It was and still is the ultimate prize to which all the victors in the Holy Land’s wars aspired — Hebrews, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks, British and Israelis. The Jordanians took its Old City and most of the Arab-populated environs, but not its Jewish segment (except for the Old City’s Jewish Quarter).
Each of these nations paid the requisite military price in valor and blood.
Now, for the first time in history, a self-declared nation that also lays claim to its shrines, spires, walls and residential districts, expects to take it in full or in part without firing a shot — the Palestinians.
This objective was one of the many controversial demands proclaimed at the unruly and sometimes chaotic conference convened in the West Bank city of Bethlehem at the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah movement’s first congress in 20 years.
(It also was the first ever held on what most members of the international community as well as the world’s news media regard as “Palestinian soil.”)
President Mahmoud Abbas tried to bolster his reputation by adopting the same hard-line attitude toward Jerusalem as does his Iranian-backed Hamas rivals in the Gaza Strip.
Until the 2,000 delegates arrived from all over the Middle East as well as the West Bank arrived in Bethlehem, one of the Palestinian Authority’s principal demands was that Jerusalem be the capital of the projected Palestinian state. But it stopped short of specifying the geographical dimensions this would entail. In Bethlehem, it declared that at least half, if not all, of the city must be Palestinian, depending on how the relevant resolution is interpreted.
This is a strange turn of events. It reflects the uncanny fact that the Palestinians already have won the support of the United States and the consent of Israel to turn the West Bank and Gaza Strip into a sovereign state under their exclusive rule. If this becomes a reality, they will be the first nation in the history of the Holy Land to gain control over a major segment of its terrain without lifting a military finger.
If this scenario materializes, the Palestinians could be considered the ultimate and only long-term winner of the Six-Day War of June 1967. Israel already has relinquished the Sinai Peninsula, which it took from Egypt in that conflict, and is being urged to give up most if not all of the Golan Heights, which it took from Syria. The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip literally sat out that watershed military struggle and did not fight in any of its battles, but were enabled to gain the status of territorial claimants largely through the unscrupulous use of terrorist tactics and the exploitation of Israel’s political short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness.
Israel could have annexed the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, when the respective Palestinian populations in both areas lost faith in the ability and commitment of the surrounding Arab states to protect them, but it chose not to do so because its religious political parties balked at the prospect of a large non-Jewish element being incorporated into Israel’s domain, among other irrational reasons. Nor did Israel seize the opportunity it had in 1988, when Jordan’s late King Hussein announced that the West Bank no longer belonged to his kingdom.
Instead of stepping into the breach, the Israelis launched secret (and illegal) negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization — an internationally recognized terrorist group — the outcome of which was the Oslo Accords of 1993 and the creation of the Palestinian Authority as an embryonic Palestinian state.
With these and other diplomatic errors in mind, one might conclude that the Israelis are woefully short on tact and tragically inept in tactics.
A recent case in point: the police summary expulsion of two Arab families from their homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah quarter. As soon as the longtime residents were thrown into the street, oblivious Orthodox Jewish militants occupied their former apartments — all this on the strength of a local court decision. No governmental officials tried to offer alternative accommodations or at least express empathy. This behavior, which was condemned by the United States, did nothing to strengthen Israel’s claim that Jerusalem must remain a unified city under exclusive Israeli rule.
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)