Division of Jerusalem ‘not on the cards’
So said Dr Dore Gold on a Zoom webinar hosted last Wednesday by the Zionist Organisation of America, in conjunction with the South African Zionist Federation. He was talking about his book, The Fight for Jerusalem.
Gold was previously Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations (UN), and the director general of the ministry of foreign affairs. He served as a foreign policy advisor to Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. He is currently the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The year 2020 is a century since the San Remo Agreement of 1920. There, the allied powers met after World War I to decide the fate of the defeated Ottoman Empire’s territories. It recommended a Jewish national home on both sides of the Jordan River, including all of modern-day Jordan. There was no international control over Jerusalem proposed.
With their rejection of the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, Arabs also rejected the internationalisation of the city.
Following the 1948 War of Independence, Jerusalem was divided. Israel controlled the west of the city, Jordan the east, including all of the Old City. “The Jordanians expelled Jews, and took over their homes,” said Gold. “At least 55 synagogues and yeshivot were desecrated or completely destroyed. The UN was supposed to protect them, but did nothing.” East Jerusalem was spectacularly recaptured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Gold recounted the legacy of United States President Bill Clinton’s efforts at Camp David to strike a deal between then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the president of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Yasser Arafat, in 2000. Israel had been prepared at that time to make concessions on the future of Jerusalem, but the PLO walked away from the deal. Gold said Israel therefore had no obligation to be bound by the terms of that stillborn agreement. His book reinforces this point, and it became a New York Times bestseller when it first appeared in 2007.
“It’s not that it made me a lot of money,” Gold said, “but it did allow the book to be seen and get good placement in bookstores. The book became a very important way to get these ideas to senior officials, especially in Washington.” This book has generated enduring interest in its arguments. It was required reading for those who formulated US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Muslims aren’t as connected to Jerusalem as people think,” said Gold. He mentioned Muslim theologians who consider the adoption of Jerusalem as a holy site a “Judaisation of Islamic practice”. The city has become important to Muslims, but it is a distant third after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Gold characterised the Trump plan as “remarkable”, and said that it proposed ideas to settle the conflict that Israel could live with. “Israel won’t accept international forces in the Jordan Valley. Its experience has been extremely negative. They run away at the first sign of trouble.”
“It’s only under the free and democratic control of Israel that the city has been open to all faiths. It protects mosques, churches, and synagogues,” Gold said.
“The most important thing we can do is reaffirm the importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. There shouldn’t be any ambiguity on this strong position. Both Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are very firm that the city will remain united under the state of Israel.”
Gold confirmed that in spite of their public denouncement of the peace process, he has frequently been sought out by Palestinian leadership for behind-the-scenes discussions.
He stressed the importance of Israel maintaining strong ties with both major US political parties, when asked about the prospect of a Joe Biden victory in the November elections. “We must not get caught up in American political struggles.”
Gold also said that the world should strongly condemn Turkish President Recip Erdogan’s “reprehensible” recent move to convert Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia from a church into a mosque. “I don’t go around defending Byzantine churches, but an attack on any religious site is an attack on all religious sites.
“The Temple Mount is the centre of what we consider to be holy, and it’s what the Muslims are interested in as well,” Gold said. “The complicated status quo must be maintained, in spite of the difficulties. We don’t want to turn it into a bonfire for religious fanatics of any side. It must be a free area for prayer. When I go to St Peter’s in Rome, anyone can enter. But Muslims fear the Jews are planning to destabilise and literally undermine the Temple Mount. We have no plans to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque – it’s a complete lie. We need to reassure the Muslim world of this, repeatedly.”