For decades, but particularly during Arafat’s last years, the Palestinians’ position regarding Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in particular was that there was no Jewish connection at all. This appears first in the PLO’s charter where any Jewish connection, historical or religious, to “Palestine” is denied and then emerges in supposedly serious settings such as the peace talks in 2000 where the Arab-Israeli conflict, or at least the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is supposed to come to an end. Even within that context, Arafat and his associates denied a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and embellished a relatively recent Arab addition to the history of the Western Wall to indicate that the structure – treated like dirt by Muslims for centuries – actually had some religious meaning for them. Apparently they forgot having placed the outhouses of the Mughrabi neighborhood just a few feet away from the Wall.
Arafat is gone and replaced by two differing streams of Jewish history deniers: Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas, for those who don’t know, is a Holocaust denier. His doctoral dissertation, “The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement” openly suggests that 6 million is a made up number and the “real” number of Jews murdered – and not by gas chambers, because he denies those existed – was less than a million. According to Abbas, a man who served as Arafat’s second in command for decades, the Holocaust is a hoax made up to support Zionism.
Fast forward to February, 2008. It could be that “the Jerusalem affairs adviser to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad,” Hatem Abdel Qader, is just blowing smoke when he says that negotiations about Jerusalem are happening between Israel and the Palestinians. It could be that he’s telling the truth. That’s what the Jerusalem Post is reporting. That’s what the sides are supposed to be doing anyway – negotiating. Without talks, you can’t get anything done and at the very least, Israel has obliged itself with Bush and the Europeans that it would pursue a deal with Abbas, Fayad and Qader’s boss.
Let’s ignore all of the problems with having talks now: Gaza is in Hamas’ hands but the Palestinians want Gaza to be part of any deal; rockets keep getting fired by Palestinians into Israel; Israel demanding that the attacks from Gaza stop before any deal is concluded; Abbas’s government appearing to be weak and ineffective, and perhaps just a push and shove away from being knocked out by Hamas in the West Bank. Let’s just assume, as do the negotiators in these apparent and secret negotiations, that all of those problems will somehow magically vanish. Instead, let’s take a look at what Qader cockily says in this interview.
…The Israeli government knows that there will be no solution without solving the problem of Jerusalem.”
Abdel Qader dismissed the idea that Israel would retain control of some parts of east Jerusalem. “Our position is, ‘Take it all or leave it,'” he said. “We have also made it clear to the Israelis that we won’t accept any partial solutions for Jerusalem. As far as we are concerned, Jerusalem must be one geographic, political and religious unit.”
In other words, the spokesperson for the Holocaust-denying, Jewish-connection-to-the-Land-of-Israel-negating PA leadership is dictating that Israel can either give up all of east Jerusalem which includes the Old City and the Western Wall, or they can “leave it.”
Now, at this point in the discussion, I’d leave it.
Until the Palestinians accept Jewish history and a Jewish presence in the Old City and especially at the Temple Mount, there is nothing to discuss. They can have all their propaganda and bullshit textbooks, false speeches by leaders and continued attempts to rewrite history, but there is no reason for any Israeli politician to play along. When Qader tells Israel to “take it or leave it,” he’s telling them to accept a Palestinian rewrite of Jewish history, not to mention of Arab history. Israeli politicians should be sure to “leave it” under those terms.
Oh, and if this is an “opening position” for the negotiations, we’re still in a “leave it” position because the opening position is too distant from where things need to go. If the Israelis were to say that the Temple Mount is Jewish and that there was absolutely no Muslim connection to the place and there won’t be one after the deal either, I suspect the Palestinians would also “leave it.”
Qader had more to assert:
He said the parties were still trying to reach an agreement over which Jerusalem they were talking about – the city that’s mentioned in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947, the one that was occupied in 1967 or the one that was expanded by Israel afterward. “On this issue, there hasn’t been any progress yet,” he said.
You will notice the reporter, Khaled Abu Toameh, is buying Qader’s presentation on this information since the options listed are either the Jerusalem of 1947 or the Jerusalem “occupied” by Israel in 1967. Jerusalem wasn’t “occupied” and it isn’t occupied. According to Israeli law, and as supported by Israel’s Supreme Court, Jerusalem has been annexed to Israel and is part of Israel. It was won from an occupying power, Jordan, that gained control of the city in 1948 from another occupier, the British. They, in turn, won Jerusalem from the Ottomans who had controlled it for some centuries. In other words, to claim that Israel is an “occupier” is convenient fiction. Everybody is an occupier of Jerusalem. It is in the hard-fought and hard-won control of Israel – a Jewish nation that is returning to its millenia-old capital – at this time and Muslims and Christians enjoy the kind of religious freedom Jews could only have dreamed of for the past couple of millenia.
There is more about Jerusalem that pertains to this discussion. Populations of the city shifted over the centuries but there was a Jewish majority in the mid-1800s which began to shrink as west Jerusalem became developed. Prior to that, there was no west or east Jerusalem, there was just the Old City. However, it was the expulsion of all the Jews from the city by the Jordanians in 1948 and their subsequent intentional destruction of all Jewish buildings, graves and other emblems of Jewish residence in the city that created this de facto separation between east Jerusalem and west Jerusalem. And it is on the basis of those short 19 years between 1948 and 1967 under Jordanian control that the Palestinians would like to change history and call east Jerusalem “Arab east Jerusalem” while excluding the Jews from any control of any part of the Old City including the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.
Now, obviously, the Israelis know all of this and they aren’t stupid. We can guess the sides haven’t decided “which” Jerusalem is under negotiation precisely because they aren’t biting. But the Israelis should also ask themselves why they should bother to talk at all if the Palestinians won’t recognize the Israelis’ historical and religious connections to this place? This isn’t some Hamas TV program for children. These are adult negotiators speaking on the behalf of their respective governments. If the Palestinians continue to deny Jewish history and play childish games with real world implications, they should be treated with similar disrespect and ignored until they come to the peace table as true partners.
Oh, and Qader’s statement about Olmert’s weakness being like that of a fickle woman may not sound like an insult to some, but I suspect that in Arab culture Qader had just delivered a withering attack. “Olmert’s position is very weak and we have sensed this in the current negotiations.” I guess that means the Israelis didn’t say “fuck you” when told by Qader and his colleagues to discount Jewish history and religion in their talks and he, knowing that he had just insulted their very essence as a people – their connection to the heart of Jerusalem – perceived the Israelis’ polite, diplomatic acceptance of his sordid position as weakness. Which it is.