by Mitchell Bard
Ever since King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel some 3,000 years ago, the city has played a central role in Jewish existence. The Western (Wailing) Wall - the last remaining vestige of Judaism's holiest site, the ancient Temple - is the object of Jewish veneration and the focus of Jewish prayer. For thousands of years Jews have prayed, “To Jerusalem, thy city, shall we return with joy,” and have repeated the oath: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.”
By contrast, Jerusalem was never the central city of any Arab entity. In fact, it was considered a backwater for most of Arab history and never served as a provincial capital under Muslim rule nor was it ever a Muslim cultural center. While the entirety of Jerusalem is holy to Jews, Muslims only revere one site - the Al-Aqsa Mosque. “To a Muslim,” observed British writer Christopher Sykes, “there is a profound difference between Jerusalem and Mecca or Medina. The latter are holy places containing holy sites.”
- Population History
- A City Divided
- Jerusalem is Unified
- Freedom of Religion
- Jewish East Jerusalem?
- Final Status of Jerusalem
- U.S. Position on Jerusalem
Jews have been living
in Jerusalem continuously for nearly two millennia. They have constituted
the largest single group of inhabitants there since
A City Divided
When the United
Nations took up the Palestine question in 1947, it recommended
that all of Jerusalem be
internationalized. The Vatican and many predominantly Catholic
delegations pushed for this status, but a key reason for the UN
decision was the Soviet Bloc's desire to embarrass Transjordan's King
Abdullah and his British patrons.
Agency, after much soul-searching,
agreed to accept internationalization in the hope that in the
short-run it would protect the city from bloodshed and the new state
from conflict. Since the partition resolution called for a referendum
on the city's status after 10 years, and Jews comprised a substantial
majority, the expectation was that the city would later be
incorporated into Israel. The Arab states were as bitterly opposed to
the internationalization of Jerusalem as they were to the rest of the partition
plan. Prime Minister David
Ben-Gurion, subsequently, declared that Israel would no longer
accept the internationalization of Jerusalem.
In May 1948, Jordan invaded and occupied east Jerusalem,
dividing the city for the first time in its history, and driving
thousands of Jews whose families had lived in the city for
centuries into exile. For the next 19 years, the city was split,
with Israel establishing its capital in western Jerusalem and Jordan occupying the eastern section, which included the Old City
and most religious shrines.
The Arab refusal to accept partition “played
a role in the juridical definition of Jerusalem's
according to former Jerusalem Mayor Kollek. After the
Arab states' rejection of UN
Resolution 181 and, on December 11, 1948, UN
Resolution 194, establishing the UN Conciliation
Commission for Palestine, Prime Minister David
Ben-Gurion declared that Israel would no longer
accept the internationalization of Jerusalem.
The UN passed one
more resolution on the subject in
1949 and tried, but failed to adopt resolutions in
1950 and 1952, and then did not address Jerusalem again
until it was caputred by Israel in the 1967
In 1950, Jordan annexed all the territory it occupied west of the Jordan River, including east Jerusalem.
The other Arab countries denied formal recognition of the Jordanian
move, and the Arab League considered expelling Jordan from
membership. Eventually, a compromise was worked out by which the other
Arab governments agreed to view all the West Bank and east Jerusalem as held “in trust” by Jordan for the Palestinians.
From 1948-67, the city was divided between Israel
and Jordan. Israel made western Jerusalem its capital; Jordan occupied the
eastern section. Because Jordan
like all the Arab states at the time maintained a state of war
with Israel, the city became, in essence, two armed camps, replete
with concrete walls and bunkers, barbed-wire fences, minefields and
other military fortifications.
In violation of the 1949
Armistice Agreement, Jordan denied Israelis access to the Temple
Wall and to the cemetery on the Mount
of Olives, where Jews have been burying their dead for 2,500
years. Jordan actually went further
and desecrated Jewish holy places. King
Hussein permitted the construction of a road to the
Intercontinental Hotel across the Mount
of Olives cemetery. Hundreds
of Jewish graves were destroyed by a highway that could have easily
been built elsewhere. The gravestones, honoring the memory of rabbis
and sages, were used by the engineer corps of the Jordanian Arab
Legion as pavement and latrines in army camps (inscriptions on the
stones were still visible when Israel liberated the city). The ancient Jewish
Quarter of the Old
City was ravaged, 58 Jerusalem synagogues some centuries old-were destroyed or ruined, others
were turned into stables and chicken coops. Slum dwellings were built
abutting the Western Wall.
Jews were not the only ones who found their freedom
impeded. Under Jordanian rule, Israeli Christians were subjected to
various restrictions, with only limited numbers allowed to visit the
Old City and Bethlehem at Christmas and Easter. Jordan also passed laws imposing strict government control on Christian
schools, including restrictions on the opening of new schools; state
controls over school finances and appointment of teachers and
requirements that the Koran be taught. Christian religious and
charitable institutions were also barred from purchasing real estate
in Jerusalem. Because of
these repressive policies, many Christians emigrated from Jerusalem,
leading their numbers to dwindle from 25,000 in 1949 to less than
13,000 in June 1967.
Jerusalem is Unified
In 1967, Jordan ignored Israeli pleas to stay out of the Six-Day
War and attacked the western part of the city. The Jordanians were
routed by Israeli forces and driven out of east Jerusalem,
allowing the city's unity to be restored. Teddy
Kollek, Jerusalems mayor for 28 years, called the reunification of the city “the
practical realization of the Zionist movement's goals.”
Before 1967, Israeli Jerusalem was 9,500 acres. Israel captured and annexed 1,500 acres held by Jordan and another 16,000 acres from 28 villages surrounding the city. In the 1990s, additional territory in the western part of the city was also annexed. Today Jerusalem is
largest city. It is approximately 49 square miles (31,500 acres).
The Old City population numbered 23,700 in 1967.
In 2006, the total had grown to 36,000 — 73%
of the inhabitants are Muslim, 18% Christian and
8% are Jewish.
As had been the case under previous Islamic rulers, King Hussein had neglected Jerusalem.
The scope of his disregard became clear when Israel discovered that
much of the city lacked even the most basic municipal services-a
steady water supply, plumbing and electricity. As a result of
reunification, these and other badly needed municipal services were
extended to Arab homes and businesses in east Jerusalem.
Freedom of Religion
After the war, Israel abolished all the
discriminatory laws promulgated by Jordan and adopted its own tough standard for safeguarding access to
religious shrines. “Whoever does anything that is likely to
violate the freedom of access of the members of the various religions
to the places sacred to them,” Israeli law stipulates, is
“liable to imprisonment for a term of five years.” Israel
also entrusted administration of the holy places to their respective
religious authorities. Thus, for example, the Muslim Waqf has
responsibility for the mosques on the Temple
Since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Christians many from Arab countries that remain in a state of war
with Israel have come to Jerusalem to see their holy places. Arab leaders are free to visit Jerusalem to pray if they wish to, just as Egyptian President Anwar
Sadat did at the Al-Aksa mosque.
According to Islam,
the prophet Muhammad was
miraculously transported from Mecca to Jerusalem,
and it was from there that he made his ascent to heaven. The Dome
of the Rock and the Al-Aksa Mosque, both built in the seventh century, made definitive the
identification of Jerusalem as the “Remote Place” that is mentioned in the Koran,
and thus a holy place after Mecca and Medina. Muslim rights on the
Temple Mount, the site of the two mosques, have not been infringed.
Although it is the holiest site in Judaism, Israel has left the Temple
Mount under the control of Muslim religious authorities.
For Christians , Jerusalem is the place where Jesus lived, preached, died, and was resurrected. While it
is the heavenly rather than the earthly Jerusalem that is emphasized by the Church, places mentioned
in the New
Testament as the sites of his ministry and passion
have drawn pilgrims and devoted worshipers for centuries.
Among these sites is the Church
of the Holy Sepulcher,
the Garden of Gethsemane, the site of the Last Supper,
and the Via
Dolorosa with the fourteen stations of the Cross.
The rights of the various Christian churches to
custody of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem were defined in the course of the nineteenth century, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire.
Known as the “status quo arrangement for the Christian holy
places in Jerusalem,”
these rights remained in force during the period of the British
Mandate and are still upheld today in Israel.
Along with religious freedom, Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem have unprecedented political rights. Arab residents were given the
choice of whether to become Israeli citizens. Most chose to retain
their Jordanian citizenship. Moreover, regardless of whether they are
citizens, Jerusalem Arabs
are permitted to vote in municipal elections and play a role in the
administration of the city.
Jewish East Jerusalem?
Before 1865, the entire population of Jerusalem lived behind the Old City walls (what today would be considered part of the eastern part of the
city) Later, the city began to expand beyond the walls because of
population growth, and both Jews and Arabs began to build in new areas
of the city.
By the time of partition, a thriving
Jewish community was living in the eastern part of Jerusalem,
an area that included the Jewish Quarter of the Old
City. This area of the city also contains many sites
of importance to the Jewish religion, including the City
of David, the Temple
Mount and the Western
Wall. In addition, major institutions like Hebrew
University and the original Hadassah hospital are on
Mount Scopusin eastern Jerusalem.
The only time that the eastern part of Jerusalem was exclusively Arab was between 1949-1967, and that was because Jordan occupied the area and forcibly expelled all the Jews.
The Final Status of Jerusalem
The Israeli-Palestinian Declaration
of Principles (DoP) signed September 13, 1993, leaves open the
status of Jerusalem. Article
V says only that Jerusalem is one of the issues to be discussed in the permanent status
negotiations. The agreed minutes also mention Jerusalem,
stipulating that the Palestinian Council's jurisdiction does not
extend to the city. Prime Minister Yitzhak
Rabin said that Jerusalem will “not be included in any sphere of the prerogatives of
whatever body will conduct Palestinian affairs in the territories. Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty.”
The agreement also says that the final status will
be based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, neither of which
mentions Jerusalem. In fact,
the U.S. Ambassador who helped draft Resolution
242, Arthur Goldberg, said it “in no way refers to Jerusalem,
and this omission was deliberate....Jerusalem was a discrete matter,
not linked to the West Bank.”
Other than this agreement to discuss Jerusalem during the final negotiating period, Israel conceded nothing else
regarding the status of the city during the interim period. Israel
retains the right to build anywhere it chooses in Jerusalem and continues to exercise sovereignty over the undivided city. Nothing
in the agreements that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have made
so far changes those conditions.
The two sides agreed on interim
autonomy for the Palestinians, the creation of a Palestinian
Authority, the election of
a Palestinian Council, and the redeployment of Israeli
military forces in the West
Bank and Gaza. Jerusalem,
however, was specifically excluded from all these arrangements.
It was also decided that during the interim period,
the Palestinian Council would have no jurisdiction
over issues to be determined in the final status negotiations,
It was explicitly agreed that the authority of the
Palestinian Authority would extend only over those
parts of the West
Bank and Gaza that
were transferred to its authority, to the exclusion
of those areas to be discussed in the permanent status
negotiations, including Jerusalem and Israeli settlements.
The Palestinians maintain that Jerusalem should be the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
“Anyone who relinquishes a single inch of Jerusalem is neither an Arab nor a Muslim,” Yasser
Arafat said just before the agreement with Israel was signed
(Voice of Palestine, Algiers, September 2, 1993). And the day of the
signing, Arafat declared that the Palestinian flag “will fly over
the walls of Jerusalem, the
churches of Jerusalem and
the mosques of Jerusalem”
(Jordanian television, September 13, 1993).
In response to talk of altering Jerusalems status, former Mayor Teddy
Kollek, whose reputation for tolerance and efforts to promote
coexistence in the city was respected by all sides, wrote: “The
Palestinians' demand for the establishment of two capitals or two
municipalities cannot be accepted within the framework of united Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem is one issue on which the views of Israelis are unanimous: The city
must remain the undivided capital of Israel. Still, efforts have been
made to find some compromise that could satisfy Palestinian interests.
For example, during the tenure of Prime Minister Shimon
Peres, Yossi Beilin apparently reached a tentative agreement that would allow the
Palestinians to claim the city as their capital without Israel
sacrificing sovereignty over its capital. Beilin's idea was to allow
the Palestinians to set up their capital in a West Bank suburb of
Jerusalem Abu Dis. The idea was considered but never formally
adopted by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin
During negotiations between Prime Minister Ehud
Barak, President Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat in 2000, Barak proposed dividing the city and allowing some neighborhoods to become part of a Palestinian state and granting the Palestinians over the Temple Mount. Arafat rejected the offer. Similarly, when he was minister of Industry, Trade and Labor in 2004, Ehud Olmert said he envisioned ceding control over six East Jerusalem villages (Isawiya, Shuafat, Anata, Kfar Akab, Sur Bahir and Umm Tuba) to a Palestinian state. Later, as prime minister in 2008, Olmert reportedly proposed a form of international (Arab states plus Israel and Palestine) control of the Holy Basin (the Old City) and a joint committee to administer East Jerusalem until permanent arrangements were settled. PA president Mahmoud Abbas would not or could not consummate the deal, which would have created a Palestinian state in 94 percent of the West Bank (and included other land swaps). Olmert's successor, Benjamin
Netanyahu, has publicly opposed any division of the city.
The U.S. Position on Jerusalem
For many years only two countries
kept embassies in Jerusalem Costa
Rica and El
Salvador. In 2006, both announced
plans to move their missions to Tel Aviv.
Of the 184
nations with which America has diplomatic relations,
Israel is the only one where the United States
does not recognize the capital or have its embassy
located in that city. The U.S. embassy, like most
others, is in Tel Aviv, 40 miles from Jerusalem.
The United States maintains a consulate in east Jerusalem that
deals with Palestinians in the territories and
works independently of the embassy, reporting directly
to Washington. Today, then, we have the anomaly
that American diplomats refuse to meet with Israelis
in their capital because Jerusalems status
is negotiable, but make their contacts with Palestinians
in the city.
In 1990, Congress passed a resolution declaring
that “Jerusalem is and
should remain the capital of the State of Israel” and “must
remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and
religious group are protected.” During the 1992 Presidential
campaign, Bill Clinton said: “I recognize Jerusalem as an undivided city, the eternal capital of Israel, and I believe in
the principle of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”
He has not reiterated this view as President; consequently, official
U.S. policy remains that the status of Jerusalem is a matter for negotiations.
In an effort to change this policy, Congress
overwhelmingly passed The
Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. This landmark bill declared that,
as a statement of official U.S. policy, Jerusalem should be recognized as the undivided, eternal capital of Israel and
required that the U.S. embassy in Israel be established in Jerusalem no later than May 1999. The legislations also included a waiver that
allowed the President to essentially ignore the legislation if he
deemed doing so to be in the best interest of the United States.
President Clinton exercised
While critics of Congressional efforts to force the
administration to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital share the
President's view that such a move would harm the peace process,
supporters of the legislation argue the opposite is true. By making
clear the United States position that Jerusalem should remain unified under Israeli sovereignty, they say, unrealistic
Palestinian expectations regarding the city can be moderated and
thereby enhance the prospects for a final agreement.
Sources: *JTA, (May 20, 2009).
Total includes those classified as “other.”