Posts Tagged Jerusalem

The fantasy of an international Jerusalem

This article first appeared at Mosaic Magazine, here.

In the uproar over President Trump’s announcement of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, one constant refrain has been the insistence that, by longstanding international consensus, the city’s status has yet to be decided. In the portentous words of the recent UN General Assembly resolution protesting the American action, “Jerusalem is a final-status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant United Nations resolutions.”

The most “relevant” of those prior resolutions was the November 1947 resolution proposing partition of Palestine and envisaging, in addition to two independent states, one Arab and one Jewish, an entirely separate status for Jerusalem as a city belonging to no state but instead administered by a “special international regime.”

One might have thought that the wholesale Arab rejection of the entire partition plan, in all of its parts, would also have put paid to the idea of an internationalized Jerusalem. Evidently, however, this fantasy is too convenient to lie dormant forever.

That is why it’s useful to know that, almost exactly three decades before the 1947 UN plan, internationalization of Jerusalem was killed—and killed decisively. Who killed it? Thereby hangs a tale, but here is a hint: it was neither the Arabs, nor the Jews.

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Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Jerusalem marked the 100th anniversary of the surrender of the city to British General Edmund Allenby. On December 11, 1917, Allenby crowned his military success in wresting Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks and their German ally in a ceremony that resonates to this day.

In a show of seeming humility, Allenby entered the city’s Jaffa Gate on foot, without flags or musical fanfare. Mounting the platform at the entrance to the Citadel (the Tower of David), he then read a straightforward proclamation: the city would be placed under martial law, and the status quo in regard to the holy places would remain in place. After shaking hands with a selection of Jerusalem’s notables, he departed, having spent all of a quarter-hour in the city.

The Illustrated London News carried a photograph, later famous, of Allenby striding on foot into Jerusalem; it depicted the scene as the conqueror’s “simple and reverent entry into Jerusalem.” In fact, the photo op had been carefully stage-managed to create a propaganda point against the German enemy. Kaiser Wilhelm II, upon visiting Jerusalem in 1898, had entered on a white steed, banners flying. So, three weeks before Allenby arrived there, he received this instruction from his superior, General William Robertson, chief of the imperial general staff:

In the event of JERUSALEM being occupied, it would be of considerable political importance if you, on officially entering the city, dismount at the city gate and enter on foot. German emperor rode in and the saying went ’round [that] “a better man than he walked.” Advantage of contrast in conduct will be obvious.

It was obvious indeed, and well-documented in British propaganda photos and films. This is why, even now, the victors’ procession and Allenby’s declaration take pride of place in the memory of that December 1917 day. Two weeks ago in the Old City of Jerusalem, before an enthusiastic audience of hundreds, both the procession and the proclamation were reenacted.

But another event also took place on that same day in 1917, away from the cameras but just as noteworthy. Indeed, that second event offers the best explanation for why internationalization of Jerusalem never stood a chance in 1947, or at any time since.

When Jerusalem fell, the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of May 1916 was still in force. That agreement, for the partition of the Ottoman empire, had been reached by the major Allied powers: Britain, France, and Russia. Because of the October Revolution, just weeks before Jerusalem’s capture, Russia had dropped out, but that still left Britain and France (as well as Italy, which jumped late into the alliance).

Since Britain and France both laid claim to Palestine, and wanted to forestall a clash in advance of its conquest, they had decided to share it. By agreement, Jerusalem, Jaffa, and the zone between them were to have an “international administration,” the form of which would be decided through Allied consultation. Sykes-Picot was thus the very first plan for the internationalization of Jerusalem.

But as the war progressed in Palestine, British imperial forces did nearly all of the fighting and dying in battle against the Turks. Lloyd George, the British prime minister, recoiled at the idea of sharing a British conquest with the French. In April 1917, he told the British ambassador to Paris that “the French will have to accept our protectorate; we shall be there by conquest and shall remain.”

The French, however, were just as determined to assert their rights under the Sykes-Picot accord. And so, when the victors’ procession entered Jerusalem on December 11, not only did it include a small French military contingent. It included François Georges-Picot, the French diplomat who had negotiated the agreement.

Picot had just been named by his government as “High Commissioner of the French Republic in the Occupied Territories of Palestine and Syria.” He also had precise instructions from the French prime minister: “You will have to organize the occupied territories so as to ensure France an equal footing to that of England.” In November 1917, Picot proceeded to remind Allenby’s political officer, Brigadier General Gilbert Clayton, of these facts.

“[O]ver a year ago,” Clayton would report Picot as saying, “it was agreed between the British and French governments that, pending the final settlement of the peace terms, any conquered portions of Palestine should be jointly administered.” Moreover, Clayton added, Picot himself operated “in the full conviction that he was to be the French representative in a joint Anglo-French provisional administration which was to govern occupied enemy territory in Palestine until the end of the war—when some sort of international arrangement would be made.”

That is why Picot had set off for Jerusalem on the coattails of Allenby’s victorious army. But Allenby also had his orders. Chief of Staff Robertson had instructed him two weeks earlier that he must “not entertain any ideas of joint administration.” The way around the French was to keep Jerusalem and the rest of the country under a military regime as long as the war lasted. Since Allenby was the commander-in-chief, military rule meant Allenby’s own rule, exercised through any military governors he might appoint.

And that’s just what Allenby announced in his famous proclamation on the steps of the Tower of David. Jerusalem, he told the assembled crowd, had been occupied “by my forces. I therefore here and now proclaim it to be under Martial Law, under which form of administration it will remain so long as military considerations make it necessary.”

But just what did this mean? And did it exclude the French? After the ceremony adjourned in Jerusalem, Allenby, Picot, and the other chief participants retired to lunch at military headquarters just outside the city, near Ein Karem. Major T.E. Lawrence (that is, “Lawrence of Arabia”) attended as well, having come up from Aqaba at Allenby’s bidding. In his memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence described the scene:

On us fell a short space of quiet, to be shattered by Monsieur Picot, the French political representative permitted by Allenby to march beside Clayton in the entry, who said in his fluting voice: “And tomorrow, my dear general, I will take the necessary steps to set up civil government in this town.”

It was the bravest word on record; a silence followed, as when they opened the seventh seal in heaven. Salad, chicken mayonnaise, and foie-gras sandwiches hung in our wet mouths unmunched, while we turned to Allenby and gaped. Even he seemed for the moment at a loss. We began to fear that the idol might betray a frailty. But his face grew red: he swallowed, his chin coming forward (in the way we loved), whilst he said, grimly, “In the military zone the only authority is that of the commander-in-chief—myself.” “But Sir Grey, Sir Edward Grey . . . ,” stammered M. Picot. [Grey, by that time Lord Grey, had been British foreign secretary in 1916, when the Sykes-Picot agreement was concluded.] He was cut short. “Sir Edward Grey referred to the civil government which will be established when I judge that the military situation permits.”

It is widely acknowledged that Lawrence’s reliability as a witness to events out in the desert leaves much to be desired. But this episode occurred on Allenby’s side of the Jordan, and in the presence of other British officers. His account, then, however colorfully phrased, may be regarded as trustworthy.

Indeed, Lawrence may even have softened the edges. Philip Chetwode, commander of a corps in Palestine, also attended the lunch; in a 1939 letter to another officer who had been there, and who was writing a biography of Allenby, Chetwode wrote:

I wish to goodness you could put in what the Frenchman said to Allenby and what Allenby said to him, when the Frenchman said he was going to take over the civil administration of Jerusalem at once. However, that, of course, can never appear in a book.

Since a version had already appeared in Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the bit of Allenby’s put-down that could “never appear in a book” might well have been gruffer still. (Louis Massignon, a French officer attached to Picot, wrote that “Allenby threatened Picot harshly with arrest if he interfered.”)

This didn’t exhaust Picot’s efforts, but the die had been cast. Ten days later, Picot complained that there had been no progress toward “Anglo-French civil administration,” and told a British interlocutor that “he would never have agreed to come out [to Palestine] if he had known.” Although Picot’s French Commission tried to (re)assert a “religious protectorate” over Catholic holy places (mostly in opposition to the Italians), there would be no “international administration” in Jerusalem, only exclusive British control.

Moreover, while Allenby had invoked military necessity, the British soon developed a full-blown thesis as to why they, and only they, were qualified to rule Jerusalem. The British, they averred in brief, were purely neutral. As Lloyd George put it, “being of no particular faith [we are] the only power fit to rule Mohammedans, Jews, Roman Catholics, and all religions.”

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Thus did the first agreement to internationalize Jerusalem come to naught.

Why is this significant today? Had Allenby wavered, and had some sort of joint administration come into being after World War I, it might have created institutions of international governance. These might have accumulated 30 years of experience by 1947, when the United Nations recommended the partition of Palestine and the internationalization of Jerusalem. Instead, during those decades, the British preferred to rule Jerusalem exactly as the Ottomans had done before them—namely, by dictate.

In 1947, internationalization thus had no precedent, no bureaucratic foundation, and no mechanism for implementation. As in 1916, it wasn’t a true option, but a placeholder for indecision.

In the century since Allenby entered Jerusalem, the city hasn’t known a single day of international administration. Indeed, it hasn’t had such a day in 3,000 years. The idea that it constitutes a kind of default solution for the future of Jerusalem is but one more example of a petrified piety. Internationalization became irrelevant over lunch a century ago, and it has remained so ever since.

A Franciscan monk reads a French translation of Gen. Edmund Allenby's proclamation putting Jerusalem under martial law, December 11, 1917. Allenby at center; François Georges-Picot, on far right.

Image: A Franciscan monk reads a French translation of Gen. Edmund Allenby’s proclamation putting Jerusalem under martial law, December 11, 1917. Allenby at center; François Georges-Picot, on far right. Matson Collection, Library of Congress.

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    The metal detectors of Islam

    Bauernfeind, entrance to Temple MountIsrael has capitulated over the metal detectors (and surveillance cameras) that it installed last week at the entrances to the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif. As anyone familiar with the long history of the “status quo” in Jerusalem knows, the “crisis” is wholly manufactured, and is but the latest chapter in a fifty-year Israeli-Palestinian struggle over sovereign authority.

    The Palestinian aim has been to expand the autonomous administration of the Haram ash-Sharif, permitted them in 1967, and turn the esplanade into an extra-territorial enclave by leveraging Israeli and international fears of a wider conflagration. In this long-term campaign, they have had much success, and the latest “crisis” has produced yet another Palestinian “victory.”

    The episode has raised the question of just what constitutes legitimate security measures at Islamic holy shrines and iconic mosques. We live in a time when the primary threat to the security of these sites arises from Muslims themselves—notably, extremists bent on using them as launching pads for violent acts designed to destabilize and terrorize. Across the Muslim world, governments are acutely aware of the vulnerabilities of these sites, and have taken measures to secure them. In particular, they have resorted to a very commonplace technology: metal detectors.

    At this link, I provide some prime examples, from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. How do these states differ from Israel? They are effective and sole sovereigns over the holy shrines and major mosques in their territory. Israel apparently is not.

    “The Metal Detectors of Islam,” here, for a quick trip to Islam’s bucket list of top sites. Please place your keys and camera in the basket.

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      If Iran Gets the Bomb

      Michael J. Totten, probably the most widely read blogger on the Middle East, has just published an interview with me, conducted in September.

      IranI sought out Martin Kramer in Jerusalem because I knew he would give me an analysis well outside-the-box on Iranian nuclear weapons. He’s a scholar, not a politician or pundit. And while he certainly has his opinions, he doesn’t conveniently fit into anyone’s ideological box.

      I was not disappointed, and I don’t think you will be either. What he has to say is different from anything you’ve read from anyone in the media, including me.

      MJT: I assume you read Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic this summer. He asked dozens of Israeli decision-makers and analysts if they think Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities, and the concensus seems to be that the odds are greater than fifty percent that it will happen before the middle of summer in 2011. What do you think?

      Martin Kramer: It’s in Israel’s interest to convince the world that the decision-makers are leaning in that direction. The idea is to prompt somebody else to take action, in particular the Obama administration. So there’s a debate about whether or not Jeffrey has been spun.

      MJT: Yes, and he mentioned that himself.

      Martin Kramer: The whole purpose of spinning Jeffrey Goldberg—assuming that’s what happened—was to prod the United States into taking a more forward position. Americans are taking a forward position already, but the idea here would be to multiply the effect.

      But I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to all the people Jeffrey talked to, and there are a lot of variables that we don’t know yet. The timeline is open to question. The intelligence is also being debated. So while I wouldn’t put a percentage on it, plans are definitely on the table. If the United States doesn’t act, the moment will come when a decision will have to be made. We don’t know what the arguments will be or in which ways the calculations will shift between now and then. Israel has the option, though, and it’s on the table. I wouldn’t say the odds are greater than fifty percent, but it’s a credible option.

      MJT: What do you think Iran would actually do with a nuclear bomb?

      Martin Kramer: The Iranians have a structural interest in creating doubt and uncertainty in the Persian Gulf. They have a larger population than any other Gulf state, and they don’t have the share of oil resources that Saudi Arabia has. So their first objective would be to create a climate of uncertainty.

      Now, the Persian Gulf has been—since the United States took over from the British—a zone that is essentially under an American security umbrella. It is as crucial to American security as Lake Michigan. The United States doesn’t use most of the oil coming out of the Gulf, but its allies do, so the stability of the Gulf has been associated with a steady flow of oil and a price that moves within a predictable range.

      Iran wants to create uncertainty there because oil is the only thing it has. Iran has nothing else—some carpets and pistachio nuts, and that’s it. Their population continues to grow, their needs continue to grow, and their grand ambitions continue to grow. So this, I think, is the first thing they would do with it. All it takes is to create a crisis or a succession of crises.

      Iran knows it can’t wrest sole hegemony in the Gulf from the United States, but it wants to create a kind of dual hegemony shared with the United States. Nobody knows where the lines would run, but they wouldn’t run just five to ten miles off the coast of Iran into the waters of the Persian Gulf. Iran would like to see its share extend to both sides of the Gulf, to effectively create a kind of push and shove between the United States and Iran.

      A lot of people on the Arab side of the Gulf will say they feel Iran’s breath on their faces. The United States is there now, but the British were there once, too, and now they’re gone. The Persians are always there and will always be there. So we’ll see a lot of hedging. Iran would be perceived as the rising power and the United States a declining power.

      Don’t assume that in the Persian Gulf they don’t hear what we say about this. Obama was famously photographed holding a copy of Fareed Zakaria’s book The Post-American World during the election campaign. And don’t assume they don’t hear Americans talking about imperial overstretch.

      MJT: You’re talking about the Arabs here.

      Martin Kramer: Yes, the Arabs. And this creates a dynamic where if Iran also has nuclear weapons they will increasingly hedge. Things they allow Americans now—such as basing rights for operations in the Persian Gulf and beyond—will become more and more difficult to negotiate if Iran opposes them. So we would see an erosion of the American position in the Persian Gulf.

      I think Iran is a lot less interested in justice for the Palestinians than in establishing their command over the gulf they call Persian.

      MJT: We call it the Persian Gulf, too.

      Martin Kramer: For reasons of geographic exactitude and custom. But Americans don’t mean it should be dominated by Iran.

      MJT: Right.

      Martin Kramer: The Iranians do. That’s the longer term objective. And like I said, they’re less interested in justice for the Palestinians than they are in this. They remind me a bit of Saddam Hussein. He said at one point that he would burn half of Israel, yet turned around and instead burned a lot of Kuwait. He wasn’t as interested in being admired by the Palestinians as he was about controlling resources. The Gulf is always very much a resource game. So that would be the first objective of the Iranians. But, of course, Iran also wants to wage proxy wars elsewhere.

      MJT: They do have interests in the Levant [the Eastern Mediterranean].

      Martin Kramer: They have interests in the Levant, but there’s nothing here that can solve their fundamental problems, which is the mismatch of population and resources. Their game in the Levant is to get around America’s flank. They see Israel as an extension of America, but it’s not their primary area of interest.

      Obviously, though, they have an ideological interest here, and they’re willing to fight Israel to the last Lebanese Shiite, but it’s an open question how much they’d be willing to sacrifice themselves directly.

      So that’s why I think Iranian nuclear weapons are a world problem as much as, or even more than, they are an Israeli problem.

      MJT: The Persian Gulf is certainly more of a world problem than an Israeli problem.

      Martin Kramer: Israel has to take it seriously, though. After listening to Iran’s discourse, Israel can’t rule out the possibility that even a small faction could get their finger on the trigger.

      It’s a world problem, though, and the world has to ask itself if it can tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran deliberately creating uncertainty, instability, and doubt surrounding the great reservoir of the world’s energy. If a coalition ever comes together to stop Iran, this will be the reason.

      MJT: What do you think will happen in the Levant if Iran builds a bomb? Will wars with Hezbollah and Hamas be more or less likely, and peace with the Palestinians more or less likely?

      Martin Kramer: Those are two separate issues.

      MJT: Yes, but they’ll both be affected.

      Martin Kramer: Right. It will certainly create a situation where there would be an expectation among the supporters of Hezbollah and Hamas that Iran would act to come to their defense by using its nuclear capabilities to threaten Israel, but I’m not sure Iran wants to do that. We saw during the last Lebanon war that the timing of the crisis was not to Iran’s liking. The Iranians would not have chosen the summer of 2006 to have Hezbollah in a crisis with Israel.

      MJT: They were angry about it.

      Martin Kramer: They view the Levant as an arena that can be integrated into their larger strategy, not so they can support a strategy that has been independently formulated by Hezbollah. Hezbollah doesn’t deliberately formulate an independent strategy, but Hamas certainly does.

      If Iran decides to take the route that Israel and Japan have taken—either nuclear ambiguity or being one screw away from having a bomb—it would be less subject to moral extortion by the extremists in the Levant who would act unilaterally and expect Iran to come to their aid. So an ambiguous scenario wouldn’t increase the possibility of warfare, but if Iran becomes an explicit and open nuclear state, that’s a different story. Even the United States and the Soviet Union went on nuclear alert over an Arab-Israeli war [in 1973]. But you never know. Knowing in advance that it could lead to that kind of escalation, there might be mechanisms which would kick into action before things reached that level.

      I do think a nuclear Iran creates a dynamic where Israel, from a strategic point of view, is compelled to keep a tight grip on Jerusalem and a large swath of the West Bank for the simple reason that it creates a deterrent to an Iranian attack. If all our strategic assets are concentrated on the coastal plain around Tel Aviv, we’re vulnerable. An Iranian ayatollah, Rafsanjani, has already noted that Israel is vulnerable to one strike. So how to we change that calculation?

      A big country like the United States disperses its assets across a vast continent when facing nuclear adversaries. A small state can’t do that. But within this small state is a prime Muslim holy place, the liberation of which is championed by the Iranians, and it’s in Jerusalem.

      So if Israel faces a real nuclear adversary that threatens its destruction and has Islamic fervor as the basis of its ideology—one that holds up Jerusalem as a symbol—it will make all the sense in the world to concentrate every strategic asset it can right next to it.

      The Israeli leadership has built a duplicate command center in Jerusalem exactly like the one it has in Tel Aviv in the Ministry of Defense. So why stop at the top brass and the political leadership if you know that over the long term we’ll face a hostile nuclear adversary? It makes sense to load up Jerusalem with strategic assets which would themselves serve as a deterrent to a future exchange. And it’s a lot easier to do than position submarines in the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean.

      So the long term effect would be to make Jerusalem central to Israel not only for political and cultural reasons, but also for strategic reasons. That doesn’t mean all kinds of arrangements can’t be made on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians about the day-to-day running of the city.

      In the past, Israel was concerned about holding the Jordan Valley as its eastern front against an invading conventional army. In a nuclear scenario Jerusalem itself would become crucial to preventing an adversary from striking a decisive blow which would render it no longer viable as a state. The idea is to persuade that adversary that even if there is a strike against Israel’s concentration of population, Israel will still remain viable.

      MJT: It sounds, though, like this would make resolving the conflict with the Palestinians much more difficult.

      Martin Kramer: Yes.

      MJT: I figured we’d agree, but can you explain why you think that’s the case?

      Martin Kramer: If there’s a shift of Israel’s assets from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the struggle over real estate up here becomes even more acute. There will be less leeway for Israeli concessions. Concessions are difficult to make in any case. Local security issues can be, in one way or another, finessed, but once they play out in this mega arena of confrontation between nuclear states, flexibility diminishes quickly. It would create tremendous pressure on Israel to maintain its right to decide the future of different pieces of turf close to the city.

      In the past we had the idea that in order for Israel to remain viable we had to settle the Negev Desert and the Galilee because they have large Arab populations. That was never for religious reasons, it was always for strategic reasons. A nuclear Iran would create strategic calculations for Jerusalem that weren’t there before. There were always other strategic calculations for Jerusalem, but this would create a powerful new one. What would the Israelis and Palestinians discuss at the table once that became a factor?

      Linkage is a big issue, but there’s a debate over which way linkage runs. Some say a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would make it much easier for the United States to deal with Iran. But I think the absence of a solution to the Iranian nuclear dilemma places a high premium on Israel holding if not the totality of the occupied territories, at least a sizable bit of real estate around Jerusalem as a strategic reserve.

      I say this as someone who has always believed there would be some way to compromise over Jerusalem, but when I see the prospect of a nuclear Iran on the horizon threatening Israel, I say to myself that I want as many of Israel’s strategic, demographic, industrial, and technological assets in and around the city as possible.

      MJT: So what do you say to people who prioritize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over Iranian nuclear weapons?

      Martin Kramer: I’d like to know more about how this is supposed to affect Iran’s calculations. I don’t think it will. I think they decided long ago that they want to have a hegemonic role enhanced by nuclear capability. A resolution of the conflict here wouldn’t deter them or persuade them from that ambition. On the contrary, they would believe that Israel would grow stronger and would be even more of a threat than it is today. They’re going to pursue this track no matter what.

      The theory is that a resolution to the conflict would make it easier to mobilize Arab support.

      MJT: Right.

      Martin Kramer: But how much Arab support does the United States need that it doesn’t already have? Support from the Gulf Arabs is already guaranteed. They see Iran as a threat directed more at them than at anyone else.

      MJT: They do.

      Martin Kramer: The Arabs who could conceivably be swayed are the Arabs of Egypt and the Levant, but it’s difficult to envision a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would satisfy all of them. Quite a few formulas will alienate lots of them.

      And the question is: are they really necessary? Is it that important to have the so-called Arab street? It’s extremely difficult to turn the Arab street into a strategic asset. Nasser tried to do it. Saddam Hussein tried to do it. Ahmadinejad is trying to do it. Erdogan is trying to do it. It’s flattering, I suppose, to have your poster on walls here and there, but nobody has found a way to turn that into something they can use, and I don’t think the United States has much prospect of doing so either. It’s an intangible.

      A nuclear Iran, on the other hand, would be tangible. So I think linkage, in fact, runs the other way.

      The Israeli-Palestinian conflict only has a chance of being resolved if the Levant can be disconnected from the Gulf. So we have to deal with the Iranian issue first.

      Look at the history of the Middle East since the creation of Israel to the present. We have had two separate periods. The first lasted from 1948 until the late 1970s. During this period we had a war between Israel and the Arabs every decade. The Gulf region was stable. The British were there. There was always a concern that the conflict between Israel and the Arabs might create a ripple effect in the Gulf, and it finally happened in 1973 when they cut off the oil.

      Then the United States changed its policy. The Americans said they were going to support Israel so staunchly that the Arabs would despair of ever achieving victory and would therefore have no choice but to sign peace agreements. And that’s what happened.

      Since 1973 there has been no state-to-state war in the Levant. We’ve had intifadas, we’ve had wars between Israel and non-state actors, but we haven’t had the devastation of a state-to-state war. And the oil hasn’t been shut off since then. The oil only gets cut off as an act of solidarity between states, not as an act of solidarity with the PLO, Hamas, or Hezbollah.

      So we now have an architecture that works in the Levant, but the Gulf has experienced a succession of wars. The Gulf now destabilizes the region. It has seen the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the latest Iraq war, and who knows what’s to come. And we’ve seen that the instability in the Persian Gulf region has a ripple effect in the Levant. It goes the other way now, and it’s a consequence of the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

      Israel is the stake that has been planted in the Levant. Because it’s powerful, it puts a high premium on rationality among all those who surround it. It serves as the basis for the security architecture.

      When the British left the Gulf in the early 1970s, the Americans weren’t in a position to pick it up because they were busy in Vietnam. They had their dual pillars in the Gulf, Iran and Saudi Arabia, but one of them collapsed in 1979. And since that collapse, there has been no equivalent of Israel in the Gulf which the United States could use as a fulcrum around which to organize a region. So the pillar of stability has been the American deployment of its own forces again and again and again. They’ve put millions of boots on the ground, and it’s still not enough.

      So here in the Levant we’re feeling the wash from the long-term destabilization of the Gulf. It is America’s primary interest to keep these as two separate regions. The regional hegemon needs to make sure there is no cross-contamination between them.

      The regions used to be separate. During the British time, the Levant was run from London and the Persian Gulf from India. The Levant was called the Near East, and the Gulf was called the Middle East. These were two distinct zones. We’ve conflated them in the meantime, and it’s in the interest of the United States to disaggregate them again and to keep them disaggregated. Any attempt to project power from one into the other undermines the position of the regional hegemon. That was true when Saddam Hussein fired missiles at Israel, and it’s true when Iran sends missiles to Hezbollah. It’s always the radicals who do the bridging. The same was true with Nasser.

      And it compels others to do the same. If Israel acts over the head of the United States against Iran, it will be just the latest example. It’s something the United States can’t afford. It means that every time we have a problem in the Levant, it will create problems for the United States in the Gulf, and vice versa.

      MJT: How can the United States drive a wedge between the two regions?

      Martin Kramer: That’s easy. The U.S. just has to say that it supports its Israeli ally to keep order in its arena, and the U.S. will take responsibility for keeping order in its arena. Just effectively divide responsibility. If the U.S. flags in its resolve to do that, it will be under pressure from those who are tempted to act outside their arena.

      My friend Steve Rosen at Harvard once said it would be shameful if the United States were to leave it to Israel to do what it should do in the Gulf. The Persian Gulf is an area of world interest where America plays the guarantor role.

      If Israel has to act as the guarantor in the Gulf, it will be a sign that America has dodged its responsibility.

      MJT: The Gulf Arab states are not-so quietly hoping Israel will do it if the U.S. does not.

      Martin Kramer: They’re looking for someone, anyone, to do it.

      MJT: They’re the ones who should be the most worried. We don’t hear much about this from the Arab states in North Africa. They don’t have as many reasons to be concerned.

      Martin Kramer: That’s a separate area altogether.

      MJT: Egypt is sort of a bridge, though, isn’t it? Cairo sides to a certain extent with Israel against Hamas, and we know Mubarak isn’t thrilled about what’s happening in Tehran.

      Martin Kramer: The main problem with Egypt is that its own regional role has been so much diminished. Not only can Egypt no longer project power beyond its borders as it did in Nasser’s days, it can barely control events inside its national borders as we’ve seen in the Sinai. Egypt clearly resents the rise of Iranian power. They don’t necessarily trust anyone as a counterweight. Their approach all along has been that they don’t want a nuclear Iran, but that the way to go about it is to de-nuclearize Israel as part of a grand bargain. They would achieve two goals at once. Both Iran and Israel would be cut down a peg.

      MJT: Do you think that’s their sincere approach? Egyptian officials will say this in public, but what do they really think?

      Martin Kramer: I think there’s no question they’d like the United States to play the role. They’d much rather have the U.S. take the lead than Israel. They know what everyone knows—the United States would do it much more effectively.

      MJT: Of course.

      Martin Kramer: There would be nothing worse than a botched or half-complete operation. There’s a very strong preference that the U.S. take care of this, among the Gulf Arabs and the Egyptians.

      MJT: And, of course, among the Israelis.

      Martin Kramer: It’s absolutely central to the strategy to maintain this division. And the only way to maintain it is for the United States to demonstrate tomorrow that it will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons or to allow Israel to act unilaterally. The Gulf is a zone of American dominance, and the only way to assert that is to do what Carter did with the Carter Doctrine, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. He said there should be no outside power or local power that is allowed to challenge the United States in the Gulf. And a nuclear Iran clearly crosses that line.

      If even Jimmy Carter was compelled to issue a doctrinal statement in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan about the Persian Gulf, one would think that Barack Obama would see the need to do something similar. Obama should especially feel compelled to do so because there’s a question mark there. He should declare the Persian Gulf a nuclear-free zone. It’s too much to talk about the Middle East as a nuclear-free zone at this time, but the Persian Gulf is nuclear-free now, and it’s time for the United States to come out and say it should remain nuclear-free.

      MJT: I have a hard time imaging Obama doing anything of the sort.

      Martin Kramer: Yeah. Well.

      MJT: But I suppose one never knows.

      Martin Kramer: It would be an astonishing lapse if a man who promised to roll back nuclear proliferation watched proliferation develop in one of the least stable parts of the world, a place where the United States has only been able to maintain even a modicum of stability by a massive projection of its own forces. The region is of prime interest to the entire world for its energy resources. If it becomes nuclearized, it will be the one thing for which Barack Obama would always be remembered by history, and he would be remembered by history as a failure.

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        The Temples of Jerusalem in Islam

        Article by Martin Kramer published in the Policywatch series of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, #277, September 18, 2000.

        The political status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the subject of final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. According to press reports, at one moment in the Camp David negotiations last July, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat asked his Israeli counterpart: “How do you know that your Holy Temple was located there?” A Jerusalem Report cover story (September 11, 2000) placed this in the context of a growing Palestinian denial of the existence of the First and Second Temples. “It’s self-evident that the First Temple is a fiction,” one Palestinian archaeologist at Bir Zeit University is quoted as saying. “The Second also remains in the realm of fantasy.”

        Temple Mount, Jerusalem

        Archaeologists will have their debates, and their place is in the academy. (There, the biblical account of the First Temple is contested, while the existence of the Second Temple, and its general location on the Temple Mount, are regarded as well-attested facts.) But at the negotiating table, the subjective sanctity of any site is a concrete reality which must be respected in its own terms. This is all the more so in the case of the existence and location of the First and Second Temples: both are attested by precisely the same Islamic sources which render the Haram al-Sharif (including the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock) holy to Islam.

        (The Qur’anic passages below are quoted from what is widely considered to be the most orthodox Sunni translation and commentary, prepared by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, vetted and corrected by four committees commissioned by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and published at the King Fahd Holy Qur’an Printing Complex in Medina, Saudi Arabia, by royal decree.)

        Did the Temples Exist?

        The Qur’an refers to the existence of both temples in verse 17:7. In this passage, the Qur’an deals with God’s punishment of the Children of Israel for their transgressions:

        (We permitted your enemies)
        To disfigure your faces,
        And to enter your Temple
        As they had entered it before,
        And to visit with destruction
        All that fell into their power.

        The word translated as “Temple” by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (and by the influential translator Marmaduke Pickthall before him) is masjid. This word, which is usually translated as mosque, has the meaning of a sanctuary wherever it appears in a pre-Islamic context. The usual Muslim exegesis of this verse (including that of Abdullah Yusuf Ali) holds that it refers to the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

        Muslim tradition is especially adamant about the existence of the First Temple, built by Solomon, who appears in the Qur’an as a prophet and a paragon of wisdom. Verse 34:13 is an account of how Solomon summoned jinn (spirits) to build the Temple:

        They worked for him
        As he desired, (making) Arches,
        Images, Basons
        As large as wells,
        And (cooking) Cauldrons fixed
        (In their places)

        Early Muslims regarded the building and destruction of the Temple of Solomon as a major historical and religious event, and accounts of the Temple are offered by many of the early Muslim historians and geographers (including Ibn Qutayba, Ibn al-Faqih, Mas’udi, Muhallabi, and Biruni). Fantastic tales of Solomon’s construction of the Temple also appear in the Qisas al-anbiya’, the medieval compendia of Muslim legends about the pre-Islamic prophets. As the historian Rashid Khalidi wrote in 1998 (albeit in a footnote), while there is no “scientific evidence” that Solomon’s Temple existed, “all believers in any of the Abrahamic faiths perforce must accept that it did.”(1) This is so for Muslims, no less than for Christians and Jews.

        The Location of the Temples

        So much for the existence of the Temples. But what of their location? The Islamic sanctity of the Haram al-Sharif is based upon verse 17:1:

        Glory to (Allah)
        Who did take His Servant
        For a Journey by night
        From the Sacred Mosque
        To the Farthest Mosque

        This is the textual proof of the isra’, the earthly segment of the Night Journey of the Prophet Muhammad: overnight, Muhammad was miraculously transported, round-trip, from “the Sacred Mosque” (al-Masjid al-Haram)—that is, the Ka’ba (or its vicinity) in Mecca—to “the Farthest Mosque” (al-Masjid al-Aqsa). Later Muslim tradition came to identify “the Farthest Mosque” with Jerusalem. But during Muhammad’s lifetime, no mosque stood in Jerusalem; the Muslims conquered the city only several years after his death. Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s commentary on this verse summarizes the traditional explanation: “The Farthest Mosque,” he writes, “must refer to the site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem on the hill of Moriah.”

        When Muslims did build a mosque on this hill, Muslim tradition holds that it was built deliberately on the verified site of earlier sanctuaries. According to Muslim tradition, when the Caliph Umar visited Jerusalem after its conquest, he searched for David’s sanctuary or prayer niche (mihrab Dawud), which is mentioned in the Qur’an (38:21). (David was believed to have chosen the site on which Solomon built.) When Umar was satisfied he had located it, he ordered a place of prayer (musalla) to be established there. This evolved into a mosque-precursor of the later Aqsa Mosque. Thus began the Islamization of the complex that later came to be known as the Haram al-Sharif. It became the tradition of Islam that Muslims restored the site to its earlier function as a place of supplication venerated by all the prophets, including Abraham, David and Solomon.

        Sari Nuseibeh, president of Al-Quds University, has emphasized this original meaning of the site for Muslims: the mosque is the last and final in a series of sanctuaries erected there. “The mosque was itself a revivication of the old Jewish temple,” writes Nuseibeh, “an instantiation of the unity with the Abrahamic message, an embodiment of the new temple yearned for and forecasted. And why should this seem strange when Muhammad himself, according to the Qur’an, was the very prophet expected and described in the ‘true’ Jewish literature?”(2)

        Whether it is called the Temple Mount or al-Haram al-Sharif, this corner of Jerusalem is the physical overlap between Judaism and Islam. Verse 17 of the Qur’an, quoted above, is entitled Bani Isra’il, the Children of Israel. The present-day State of Israel has acknowledged the sanctity of the site for present-day Muslims, in the interest of peace. For Muslims to question or even deny the existence of the Temples, in disregard of the Qur’an and Muslim tradition, is to cast doubt upon the very sources which underpin their own claim.

        (1) Rashid Khalidi, “Transforming the Face of the Holy City: Political Messages in the Built Topography of Jerusalem,” paper presented to the conference on “Landscape Perspectives on Palestine,” Bir Zeit University, November 12-15, 1998,

        (2) Sari Nuseibeh, “Islam’s Jerusalem,”

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