James Carroll’s Fabulist Mistake

In an op-ed published in the Boston Globe on June 6, 2011, James Carroll assails Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for insisting that Jerusalem remain the undivided capital of Israel in his May 24 speech to Congress. In Carroll’s piece titled “Netanyahu’s Extremist Mistake,” the Israeli Prime Minister is condemned for making “a radical shift away from an Israeli political consensus that has emerged over the last two decades.”

Carroll writes that Netanyahu’s “insistence that Jerusalem will be eternally ‘undivided’ ignores the movement that had been made away from the idea of ‘division’ – as if anyone wants a return to the era of barbed wire sliced through Jerusalem’s heart – to the idea of a city ‘shared,’ with each party able to satisfy an ancient longing.” He continues:

Until recently, Israeli leaders steadily signaled an openness to a compromise that would give a Palestinian authority over Muslim and Arab sections of the city, with equivalent authority over Jewish areas remaining with Israel. Structures of cooperating for overlapping municipal administration and economic activity were to be worked out.
When proposed as part of a comprehensive settlement on all issues, the idea of East Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian state drew solid majorities of support among Israelis. Just as they had come to embrace the hope of a “two-state solution,” they understood that Jerusalem would necessarily be the capital of both states.”

Under this arrangement, Carroll writes, East Jerusalem would be regarded as the capitol of a Palestinian state. Carroll asserts that the Israeli willingness to “share” Jerusalem (read: turn East Jerusalem over to the Palestinian Authority) represented a “spirit of compromise” that “Netanyahu now wants to snuff out.” In so doing, Netanyahu is throwing his lot in with Republicans who are caving in to Christian Zionists who want to rebuild the Temple and drive Arabs from the Holy City, turn it into an all-Jewish city and then take the city over for themselves. Carroll writes that Netanyahu:

… threw in with Republicans catering to right-wing Christian Zionists, whose interest in an all-Jewish Jerusalem (and whose crackpot urge to restore the Jewish Temple) lies in bringing about a Christian vindication over Jews and Muslims both.

In sum, Carroll’s complaint is that Netanyahu took Jerusalem out of the “zone of compromise” and “did so by aligning himself with the ultimate in anti-Judaism.” Carroll suggests that everything would just go swimmingly between Israelis and the Palestinians if it weren’t for Netanyahu who is too stupid to realize that he’s leaning on his enemies for support of his extremist agenda, which is shared by him alone.

The reality

There are a few problems with his story, however.

First, Netanyahu is on firmer ground politically than Carroll wants to admit. Public opinion polls (discussed below) indicate that majority of Israelis are opposed to the division of Jerusalem and have been for years.

Secondly, if the Christian Zionists are truly intent on turning Jerusalem into an “all-Jewish” city, they aren’t having much success. The proportion of Jerusalem’s Arab population has increased inexorably since Israel took control of the city in 1967.

Thirdly, Carroll’s depiction of Christian Zionism as the “ultimate in anti-Judaism” is simply untenable. The end-time scenarios offered by some Christian Zionists are bothersome to many Christians and Jews, but pale in comparison to the hoped-for destruction of the Jewish people propounded by Muslim extremists in the Middle East.

Lastly, a recent poll (also discussed below) indicates there is a significant number of Arabs who live in East Jerusalem who would rather that their homes remain under Israeli jurisdiction. And if their neighborhoods were to become part of a Palestinian state they would vote with their feet, leave their homes, and move into Israel. These Arabs may not want to admit it publicly, but their desire to have their homes remain part of a Jewish state indicates that at least some Arabs hope that Jerusalem remains part of the Jewish state. They do not want their neighborhood “shared” with the Palestinian state.

In sum, all of these problems indicate that Carroll is guilty of privileging a mythological narrative over the interests and opinions of the people who live in Jerusalem. This is exactly what Christian Zionists have been accused of doing for years.

The Data

To get a handle of Carroll’s piece, it’s necessary to look at exactly what Netanyahu said about Jerusalem in his speech to Congress on May 24:

As for Jerusalem, only a democratic Israel has protected freedom of worship for all faiths in the city. Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. I know that this is a difficult issue for Palestinians. But I believe with creativity and goodwill a solution can be found.

As much as Carroll wants to portray Netanyahu’s statement as being at odds with “an Israeli political consensus that has emerged over the last two decades,” the reality is that the Prime Minister in fact enunciated this consensus, which has been in force for years.

Ariel Zellman, a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University reports that since capturing Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, “Israelis have been staunchly opposed to division.” He continues: “Jerusalem is frequently referred to as the eternal, united, and indivisible capitol of the Jewish people,” and that “The majority of the public has been consistently opposed to division.”

Zellman also reports that since the Olso process, “there has been a softening of Israeli attitudes toward a division of the city.” This softening continued after the start of the Second Intifada which “pushed Israelis to support the idea of geographic separation from the Palestinians, most clearly manifest in the construction of the West Bank security barrier. While the impact was less pronounced in terms of a willingness to “divide Jerusalem,” it did encourage more “creative” thinking about division,” Zellman reports.

This shift would suggest that political consensus regarding Jerusale m moved in the direction that Carroll says but not for the reason he indicates. The increased willingness to cede parts of Jerusalem had to do with a desire to separate from the Palestinians, not out of any desire to “share” Jerusalem with them. After the Second Intifada, the Israelis had enough.

Zellman’s further analysis reveals that even in the face of a willingness to cede parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, a majority of Israelis remain opposed to dividing the city. Zellman basis is analysis on two Peace Index survey’s, one conducted in April 2008 and the other conducted in July 2008.

In the April 2008 survey, the Peace Index measured the willingness of all Israelis and a smaller subset of Israeli Jews to concede various parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinian state. While Israelis as a whole were more willing than Israeli Jews to concede the various sections of Jerusalem that have been offered to the Palestinians, the fact remains that in no instance was there a majority of Israelis who were willing to concede any section of the city – under any conditions – to the Palestinians.

Slightly more than 74 percent of all Israelis were not prepared to concede the Old City to the Palestinian Authority, and more than 56 percent of all Israelis were opposed to jointly managing the Old City with the Palestinian Authority. And 50.6 percent of all Israelis were opposed to transfering Jewish neighborhoods to the Palestinian Authority.

This indicates that in the minds of the Israeli people, any willingness to give the Palestinians control over parts of the Old City that existed during the Camp David/Taba negotiations of 2000/2001 had diminished substantially.
In the July 2008 survey, the Peace Index measured the willingness of all Israelis and Israeli Jews to divide Jerusalem. They were asked: “If a full peace agreement with the Palestinians were dependent only on the question of Jerusalem, would you be prepared to pass the eastern portion of the city to the Palestinians.” Respondents were given five possible responses: Definitely “Yes”, “Yes”, “No”, “Definitely No,” and “Don’t Know.”

A total of 55 percent of all Israelis and 61.5 percent of Israeli Jews chose “definitely no” or “no.” Zellman concludes that these numbers are not “that overwhelming.” He then looks at the percentage of respondents who chose “definitely know.” A total of 43.3 percent of all Israelis and 48.3 percent of Israel Jews opposed handing East Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Zellman reports “that strong opposition makes up such a significant portioin of the opposition, and even outweighs all those willing to divide the city, 34.2% and 39.4% repsectively [for all Israelis and then Israeli Jews], is a clear indicator as to why Israeli policy on Jerusalem is so resolute.”

What makes these numbers so astounding is this same survey indicates that majorities of all Israelis and Israeli Jews believe that Jerusalem has already in fact, been divided into two cities – East and West Jerusalem. In other words, a majority of Israelis are opposed to what a majority of Israels have accepted as a fait accompli – the division of Jerusalem. Opposition to an acknowledged reality is simply put, real opposition.

A more recent poll conducted by the Dahaf Institute for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs indicates that opposition to sharing Jerusalem has hardened in recent years. According to the Jerusalem Post, “The poll found that large majorities of 85 percent and 75%, respectively, recognized the importance of maintaining a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty within the framework of any final peace deal and opposed transferring the Temple Mount to Palestinian control even if the Western Wall were to remain in Israeli hands.”

The data is pretty conclusive. Carroll may not like Netanyahu’s policy regarding Jerusalem, but it is pretty much in line with Israeli public opinion, affected as it has been by the Palestinian inability to negotiate in good faith in 2000 and 2001 and years of attacks since the beginning of the Second Intifada. The notion that there is, or has been “an Israeli political consensus” regarding “sharing” Jerusalem is simply untenable. In other words, Carroll lambastes Netanyahu for violating a consensus that doesn’t exist.

Arabs in East Jerusalem

Another poll indicates that opposition to turning parts of Jerusalem over the Palestinian Authority is shared by a significant number (although not a majority) of Arabs leaving in East Jerusalem. Pechter Middle East Polls reports that 35 percent of this community would rather be citizens of Israel while only 30 percent would rather be citizens of the Palestine if a two-state solution were worked out. Moreover, when asked how they would respond if the neighborhood were to become part of Israel, 54 percent stated they would not move into the new Palestinian state while 27 percent said they would move. Conversely if their neighborhood were to become part of a Palestinian state, 40 percent said they would move to Israel and 37 percent said they would stay where they are.

All this data reveals a preference for residing in an area subject to Jewish sovereignty by Palestinians whose leaders have been advocating for the creation of a Palestinian state. It also demonstrates that many Palestinians living in Jerusalem want their homes to remain as part of Israel. They may not want to say it publically, but logically, this means that they agree with Netanyahu’s opposition to the divison of Jerusalem.

“All-Jewish Jerusalem”

Carroll portrays Christian Zionists as insisting on an all-Jewish Jerusalem – something the Israelis themselves aren’t pursuing.

The overall percentage of Jews living in Jerusalem has decreased since 1967, when Jews comprised 74 percent of the city’s population. In 2005, they represented only 66 percent. In 2009 it was 62 percent.

The Christian Zionists are not calling the shots when it comes to Jerusalem’s demographics. Netanyahu himself bragged about the rights enjoyed by Arabs living in Israel:

Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights. I want you to stop for a second and think about that. Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of one-percent are truly free, and they’re all citizens of Israel!

Does this really sound like a politician intent on doing the will of Christian Zionists intent on driving Arabs from Jerusalem? And while we’re at it, which Christian Zionists actually support the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem? Who?

In sum, Carroll’s op-ed is based on a false premise. There was no consensus regarding the sharing of Jerusalem for Netanyahu to violate.
Note: This article has been amended to show the accurate date of Carrol’s op-ed.

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