Moving Jerusalem from Heaven to Earth

Unlike the diplomatic activity set in motion by Obama, Trump’s declaration signals that time may not be on the Palestinian side; indulgence of Palestinian hopes to reverse history and shrink Israel’s borders are no longer on offer from the US president, and with the global shift of energy resources, such deference is no longer necessary.
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Heaven and earth are said to meet on Jerusalem’s sacred esplanade where the city’s most famous resident is called God. But theological principles travel well beyond the splendor of these precincts turning ordinary struggles for power into battles between good and evil sanctified as much by ritual as by death.

If failing to remember its holiness is unusual, as the Psalmist says, forgetting the Jerusalem inhabited by ordinary people who work, attend school, open and close businesses is normal. As Israel’s national capital, the site of its parliament and most government offices, Jerusalem has become the symbolic battleground for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even though the sacred texts of Islam and Judaism could just as easily render the site a force for shared celebration and peace as for war.

For notwithstanding the current chorus of political and religious leaders denying the legitimacy of Jewish claims and thereby casting doubt on their own canonical sources, Jerusalem’s sanctity for Islam derives from the special status first accorded it by Jews.

Into this mix stepped President Donald Trump, who announced the US’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital with instructions to move the embassy from Tel Aviv into this most contested of holy cities.

It is a long overdue move. A mark of sovereignty is the capacity to designate a capital city. Israel deserves nothing less. Nor does it adversely affect the so-called peace process.

Nothing the President did with his declaration of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital precludes the realization of any of the principles of the Oslo Accords and the expected discussions concerning the possibility of part of Jerusalem becoming the capital of a Palestinian state should it ever be established.

Whatever the president’s motivations, the timing of the declaration has some important consequences. First, it dismantles the UN Resolution (2334) passed in the last months of President Barack Obama’s second term, which declared even the construction around Jewish holy sites, like the Wall, a violation of International Law. By contrast to proclamations issued by UNESCO, ignoring Jerusalem’s Jewish heritage—passed without opposition from European countries like France and Spain—President Trump’s declaration restores some balance to recognizing the reality of Israel as a Jewish state.

Second, the American policy comes at a time when many of the Arab states are more concerned with Iran than with Israel and with a turmoil they are desperate to contain in a world no longer as beholden to their oil and natural gas as in the past.

Third, Trump is saying something profound about the so-called peace process that most pundits and even experts are unwilling to recognize or have forgotten. No American or foreign initiative has ever moved Palestinians and Israelis into a peace process. From the very moment of Israel’s founding, there have been many efforts to bridge the gaps or forge a plan to bring the parties together. Only after the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) suffered defeats in Jordan and Lebanon, and then was marginalized in the 1980s by the Iran-Iraq War, did it embrace the idea of a political process. And even then, it was difficult to give up the idea of a resistance allowing, if not encouraging, violence against Israel or against what it termed its occupation of Palestinian lands.

Whether or not Arafat actually wanted to rule out the possibility of confronting Israel, he, in fact, called for jihad on a visit to South Africa less than a year after signing the Oslo Accords. Resistance was expected to strengthen international deference to Palestinian demands as a political settlement was pursued. That strategy played out in the second intifada, as Palestinian militants received stipends from other Middle Eastern countries willing and able to pay for the violence. But funds in the region are now tight and channeled to militants waging other battles in other lands. When the Palestinian plight is no longer the major source of Middle Eastern violence, it is also not a regional priority.

Finally, unlike the diplomatic activity set in motion by President Obama, this declaration signals that time may not be on the Palestinian side. The Obama administration tried to aid Palestinians by establishing preconditions that met their demands even before negotiations began. Indulgence of Palestinian hopes to reverse history and shrink Israel’s borders are no longer on offer from President Trump. And with the global shift of energy resources, such deference is no longer necessary.

There may be broad international encouragement for Palestinian leaders to stew in their rage against this declaration and the American policies it implies, but anger is not a strategy that can advance the Palestinian cause.

Most importantly, this declaration moves Jerusalem from heaven to earth. If Jerusalem is a symbol and myth of spirituality and grandeur, no political power has a right to claim it. President Trump has recognized the real Jerusalem that is firmly planted on the ground, the one that Israelis—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—live in and with.

Moving Jerusalem from Heaven to Earth

Unlike the diplomatic activity set in motion by Obama, Trump’s declaration signals that time may not be on the Palestinian side; indulgence of Palestinian hopes to reverse history and shrink Israel’s borders are no longer on offer from the US president, and with the global shift of energy resources, such deference is no longer necessary.
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Donna Robinson Divine

Donna Robinson Divine is the Morningstar Family Professor of Political Science at Smith College. She is the co-author, with Philip Carl Salzman of Postcolonial Theory and the Israeli Arab Conflict (2008 Hardback, 2009 Softcover). She serves on the SPME Board of Directors

Even after many years of teaching at Smith, the classroom still provides a magical experience for me and the map for my intellectual inquiries. My intellectual mission is engaged by the challenge to make connections: to show students how events which seem straight forward are often complicated by conflicting historical references and opposing collective memories and in particular, how even the often murky, seemingly irrational events in the Middle East can be made understandable with the right questions in mind or with appropriate conceptual tools in hand. Although my professional residence is in a department of government, I brew up my research projects in an interdisciplinary cauldron, consistent with my own formal education.

I began to undertake serious work on the Middle East as an undergraduate at Brandeis University, concentrating on the history of Islamic civilizations and on language study. My graduate training at Columbia University broadened and deepened my knowledge of the Middle East through courses on classical Muslim history and on the region's economics and politics. Among students of the Middle East, my training in three of the region's major languages is distinctive, enabling me to conduct original research in Arabic, Hebrew, and Turkish. I carried out the first in-depth study of the Israel civil service in the research I undertook for my dissertation and published an analysis of political patronage [‘protekzia’] in its senior ranks. I then shifted my focus to Egypt where I lived and conducted an examination of its chambers of commerce on the eve of the revolution which brought Gamal Abd al-Nasir to power in 1952.

My nearly eight years of residence, at various times, in the Middle East allow me to undertake empirical research on both Arab and Jewish cultures. Long before attention was directed to Palestinian elites and to the evolution of its civil culture, I gathered material on the membership of Fatah. Concentrating on the obituaries of Fatah members killed in missions against Israel, I examined their family backgrounds. The issues defined in that rather study spurred my interest in Palestinian Arab society and my determination to find ways to subject it to sustained scholarly analysis. Thus an essay on Fatah drew me to the topic of Palestinian Arab women and the challenge of incorporating gender into an investigation of power and politics. In the course of pursuing the study of Arab women in Palestine during the period of British rule, background eventually became foreground. The archival material I located was so rich and elaborate that I enlarged the scope of my inquiry into a book exploring how cultural values provide resources for political action. My recently published-Exiled in the Homeland: Zionism and the Return to Mandate Palestine-has allowed me to return to the study of Israel’s history and is, in a sense, a book my education prepared me to write.

Exiled in the Homeland: Zionism and the Return to Mandate Palestine,examines the immigration of Zionists to Palestine during the 1920s in years when their experiences were turned into myth and when their personal struggles to make the land of Israel their home were ignored. The Zionist project I survey in this book concentrates on the period when Jews believed that moving to Palestine lifted them up to a new kind of solidarity, moral development and social coherence. I have chosen the first decade of British rule [1919-1929] as the temporal borders for this study because it was a formative time for developing a Jewish national home and can hold up a mirror to Israel’s conventional nation-building narratives. Thus, I am able to show not only how Zionists settled into Palestine when resources were severely limited but also how much they relied on their visionary hopes and expectations when circumstances provided no cause for optimism. The 1920s-a coherent period from the point of view of British colonial policy and the development of Palestine’s Jewish community-affords an ideal opportunity to examine whether the encounter of Zionists with what they understood as the land of Israel lived up to their expectations and to reflect on both the accomplishments and shortcomings of the Zionist effort to mold a new national identity and to transform the Jewish people. A scholarly engagement with the desires, values, decisions, and reflections of the early generations who created the economic and political structures for the Jewish state means following the individual men and women who crossed continents and seas to make Palestine their home. Immigration was a decisive element in the national life of Palestine’s Jews even though its nature and significance continue to puzzle scholars who seek to know it well.

I found my way to SPME as I watched what was happening at Columbia because when I studied at the school, there was an environment that placed a high value on analysis and scholarly rigor and attached no importance or respect to arguments in the classroom based on personal political viewpoints. Moreover, Israel was fully integrated into the study of the Middle East with Israelis and Palestinians sitting around the same seminar table in discussions not accusations. My commitment to the work of SPME is a commitment to restore the study of the Middle East to the scholarly status it once possessed.


SPME Faculty Profile: Anonymous and All Alone On Campus

This SPME Faculty Profile is being published anonymously, but powerfully demonstrates the need many of our colleagues have to feel connected with a peer group dedicated to academic excellence, honest debate and elevating the understandings of the issues of the Israeli Arab Conflict.

I learn so much from Philip Carl Salzman's articles. As a librarian in a college I am going to request that we purchase Philip's books.

My interest in SPME stems from looking for resources for combating anti-semitism and anti-Israel sentiments at my college. It is my solitary battle as the only Jewish employee (and faculty member) on campus. The articles that I have read on the SPME site have helped educate me and given me objective information for discussion, presentation material in the classroom and for library displays.Unfortunately, in order for me to not worry about job retention I cannot post for public viewing the reasons for my involvement with SPME as of yet. Hopefully one day soon my work environment will be more hospitable.

Read all stories by Donna Robinson Divine

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