Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube/Diller distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. His bi-weekly column appears regularly in newspapers around the globe. His website, DanielPipes.org, is one of the most accessed internet sources of specialized information on the Middle East and Islam.
Historically, the religious standing of Jerusalem for Muslims waxed and
waned with political circumstances. In a consistent and predictable cycle
repeated six times through 14 centuries, Muslims focused on the city when it
served their needs and ignored it when it did not.
This contrast was especially obvious during the past century. British rule
over the city, in 1917-48, galvanized a passion for Jerusalem that had been
absent during the 400 years of Ottoman control. Throughout the Jordanian
control of the walled city, in 1948-67, however, Arabs largely ignored it.
For example, Jordanian radio broadcast Friday prayers not from Al-Aqsa
mosque but from a minor mosque in Amman. The Palestine Liberation
Organization’s founding document, the Palestinian National Covenant, which
dates from 1964, contains no mention of Jerusalem.
Muslim interest in the city revived only with the Israeli liberation of
Jerusalem in 1967. Jerusalem then became the focal point of Arab politics, serving to unify fractious elements. In 1968, the PLO amended its covenant to call Jerusalem “the seat of the Palestine Liberation Organization.” The king of Saudi Arabia himself declared the city religiously “just like” Mecca – a novel, if not a blasphemous idea.
By 1990, the Islamic focus on Jerusalem reached such a surreal intensity
that Palestinian Arabs evolved from celebrating Jerusalem to denying the
city’s sacred and historical importance to Jews. The Palestinian Arab
establishment – scholars, clerics, and politicians – promoted this unlikely
claim by constructing a revisionist edifice made up in equal parts of
fabrication, falsehood, fiction, and fraud. It erases all Jewish connections
to the land of Israel, replacing them with a specious Palestinian-Arab
Palestinian Arabs now claim that Canaanites built Solomon’s Temple, that the
ancient Hebrews were Bedouin tribesmen, the Bible came from Arabia, the
Jewish Temple “was in Nablus or perhaps Bethlehem,” the Jewish presence in Palestine ended in 70 C.E., and today’s Jews are descendants of the Khazar Turks. Yasser Arafat himself created a non-existent Canaanite king, Salem, out of thin air, speaking movingly about this fantasy Palestinian Arab “forefather.”
Palestinian Media Watch sums up this process: By turning Canaanites and
Israelites into Arabs and the Judaism of ancient Israel into Islam, the
Palestinian Authority “takes authentic Jewish history, documented by
thousands of years of continuous literature, and crosses out the word
‘Jewish’ and replaces it with the word ‘Arab’.”
The political implication is clear: Jews lack any rights to Jerusalem. As a
street banner puts it: “Jerusalem is Arab.” Jews are unwelcome.
Three key events, Yitzhak Reiter of the Hebrew University argues,
transformed this self-indulgent mythology into official ideology:
The Temple Mount Faithful incident of October 1990 saw a Jewish group’s
unsuccessful effort to lay the cornerstone for the Third Temple leading to a
Muslim riot in which 17 rioters lost their lives. This episode increased
Palestinian Arab apprehensions about the demolishing of Islamic sanctities,
prompting a drive to prove that Jerusalem has always been a Muslim and
Palestinian Arab city.
The Oslo accord of September 1993 placed Jerusalem, for the first time, on
the table for negotiation. Palestinian Arabs responded by attempting to
discredit Jewish connections to the city.
The Camp David summit of July 2000 saw the Israeli government, again for the
first time, put forward its demands for sovereignty over parts of the Temple
Mount. As Dennis Ross, an American diplomat present at the summit,
astringently put it, Arafat “never offered any substantive ideas, not once”
at the talks. However, “He did offer one new idea, which was that the Temple
didn’t exist in Jerusalem, that it was in Nablus.” With this, Jerusalem’s
pseudo-history became formal Palestinian Authority policy.
Palestinian Arab denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem has two likely
long-term implications. First, it suggests that the Palestinian Arab focus
on Jerusalem has reached such a fervor that it might now sustain itself
regardless of politics, thereby breaking a 14-century pattern. Jerusalem
appears to have developed into an abiding Muslim interest, one generating
feelings of entitlement no longer related to utilitarian considerations.
Second, this denial severely diminishes the prospect of a diplomatic
resolution. The Palestinian Arabs’ self-evidently false history alienates
their Israeli interlocutors even as it lays claim to sole rights over the
entire city. As a result, future negotiations over Jerusalem are bound to be
yet more emotional, askew, and difficult than past ones.