Slouching Toward Jerusalem

Cross-posted with World Policy Journal Blog.

On December 8, the State Department issued the following statement:

"The U.S. position on Jerusalem is clear and remains unchanged: that Jerusalem and all other permanent status issues must be resolved by the two parties themselves. It has been official U.S. policy for many years that the future status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue..."

Why did the State Department feel compelled to issue such a statement? Apparently because the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council issued a statement on the same day in Brussels, on the Middle East Peace Process, and one can only conclude that the U.S. Government wanted to distance itself from the EU statement. On Jerusalem, the EU statement had this, inter alia, to say:

"The Council recalls that it has never recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem. If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states."

An earlier EU draft specifically stated that the Palestinian capital should be in East Jerusalem, but intense Israeli lobbying, including and especially among the new EU members from Eastern Europe, resulted in striking that reference in the final version.

Usually, the American phrase that Israeli-Palestinian issues "must be settled by the parties themselves" is in effect a code word for allowing the Israelis perpetuate the status quo, the Israelis being by far the stronger party. At least the U.S. statement declared that Jerusalem remains an outstanding issue, and this is important. It seems clear, however, that the U.S., while openly favoring a "two-state" solution, cannot bring itself to advocate a "two-capitals" solution as well.

The assertion in the December 8 statement that "the U.S. position on Jerusalem is clear and remains unchanged" contains a number of historical omissions. Initially, during the Truman Administration, the U.S.'s declared policy was that "there should be a special international regime for Jerusalem." After the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel extended is laws and administration to newly-conquered East Jerusalem, the U.S. declared that it "does not accept or recognize these measures as altering the status of Jerusalem."

In 1976, the U.S. declared that "substantial resettlement of the Israeli civilian population in occupied territories, including East Jerusalem is illegal under the [Geneva] Convention [of 1949]." In the late 1960's and onwards, the U.S. position shifted from that of "internationalization" of Jerusalem to that of Jerusalem as an "undivided city," with free access to the holy places for all faiths. President Reagan stated in 1982 that "...we remain convinced that Jerusalem must remain undivided, but its final status should be decided through negotiations."

Note: all the above declarations remain position statements. No implementation has taken place.

According to the Century One Bookstore on the Internet, there are twelve "periods" (aka regimes) that have existed in Jerusalem. The Jews were the first (Hyksos period), but they are nowhere - until 1948 -- in the Common Era, whose periods are as follows: Roman, Byzantine, early Muslim, Crusader Kingdom, Mameluk, Ottoman Turk, and British Mandate.

Why then should Israel have exclusive governance over Jerusalem (not to speak of the fact that a former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, offered East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital at Camp David in 2000, only to have the agreement as a whole rejected by the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat)? Is this a case of historical overreach?

The very key position that East Jerusalem occupies in any final settlement should be patent from the above history. That is why the recent decision of Prime Minister Netanyahu to institute a ten-month freeze in settlement construction on the West Bank (but excluding East Jersusalem) falls far short of adequate. It is not even a good beginning, contrary to official statements from Washington.

Editor's Note: Charles Cogan was the chief of the Near East South Asia Division in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA from August 1979 to August 1984. From September 1984 until July 1989 he was CIA Chief in Paris. He is currently an Associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School.