thousands of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians come into Jewish West Jerusalem daily to work and earn for their families. The Old City’s permanent population is under 10 per cent Jewish, whereas Muslims constitute a two-thirds majority, and all Arabs (including Christians) an overwhelming majority. These people, and their compatriots in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel proper, cannot be driven away as their forebears were from most of Mandatory Palestine in 1948.

It is not surprising that the dominant underlying mood among Jewish Israelis following the Trump/Kushner Jerusalem intervention is not one of triumphalism at all—barring the sizeable minority in thrall of biblical mumbo-jumbo or otherwise removed from reality. Unlike their armchair drum-beaters active from Washington DC to New Delhi, Jewish Israelis and their future generations will have to live in this city and this land, alongside the masses of stateless, seething Palestinians. That future has been clouded further by anxiety, even foreboding, thanks to the antics of a maverick if not madcap US presidency. Add to that the embarrassment from the extreme isolation in the world of the maximalist Israeli position once again being starkly exposed. Bibi Netanyahu, whose political career may soon be ended by the criminal investigations into misconduct in office he is the subject of, is a caricature of the blustering emperor with no clothes.

Israel’s global isolation is pitiful but it is also self-inflicted— it did not have to be this way. A pragmatic two-state solution with a minimally honourable compromise on Jerusalem, as suggested in the late 1970s by Khalidi and even—albeit several years too late—by the Clinton White House in its final weeks would have been fundamentally advantageous to the State of Israel. As the two-state formula has receded further and further into the realm of implausibility, the Palestinian perspective on the conflict has increasingly re-focused on the entire territory of Mandatory Palestine, the whole land between the Sea and the River. To most Palestinians, ‘Palestine’ does not mean the patchwork areas of the West Bank under the weak Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas-dominated Gaza, and the 1948-67 municipality of East Jerusalem badly run by Jordan. It denotes the entire land of Mandatory Palestine, which they see as brutally usurped by the Zionists who came from Europe. This is unsurprising. The several million Palestinians in the diaspora originate from all parts of Mandatory Palestine, and the post- 1967 Occupied Territories (West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem) are dotted with ‘RC’s (refugee camps), which means that their populations are originally from areas in the State of Israel.

With friends like Donald J Trump and his son-in-law, the Jewish state probably doesn’t need enemies.

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