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Netanyahu Has Raised The Stakes Over Jerusalem – OpEd

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By Jonathan Power*

Poets as diverse as William Blake and Yehuda Amichai have sung the praises of the heavenly Jerusalem, a land without strife or rancour, war or bitterness, envy, acquisitiveness or hatred. Israel, Fatah and Hamas, in the midst of the present chaos and carnage, have the historic opportunity to take a giant step towards making the present-day Jerusalem acquire, at least in some of its aspects, the earthly prototype of the heavenly Jerusalem.

For once we can see whether the work of imams, rabbis and priests can bear fruit. The secular politicians may be the ones ordering the violence, doing the negotiations and fashioning the compromises but it is the teachers of the three great deistic religions who have been charged from above to exert their mandate to teach compassion, goodness, tolerance and brotherhood. It is they who have vowed a commitment to peace, a central tenant of all three religions.

These traits of virtue, as common to them all as is their God, is being tested in the hottest of fires. Have their peoples imbibed the true message of their faiths? Or have they been diverted along life’s way by political position over moral principles and by nationalistic myth over historic perspective?

Right now, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is shunning all compromise. For decades he has rebuffed American and European demands for a total freeze on Israel’s colonization of occupied Palestinian land, by allowing both the size of the settlements and the numbers living there to expand by the month.

Now he’s taken a step even further—tolerating Israelis who had taken it upon themselves to evict Palestinian families who hold Israeli citizenship and are living in Arab East Jerusalem. He also sent the police into the plaza atop Temple Mount and into Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s most sacred sites.

This was igniting combustion that has led to fire in the very heart of the city, followed by Hamas’s rockets from Gaza. How Machiavellian can Netanyahu be? And why does President Joe Biden appear to take it on the chin? Netanyahu’s tactics are proving to all that the American emperor has no clothes. The “emperor”, who doesn’t allow the matter to be discussed in the UN Security Council, is now walking naked into the conference chamber of 80% of world opinion, and Israel will continue to run rings around him.

President Bill Clinton was profoundly wrong after the Camp David meeting broke up towards the end of his term in office to lead the U.S. side in berating Arafat publicly for not compromising on Jerusalem. He seemed not to understand Yasser Arafat’s observation: “The Arab leader has not been born who will give up Jerusalem”. Clinton looked at the enormous compromises the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, had already made and, in the detached manner of Western diplomacy, assumed this was a very fair deal. It was, indeed, but it wasn’t enough. Consider the fallout from contemporary history.

There is no question that at the time of the ending in 1948 of the British mandate Jerusalem belonged to the Palestinians. Stupidly, the Arabs lost West Jerusalem in their ill-judged war with Israel in 1948. Then in 1967 during the Six Day War, Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem and its Old City. (But it did allow Islamic authorities to continue to exercise control over the two ancient mosques and the great stone plaza atop the Temple Mount.)

At one time the U.S. itself recognized there would be no peace until this occupation was reversed, hence its vote for UN Resolution 242 in 1967 that called on Israel to withdraw from “territories occupied”. Thus, it is a matter of international justice that at the very least the Arab parts of East Jerusalem be returned to Palestine, as long as Jews have free, untrammelled, access, to their sacred site, the Western Wall which sits at the foot of Temple Mount. (Imagine, by comparison, the wrath of the German people if Berlin were still occupied by the Allies.)

Nevertheless, it is also just as obvious that the Jewish identity is now so bound up with the idea of Jerusalem (a fuzzy concept if ever there was one, since present day Jerusalem is four times the size of the one that existed in 1948) that to prise Israel loose by a process of capitulation is probably not within the realms of possibility.

Once again, we have to begin to think seriously about the idea (first mooted in this column) of internationalizing part of East Jerusalem. For the present the suggestion of a UN Security Council fiefdom only extends to the Temple Mount, but once that principle is accepted the possibilities of geographical extension to include some of the neighbourhoods around shouldn’t be so difficult to swallow

With his recent audacious, provocative and damning moves, Netanyahu has raised the stakes over Jerusalem. Is President Joe Biden prepared to widen his focus from just settlements to Jerusalem as well? Is he prepared to use the stick as well as the carrots? If he is not, Netanyahu will have proved once again that Israel can always best America, whoever is president. And Netanyahu will have demonstrated that no one seems able to stand up to him.

* About the author: The writer was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune, now the New York Times. He has also written many dozens of columns for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. He is the European who has appeared most on the opinion pages of these papers. Visit his website: www.jonathanpowerjournalist.com 

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2 thoughts on “Netanyahu Has Raised The Stakes Over Jerusalem – OpEd

  • May 19, 2021 at 2:56 pm
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    Israel and Jerusalem have been central to Jewish identity for the last three thousand years. To suggest that this is somehow some kind of “fuzzy” concept is beyond absurdity. But ahistorical hit-pieces against the modern state of Israel are the tactics of our current era of propaganda, which masks as journalism. For instance, UN Resolution 242 was argued back and forth, over the course of many days, until it was finally decided that the word “all” would NOT be included in the final draft. This is the only reason that the US signed on to the resolution in the first place. In other words, it is clear from the resolution’s very text that all the territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 need NOT be returned. And that any territory that was to be returned, could only be done so through direct negotiation between the legitimate nation-states of the region, There is absolutely no mention of Palestine in UN Resolution 242. US Supreme Court Justice, Arthur J. Goldberg signed the historic Resolution 242 with these words describing its formulation and content: — “Does Resolution 242, as unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council, require the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from ALL the territories occupied by Israel during the the 1967 War? The answer is NO. In the Resolution the words “the” and “all” are omitted.” — Goldberg went on to say: — “Resolution 242 calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 War, without specifying the extent of the withdrawal. The Resolution, therefore, neither commands or prohibits total withdrawal. If the Resolution is ambiguous, and purposely so, on this critical issue, how is the withdrawal to be settled? By direct negotiations between the concerned parties”. — Israel has withdrawn from the Sinai Peninsula through a negotiated settlement with Egypt. And it withdrew from Gaza unilaterally. Israel and Egypt have been at peace for over forty years. Gaza, on the other hand, remains a hotbed of militancy and terrorism as the pro-Iranian Hamas Palestinian Islamic organization seeks not peaceful development, but the complete destruction of the State of Israel. UN Resolution 242 never called for the return of East Jerusalem to Palestine, since Palestine and the Palestinians were never mentioned in the Resolution. And the erroneous conception/perception of the slogan, “Land for Peace”, is nothing more than pure PLO propaganda. In no way is the slogan even remotely descriptive of the actual language and intent of the diplomatic negotiation leading to the actual 242 Resolution. Diplomacy isn’t child’s-play. It is serious business and requires serious journalism to describe its formulation to the public — something severely lacking in this day and age. As far as Biden using a stick with regard to Israel, this author doesn’t seem to realize that the UN has direct measures, under international law, for the use of force. A Chapter 7 decision of the UN Security Council is required for any hostile act directed against any member state of the UN. Could such a dire formula be the actual intent of any US administration which claims strategic partnership with Israel? And what would be such an act’s political and geopolitical consequences? Never has a UN Chapter 7 decision been adopted against the Jewish State. And certainly not about Jerusalem! In fact, the Biden administration has maintained the US Embassy in Jerusalem. And this is one of the very few acts of the previous administration that Biden has not attempted to rescind. If anything, the Biden team believes in negotiated settlements and far greater multilateralism between Washington and all its global allies. Serious journalists have also understood that the issue of property rights in East Jerusalem goes to the very root of this one-hundred year war between Arabs and Jews. Before the illegal 1948 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem — by the Jordanian Arab Legion and the offices of the Royal Hashemite Kingdom — Jews held title to many properties in these territories. This was their absolute right under Mandate law, which was also international law. When Israel took over these territories (from the illegal Jordanian occupation) in a defensive war in 1967, the question of title and original property rights came to the fore. This question of title is central to both property law and international law. Jordan had zero right to illegally occupy East Jerusalem (and the West Bank), and its residential squatters had no right to property title. In the same vein, Israel’s current occupation of the same territories, while completely legal under UN Resolution 242, does not give it the right to annex the said territories. The future of these territories can only be decided through negotiation. But the title to specific property can certainly be adjudicated through the Israeli court system. This is true because the claims of property title precede Jordan’s illegal occupation and the seizure of the property illegally. Jordan dismissed all Jewish claims and titles established under legal precedent prior to Amman’s illegal 1948 occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But it is completely illogical to believe that Israel should dismiss such Jewish property claims. Finally, for any serious observer of the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian Conflict, the carnage that is now taking place is Hamas driven. Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza; it withdrew. But withdrawal is not enough for the maximalist majority within the Palestinian community. So much for the ridiculous concept of “Land for Peace”. This majority will not be satisfied until the Jewish State is destroyed. Peace is simply NOT in Hamas’ vocabulary. And Hamas was positioned to win the Palestinian elections, when the Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, called those elections off. Hamas now claims the mantle of leadership of the Palestinian People. And Hamas is a proxy-surrogate of Iran. It is the intention of both Iran and Hamas to dismantle the Abraham Accords. And it is this very direct intention, that is the primary reason for Hamas’ rocket attack on Jerusalem. This action is what precipitated the current round of hostilities. And Iranian military advisers are currently analyzing the success or failure of the specific missile tactics now being employed by Hamas. They ae doing this as an experiment to eventually direct Hezbollah (another Iran proxy) in what would be its missile campaign against Israeli targets — military, infrastructure and civilian. Iranian imperialism throughout the Arab Middle East has now found a ready partner in Hamas and the Palestinian population. Peace and the establishment of an Arab-Israeli partnership has never been on their agenda. And Islamic Iran and Hamas certainly do not recognize the Jewish People as an equal heir to the religious inheritance of a shared original ancestor, Abraham. In the final analysis, Islam must decide whether to accept or reject Judaism as an equal partner in a region at peace; or to continue on with its hundred year war. The Jews will always choose a balanced and just peace for all sides and territories, including Jerusalem. On the other hand, Iran and their Palestinian allies have already made their choice. “Death to Israel” is their slogan and preferred option. Hence the fighting goes on.

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  • May 20, 2021 at 3:23 pm
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    Quite a rant there Stevo.
    It would seem that you are in favour of an aparteid Israel, which is disappointing on many levels.
    Some people suspect that things will quiet down once Bibi is crowned again under the mantra of Arabs Bad.
    For a change maybe you could dream for a future where people aren’t killed by labels.

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