The Struggle for Jerusalem

, May 20, 2009

The issue of Jerusalem is particularly sensitive and a topic of dispute in every negotiation. Distortions, half-truths, and outright lies are frequently voiced about the struggle for and Israel’s right to Jerusalem. This runs counter to the reality that since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and even prior to that, Israel’s rights to sovereignty in Jerusalem were firmly anchored in history and international law. There are even many Israelis who are insufficiently aware of their rights according to international law. Below are 10 points that are important to know with regard to the struggle over Jerusalem.

1. A Jewish Majority Resided in Jerusalem Way Before the Unification of the City

A Jewish majority existed in Jerusalem during the hundred-year period that preceded the establishment of the State of Israel. All the sources confirm that prior to the 1880s the Jews constituted the majority in the city. Data from the British Mandatory era, between the two world wars, demonstrates that the Jews were nearly 60% of the general population of the city, while the balance of the population was evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. According to the population censuses conducted separately by Jordan and Israel, each one in the area that it controlled in 1961, the city’s overall population constituted 72% Jews, 22% Muslims, and 5% Christians.

2. The Arab Population under Israeli Rule Grew More than in Any Other Preceding Period

The non-Jewish component of Jerusalem’s population grew steadily since 1967 when it totaled 26.6% and rose to 31.7% in the year 2000. Furthermore, according to predictions, this relative rate will continue to climb and will total 37.8% in the year 2020. According to Israel Kimhi, who previously served as the Jerusalem town planner: “In a paradoxical fashion, the Arab population of Jerusalem and its environs grew at a more rapid rate in the course of the last 30 years under Israeli rule than in any other era during the 20th century.”

3. Jordan Was Defined as the Aggressor both in 1948 and in 1967

Jordan’s invasion in 1948 was defined as aggression by the current UN Secretary-General. In 1967, as well, it was the Jordanians who initiated the war on the eastern front, firing artillery at Jewish Jerusalem. They invited Egyptian divisions into the West Bank and allowed the Iraqi army to cross the kingdom in the direction of the West Bank. Israel twice forwarded requests calling for an end to the aggression via local UN officials in the Middle East, but the Jordanians merely intensified their fire. When Israel took the decision to enter East Jerusalem, this was an act of self-defense, not “a preventive strike,” and most definitely not an act of aggression.

4. Following the Six-Day War, the United Nations Voted in Favor of Israel and against the Soviet Union and the Arabs

Following the Six-Day War, the Soviet Union comprehended that in the present situation it could not defend its client states, and therefore attempted to brand Israel as the aggressor party. It submitted a demand to the UN Security Council and later on to the UN General Assembly to determine that Israel was the aggressive party in the conflict, but it failed in both attempts. Even in the General Assembly where the results should have been a clear-cut victory in its favor, 80 countries voted against the demand and only 36 supported it. This meant that the international community likewise comprehended that Israel acted out of self-defense. This matter has implications from the standpoint of international law.

5. Resolution 181 and the Internationalization of Jerusalem – An Attempt that Was Never Implemented

The 1947 UN resolution to internationalize Jerusalem as a “separate body”(corpus separatum) in Resolution 181 of the UN General Assembly only enjoyed the status of a nonbinding recommendation. After 10 years a vote was to have been conducted among the city’s residents on the issue of sovereignty. When the Jewish residents of the city were besieged by the invading Arab armies in 1948, the United Nations made no response whatsoever and Israel therefore regarded the internationalization proposal as lacking moral basis and as “null and void,” in the words of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

6. The 1967 Boundaries Were Never Internationally Recognized Boundaries

One should recall that the Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan signed in 1949 did not determine the final borders between the parties, but only the separation lines between the armies at the close of the 1948 war. Upon the demand of the Arab side, the armistice agreements incorporated a paragraph that made it clear that the agreement would not include any condition that would predetermine the rights of any party whatsoever in the final resolution of the Palestine question through peaceful measures. In other words, the 1967 lines never had any political status as an international boundary on the eve of the Six-Day War.

7. UN Security Council Resolution 242 Does Not Call for a Total Withdrawal, But for Negotiations on Setting the Final Boundary

The United Nations Security Council did not adopt Resolution 242 under Chapter 7 of the international convention dealing with acts of aggression by one state against another. Although it does not say so explicitly, the decision was adopted under Chapter 6 that deals with finding a peaceful solution to international disputes. This means there is a demand upon the parties to reach a peaceful solution via negotiations and there is no demand upon Israel to withdraw from the captured territory without an agreement.

8. Resolution 242 – Jerusalem Is Not Mentioned

UN Security Council Resolution 242, adopted November 22, 1967, does not even mention Jerusalem and does not insist on a total withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines in the operative wording of the resolution (but only on the withdrawal from “territories” to “secure and recognized boundaries”). Lord Caradon, the British ambassador to the United Nations who formulated Resolution 242, rejected the Soviet demand to add the words “all” before the words “territories.” Since the resolution was formulated by the British, its intention was clear from the wording in the English text; thus any alternative interpretation of Resolution 242 that derives from translation into another official language of the United Nations cannot be accepted as the authoritative one.

9. “Temple Denial” – a New Phenomenon Even among the Palestinians

In the Camp David discussions, Yasser Arafat declared that a Jewish temple had never existed in Jerusalem, touching off a “Temple Denial” movement in the Arab world and even in Europe. The classical commentators of the Koran, when they were called upon to explain the meaning of the expression “Al-Aqsa Mosque” that appears in Sura 17 of the Koran, define the concept as “Beit al Makdas” – in other words, the Temple. This position remained in effect until recently. The Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem during the 1920s issued a guide to tourists visiting the Temple Mount where it was explained that the Temple Mount was the site of King Solomon’s Temple. During that very period, the council was under the leadership of the extreme Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini.  It thus transpires that “Temple Denial” according to Arafat and his supporters not only contradicts Muslim tradition, but also the position of the Palestinian leadership at the beginning of the twentieth century.

10. Full Access to Jerusalem for All Religions Was Preserved Solely under Israeli Rule

Between the years 1967 and 1948, the Jordanians prevented Jews from visiting the holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem including the Western Wall. The Jordanians also imposed limitations on the Christian community during that period, such as limitations on land purchases, and the Christian population dwindled. In the British Mandatory era and in the Ottoman period, the Jews were forced to struggle for their rights to pray at the Western Wall.

About Dore Gold

Ambassador Dore Gold is the President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is the author of the best-selling books: The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City (Regnery, 2007), and The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West (Regnery, 2009).