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Dore Gold


By Dore Gold, Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N., October 5, 2010

[This was first published in the Jerusalem Post  in response to Ehud Olmert’s proposal to divide Jerusalem.  Following Dore Gold’s article there is an opposing view written by Palestinian Hanna Seniora. Published with permission]

Right after the War of Independence, prime minister David Ben Gurion faced inexorably difficult pressures over the future of Jerusalem.

The UN planned to press its case for internationalization. Its grounds were General Assembly Resolution 181, adopted in 1947 and known as the partition plan, which not only advocated the establishment of Jewish and Arab states in former British Mandatory Palestine, but also recommended putting Jerusalem under UN control as a corpus separatum, or separate entity.

True, the resolution was not legally binding; it had been forcibly rejected by the Arab states. Moreover, the UN never established the special regime for Jerusalem that it proposed. In fact, it failed to dispatch any forces to save the Old City when reports streamed in that its ancient synagogues were being systematically destroyed. Nevertheless, even after the war ended, leading diplomatic players in the UN, including the US government, came back and insisted on resurrecting the idea of international control.

Ben-Gurion stood in the Knesset on December 5, 1949 and, in no uncertain terms, rejected the demand for internationalization. He looked back at what had happened during the War of Independence, explaining that the UN “did not lift a finger” when invading Arab armies tried to destroy the holy city. It was only because of the efforts of the newly created IDF that the siege of Jerusalem had been lifted and the rest of its Jewish population saved. Ben-Gurion declared that Israel no longer viewed Resolution 181 as having any further “moral force” with regard to Jerusalem.

Four days later the General Assembly responded, again insisting that Jerusalem “should be placed under a permanent international regime.”

Ben-Gurion nonetheless stood his ground and declared on December 13, 1949 that the Knesset and the rest of the government would be transferred from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

LOOKING BACK 60 years, internationalization was a complete failure. And yet it now appears it is coming back.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert has put forward a proposal in this paper (“The terms for an accord,” September 24) for the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, in which this area will be overseen by “an international trusteeship.”

According to Olmert, Israel would be expected to renounce its sovereignty over the holiest sites of the Jewish people, like the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, located in an area called “the Holy Basin” by negotiators in the past, and which extends beyond the Old City to the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

How is it that an idea which spelled disaster to the country’s founders can suddenly be put back on the political agenda? What happened? Does this readiness come from a sense that with the reunification of Jerusalem as a result of the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has less right to sovereignty there than it did in 1949? Such a view has no basis.

The Jewish people had restored their majority in the Old City already in 1863, according to the British consulate at the time – well before any other place in modern Israel. And after 1967, international lawyers such as like Stephen Schwebel, who would become president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, pointed to the fact that while Jordan occupied east Jerusalem after a war of aggression in 1948, Israel captured the very same areas in a war of self-defense, and as a result its title was stronger than that of other claimants at the time.

Moreover, by its actions since 1967, Israel has proven that it was the first protector of Jerusalem to truly defend the interests of all three monotheistic faiths.

Perhaps some of its political elites have forgotten what was axiomatic for Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog, but that does not diminish its historical rights.

It could be that today there is a naive belief that internationalization might work, since the UN in 2010 will be better than the UN in 1948. But there is no basis for such a conclusion. In the past 20 years, international oversight of areas of conflict has ended with one disaster after another. In 1994, a UN force in Rwanda, made up of mostly Belgian paratroopers deployed to oversee implementation of the Arusha Peace Accord, withdrew and abandoned the Tutsi tribe to acts of genocide by Hutu supremists. The UN Security Council delayed any effective action to stop the killing, which resulted in 800,000 deaths.

A year later, UN peacekeepers in Bosnia abandoned the Muslims they were supposed to protect in the town of Srebrenica. As a result, the Bosnian Serb army slaughtered more than 8,000 innocent people.

Since 2003, the UN has been unable to take decisive action and put an end to the genocide in Darfur by the Sudanese regime, given the interests of the Arab states and the Chinese. Multilateral machinery, whether based on the UN or on a consortium of states, remains notoriously slow.

In short, there is no recent international development that might lead one to believe that “an international trust,” rather than Israel, might actually work and protect Jerusalem.

How is it possible to explain the difference between Ben-Gurion and the leaders who put forward from time to time the idea of internationalization? Israel at the time of Ben-Gurion was actually much weaker than it is today; its population in 1948 was a little more than 800,000. But it had something which unfortunately has been lacking in many who would renounce its sovereignty over the Old City: Israel in 1948 had a deep conviction in the justice of its cause – a rare commodity today in many influential circles.

Those putting forward the idea of internationalization are completely divorced from the sentiments of the people. Poll after poll in the past decade indicate that Israelis are not prepared to concede Jerusalem, and especially the holy sites of the Jewish people.

The problem is that when one of Israel’s leaders suggests that the Old City be put under an international regime, international diplomats begin to think the government may entertain such proposals. Ben-Gurion was able to stand up to the UN General Assembly in 1949 because the world understood that Jerusalem represented a red line from which neither he nor any other representative of Israel was prepared to retreat.

Today, Israel must reestablish that red line clearly, for the impression left by these proposals badly weakens its ability to defend itself. They imply that it has lost its will and might be prepared to concede what has been – and will remain – one of the identifying core values defining the identity of the Jewish people.

The writer served as ambassador to the United Nations between 1997 and 1999 and as foreign polcicy advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his first term.

By Hanna Siniora, Co-CEO of  Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information

JERUSALEM - Jerusalem is revered worldwide as the cradle of the three monotheistic religions. Moslems, Jews and Christians – all view it as a holy ground. Thus, full respect for the rights of all three – one that is based on mutual understanding and recognition – is an inevitable requirement on the road to peace.

Until each of the parties arrives at the realisation that the city cannot be solely “his” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain irresolvable. The past has proven that no one nation or one religion can claim sole ownership over Jerusalem and receive international recognition for it. Jordan failed to get such recognition when it ruled over East Jerusalem and the Old City between 1948 and 1967. Now Israel faces a similar response. In other words, international recognition will not be granted to one side at the expense of the other and will be given only to an arrangement whereby the local parties mutually agree to share this sacred city.

The late Feisal Husseini, perhaps the most important Palestinian leader of our age, scion of the Moslem Husseini family of Jerusalem, coined the term ‘Our Jerusalem’. “A day will come when a Jew speaking about ‘our Jerusalem’, will mean Israelis and Palestinians, and an Arab speaking about ‘our Jerusalem’ will mean Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. Husseini sought to tell Palestinians and Israelis that the claims of both nations should be fully recognised in this Holy City in order to reach a resolution to the conflict.

Despite extreme segregation of Jews and Arabs in the city and 43 years of efforts by consecutive Israeli governments to create a Jewish majority there is still scope for Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem. But with Israel continuing to create facts on the ground that would pre-empt the possibility of Jerusalem serving as capital to two states, time is running out. This is the reason why the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been insisting on freezing Israeli settlement building in East Jerusalem during the current proximity talks.

In a series of closed roundtable discussions conducted by the Israel/Palestine Center for
Research and Information (IPCRI) a group of Palestinian and Israeli experts on Jerusalem – many of them well-known public figures – was brought together for an in depth discussion on the future of the Old City within its historical walls.

The group arrived at the following conclusions: Israelis must recognise Palestinian sovereignty over the Moslem and Christian quarters, and the Palestinians must recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish quarter. The only area of dispute within the walls of the Old City for the group was the fate of the Armenian Quarter. Due to its unique population and its sensitive location near the Jewish quarter – both sides claim jurisdiction over it.

The competing claims to the Armenian quarter are, in my opinion, a challenge which is also an opportunity. The best compromise solution to it could be joint sovereignty. Whereas the rest of the city would be divided between Israeli and Palestinian rule, the Armenian Quarter would be ruled by a joint Israeli-Palestinian entity with both countries having equal rights in the quarter. Joint sovereignty over the Armenian Quarter could potentially facilitate opportunities for both sides to learn how to build trust and cooperation, essential ingredients for a stable future relationship.

Another conclusion reached by the Israeli and Palestinian experts had to do with maintaining the status quo with respect to Moslem and Jewish holy places. This means the Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary compound, known in the Jewish world as the Temple Mount, will fall under the sovereignty of the Arab nations and Palestinian administration. Until this moment Haram Al-Sharif has been administered by the Jordanian government Moslem trust (Jordanian Waqf) and this is recognised by Israel. The Western Wall (the Kotel in Hebrew) and the plaza facing it are under the Israeli sovereignty of the Kotel rabbinate and are administered by it. This status quo has been in place for the past 43 years and accords with mainstream Jewish Halacha. Perhaps only the will of God or the arrival of the Messiah can change the present set-up.

Beyond the Old City walls, the expert panel agreed that settlements around East Jerusalem, like Gilo, Pisgat Zeev, Neve Yaacov, Givat Zeev and others could be part of the agreed upon land swap that will compensate the Palestinian Authority with land of equal size and quality in the Jerusalem district.

Despite split sovereignty over the city, Jerusalem as a whole should be an open undivided city for all its citizens. Checkpoints, if needed, should be on the periphery of the city and not within the city’s boundaries.

Feisal Husseini felt strongly that the rights of both nations should be recognised in Jerusalem. His expression, “our Jerusalem” encapsulates his uniquely fair and humane approach. “Our Jerusalem”: one city split between two sovereignties yet geographically undivided with open borders.

Time is running out for making this vision a real possibility. The Israeli leadership must stop submitting to pressure by settler groups and realise that a two state solution with joint sovereignty in Jerusalem is the desired preference of both peoples and the international community.

Hanna Siniora is publisher of the Jerusalem Times, Chairman of the European Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, and co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 22 July 2010,


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