Jerusalem has been in the news even more than usual this past week, beginning with a US Supreme Court ruling that clearly repudiated a State Department claim of sweeping power over foreign policy and Jerusalem, and ending with the latest attempt to stir up global sentiment against Israel, this time not with a flotilla or a “flytilla” so much as a ‘global march,’ which one might call a “footilla.”
But in between these events, the State Department made a further headline when a spokeswoman irritably and repeatedly stated that, “our position on Jerusalem has not changed” and that “With regard to our Jerusalem policy, it’s a permanent-status issue. It’s got to be resolved through the negotiations between the parties.”
In a sense, the State Department was absolutely honest in insisting that its core position on Jerusalem has not changed since the 1940s. That core position has effectively been to punt the question, with the latest version being that it is “a permanent-status issue.” However, the State Department’s reasons for holding this stance despite sweeping changes in the Middle East are anything but consistent, much less clear. The policies themselves have been anything but constant.
In the Supreme Court ruling mentioned above, a key element to the case lay in the fact that a Jerusalem-born American citizen whose parents wished to have Israel listed as his place of birth on his US passport was not born in the Old City or any territory captured by Israel in 1967 – but well inside the Green Line, within what has been Israeli territory since the country’s independence. The State Department’s position has been to refuse to recognize ANY part of Jerusalem as Israeli, which is an issue completely separate from the question of pre- or post-1967 territory.
Where did this concept come from? On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly passed resolution A/Res/181 (II), entitled “Future government of Palestine.” Notably, it called for “Independent Arab and Jewish States” and a “Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem.” Of the three, only the Jewish State came into being, and that came as the result of military victories against several invading Arab state armies rather than by UN fiat. Incidentally, UN Resolution 181, reluctantly accepted by the Jewish Yishuv and rejected outright by the Arab States, called for the UN-administered “corpus separatum under a special international regime” for Jerusalem and surrounding villages: “the present municipality of Jerusalem plus the surrounding villages and towns, the most eastern of which shall be Abu Dis; the most southern, Bethlehem; the most western, Ein Karim (including also the built-up area of Motsa); and the most northern Shu’fat.”
In turn, the plan had two stated purposes, first to “protect and to preserve the unique spiritual and religious interests located in the city of the three great monotheistic faiths throughout the world” and to “foster co-operation among all the inhabitants of the city in their own interests as well as in order to encourage and support the peaceful development of the mutual relations between the two Palestinian peoples throughout the Holy Land.”
Interestingly enough, this internationalized trusteeship proposal was introduced by the United States, and was initially part of a larger plan conceived by Arabists within the Department of State who had little faith in the viability of a small Jewish state surrounded by enemies. In his book The Faithful City, the late Dov Joseph, who was the Jewish military governor of Jerusalem in 1948 and later a Knesset member, wrote that that “the United States told the Security Council it was now convinced that Palestine could not be partitioned without violence and recommended a temporary trusteeship over Palestine while the General Assembly reviewed the entire problem.”
Joseph continued that not only was the proposal regarded “as a direct betrayal,” but that it was “devoid of serious content, and it never got off the ground. By the end of April, the U.S. representatives at the U.N. had whittled the proposal down to a trusteeship for Jerusalem alone and by May 4 they were proposing to the Trusteeship Council that even this attempt to protect the city be abandoned.”
The internationalization proposal for Jerusalem was rendered entirely moot regardless when, on March 15, 1948, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon attacked the fledgling Jewish state. Due to a number of factors, notably including the British-trained elite Jordanian Arab Legion, Jordan was able to occupy a swath of land that it termed “ad-difa’a al-gharbiya” or the West Bank [i.e. the west bank of the Jordan River], including the Old City of Jerusalem, while Israel managed to hold onto the parts of the city to the west of the original walled area.
Despite ongoing fighting, the UN General Assembly passed resolution A/Res/194 (III), “Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator,” which restated the internationalization plan for Jerusalem, but also resolved that “the Holy Places – including Nazareth – religious buildings and sites in Palestine should be protected and free access to them assured, in accordance with existing rights and historical practice; that arrangements to this end should be under effective United Nations supervision” and requested “detailed proposals for a permanent international regime for the territory of Jerusalem.” The State Department clung to the stillborn Jerusalem internationalization plan until 1950, and its policy to not recognize any part of Jerusalem as Israeli has incredibly remained unchanged since then.
Despite decades of international machinations, several Arab-Israeli wars and decades of terrorism, the city of Jerusalem continues to grow and thrive as an integral part of the State of Israel, the globally marching “footilla” and its doom-and-gloom propaganda decrying “The Destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem” notwithstanding. For myself, I’ll continue looking forward to Yom Yerushalayim, “Jerusalem Day,” which will fall on May 20th this year. It commemorates the day that Jerusalem was once again made whole after nearly two decades of artificial division. Perhaps Jerusalem will be in the news that week on its own merits, rather than for the games that have been played over the holy city.