'The Jerusalem Question in International Diplomacy, 1798-1998'

Bernard Wasserstein

1. 'Waning Crescent'

Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions all encompass a wide range of traditions concerning Judaism, some positive, some negative. During the period of Ottoman Turkish rule over Jerusalem from 1517 to 1917, the focus of diplomatic activity concerning the city was the struggle, mainly between Orthodox and Latin Christians, over rights at the holy places. In 1798 Napoleon led a French army into Palestine: he did not, however, enter Jerusalem, declaring that it was 'not on [his] line of march'. The Jerusalem issue did not emerge as a major item on the international diplomatic agenda until the 1830s, as a result of the conquest of Palestine by the Egyptian ruler, Mehemet Ali. From then onwards the powers vied with one another in establishing consulates in Jerusalem, extending their protection to local Christians and other minorities, and engaging in bitter strife over the holy places. The establishment of the joint English-Prussian Protestant bishopric in Jerusalem affords one instance of such diplomatic engagement. The controversy over the holy places grew ever more intense, culminating in the outbreak, in 1853, of the Crimean War -- though the Jerusalem issue was less a cause of the war than a pretext for it. Jerusalem's capacity to serve as a kindler for such larger conflicts was to be demonstrated repeatedly over in following century and more.

2. 'Broken Cross'

British control of Jerusalem between 1917 and 1948 marks the first period of Christian rule over the city since the thirteenth century -- and the arrival of General Allenby's army led to a great wave of Christian triumphalism, particularly in the Catholic world. But the British disappointed the Catholic Church by not ruling primarily in the Christian interest. After thirty years of British mandatory rule all the vexed questions concerning the holy places that had dogged the diplomacy of the Jerusalem question for centuries remained unresolved. Meanwhile, a new and even more inflamed religious controversy had arisen, that between Muslims and Jews. The nationalist antagonism between Zionist and Arab nationalism in Palestine was heightened by fierce controversy over religious rights at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The outbreak of bloody riots there in August 1929 changed the terms of the Palestine conflict and exhibited anew the propensity of political leaders to seek to mobilize support by drawing on the symbolic force of the Jerusalem issue.

3. 'Zionism without Zion'

Between 1949 and 1967 Jerusalem was divided between Israeli and Jordanian rule. Although the United Nations had ordered the creation of a "corpus separatum" in the city and its environs, and although the greater part of the world, particularly Christian powers, supported this approach, Israel and Jordan were at one in rejecting it. In the aftermath of the Israel-Transjordan armistice in 1949, secret negotiations between the two states resulted in a draft agreement providing for the permanent partition of the city. Israel was even prepared to surrender some territory it held in Jerusalem as part of such a treaty. But the assassination of King Abdullah, as well as Israeli doubts on other grounds, prevented the peace treaty being signed. Although the Israeli capital was established in Jerusalem, the traditional Zionist hostility to the city lingered. Jordan, for its own reasons, downgraded the importance of Jerusalem by comparison with Amman. Gradually international support for the "corpus separatum" concept diminished and the powers came to accept, de facto although not de jure, the reality of a divided Jerusalem.

4. 'Her Warfare Accomplishjed?'

The unanticipated Israeli capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 war changed the terms of the Jerusalem question again. Although Israel sought to reinforce its authority over the city as a whole and made major efforts to shift the demographic balance, it found itself compelled to recognize some residual Arab rights. The Muslim religious establishment remained in charge of Muslim courts and the Waqf (Muslim religious trusts) and these remained separate from the Israeli Muslim religious establishment. The Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) remained under Muslim control and became a new focus for religious controversy and a focus for repeated outbreaks of violence. Following the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, as a result of the Oslo Agreements of 1993 and after, Palestinian day-to-day administrative authority over the Arab population increased. Although Jerusalem has been declared a "final status issue" to be negotiated in the final stage of Israeli-Palestinian discussions, both sides have been jostling for advantage since 1993. Palestinian-Israeli discussions have yielded several proposals for possible resolution of the conflicting claims to the city: one involves a further change in the delineation of the borders of Jerusalem, whereby Israeli Jerusalem would be expanded in the east and the west, while Palestinians would control most of the Arab-populated areas of Greater Jerusalem and declare their capital at Abu Dis which lies outside the current municipal boundaries. The feasibility of this, as of other such proposals, will probably be determined more by demographic, social, and economic realities on the ground than by political debate. Meanwhile, Jerusalem remains an inflaming rather than a healing element in the diplomacy of the region.