Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dore Gold on Jerusalem

A month or two ago I read Dore Gold's The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, The West, and The Future of the Holy City. I suppose I should have reviewed it at the time, when it was still fresh in my mind, but alas, I didn't. So this will be a quick note about some of the interesting things readers can expect to find, and a warm recommendation that they do so.

Dore is an historian of Islam, whose first book was about the Wahabbis in Saudi Arabia:Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism, and whose most recent book is about Iran's nuclear ambitions The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West. During Netanyahu's first stint as prime minister in the late 1990s Dore was our ambassador to the UN, which give him a good grasp of how that organization really works, about which he then wrote in Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos. He's a serious fellow, intelligent and well informed, and if his books are influenced by how he sees the world, well, so are most books; unlike most journalists or bloggers, he writes in depth about things he really knows about. His book on Jerusalem draws on his two main tracks, that of the scholar and that of the diplomat.

He sets up the story by clarifying that the present accepted wisdom that Jerusalem must be divided between Israel and Palestine is new: until Ehud Barak hastily offered to divide the city in summer 2000 this was not the only option on the table. This is not to say the idea hadn't been floating around for a while and was advocated by many, but there were reasonable alternatives, and significant players such as all American administrations were willing to entertain some of them.

The bulk of the book is divided into three sections, each with a different focus, separate tone, and independent story. The first looks at Jerusalem's history from the perspectives of each of the three Abrahamic religions. One theme of this section is that each of them saw Jerusalem in the context of its own political context: at different times it was more or less important based on who was in power where. This was and remains true for the Christian world, it was clearly true for the Muslims - and if I may add a comment of my own, it's strikingly true about the Jews today: if you're anti-Zionist, skeptical about Zionism, or of Israel's hard left, you're probably supportive of the present project of denying Jerusalem's historical significance for the Jews so as to weaken their connection to it and enable handing its heart to the Palestinians. Politics informs history, not vice versa.

The second section of the book focuses on the diplomatic events of the past century. The single most important finding of this section is the degree to which international diplomatic opinion was not united until recently. The meta-narrative these days is that Jerusalem belongs legally to the Palestinians, and even if it doesn't any military changing of borders is illegal and forbidden so Israel has no claim to any areas beyond the 1949-67 line. Gold draws on the documents of the United Nations, foremost among them security council decision 224 and the negotiations that preceded its formulation, to show that as recently as 4o years ago the present narrative wasn't consensual at all. If there's an illegal Israeli occupation today, and there's no if or but about it because that's the only possible way to view the matter, how come there was so much discussion and differences of opinion back in the 1960s?

The third section of the book deals with the position Jerusalem is acquiring before our eyes (though most of us aren't looking) in the more extreme strands of Islam. In a nutshell, the city has taken upon itself an apocalyptic status; by this reading, a Muslim takeover of Jerusalem would blow a gale in the winds of the Islamists, and rather than portending peace it would spur extremism. I wouldn't accept this as fully true merely because Dore Gold says it's true, but the case he makes is serious enough that it ought be discussed more widely than it presently is (well: presently the entire thesis is utterly and totally taboo in polite discussion in the West, so saying it ought be discussed in greater seriousness sets a very low bar).

Gold doesn't much talk about my pet thesis, that the city can't be successfully divided even if one wished to, but it's a valuable book. Read it, tell other people about it, ask your congress representative or MP if they've read it, badger your pet journalists with its ideas, leave comments you've learned from it at online discussions.


Anonymous said...

that's the only possible way to view the matter, how come there was so much discussion and differences of opinion back in the 1960s?

.... people then just didn't know better, but "we" do ;-(

my pet thesis, that the city can't be successfully divided
that sounds reasonable but will not be an obstacle to people keen on a Peace Nobel, reasonable just isn't cool.

judging from my experience with human nature in everyday life, I think Gold got it right, any blinking as to Israel will be a boost to the the-world-must-be-ours nuts.


NormanF said...

As Ya'acov knows, any division of Jerusalem would be rejected in a referendum on both sides of the city - so its a political non-starter and it could only be imposed by force.

Its not going to happen in our lifetime.

Michael LeFavour said...

I am leaving for the countryside tomorrow, but I would like to know what you base the conclusion that the so called occupation is illegal on and why you would say that is the only way to view it? Can you even define where it begins and ends? The demarcation line is not a border, nor has it ever been, so ultimately Israel could lie on either side of the meaningless (legally) line.

Neither has there been a lawful sovereign to challenge complete Israeli title to the land. In other words, Israel is not occupying a recognized sovereign's territory. For what it is worth (legally), Jordan and Israel signed a peace agreement (borders can be legally changed with peace agreements after violence). The Jordan/Israel peace treaty established the center of the Jordan river as the recognized border between the two sovereign nations. I think it is wrong to view the possession of land formerly governed by the British (acting sovereign) as illegal and....there's no if or but about it because that's the only possible way to view the matter.

Michael LeFavour said...

I forgot to mention. I am prepared to defend that assertion, but it will have to wait until next week. I will not have a computer for at least a week.

Your Correspondent said...

The League of Nations granted national rights over Palestine to the Jewish people. This is the only binding international law on the subject. The UN absorbed the agreements of the League.

The 1947 Partition Plan is by no means international law. It is not a peace treaty, the General Assembly doesn't make international law, and the Arabs rejected it.

Jordan's occupation of the West Bank was clearly illegal, and Egypt has given up any legal control over Gaza.