The Atlantic Wrongly Blames Israel for Jerusalem Impasse

On July 27, the Atlantic published an article about the recent controversy over the Temple Mount entitled, “Palestinian and Israeli Leaders Are Struggling to Respond to Al Aqsa Crisis.” (The article appeared the day before Alice Su’s extremely problematic “The Anger in Jordan’s Streets.”) Writer Gregg Carlstrom’s discussion of Jerusalem and of that city’s role in the peace process ignored key events, and wrongly blamed only Israel for intransigence.

Referring to the city’s central holy site by its Muslim, and not its Jewish name, Carlstrom wrote, “the Aqsa compound is a uniquely resonant spot, one of the few places where the city’s Palestinians feel they have control.” He continues,

In 1967, when the Israeli army captured the Old City from Jordan, it recorded the event in matter-of-fact military prose: “The Temple Mount is in our hands,” said the day’s after-action log. Around the same time Moshe Dayan, the storied Israeli general, drove up to Mount Scopus, which offers a commanding view of the city. Looking down at the Old City, he leaned over to a colleague, the head of the central command, andwhispered a single question: “What do we need all this Vatican for?”

Carlstrom might have, but didn’t, mention the elation among many Israelis at the return to the Old City. He might have mentioned that Israel captured eastern Jerusalem only after Jordan attacked; or that 19 years earlier, Jordan had ethnically cleansed eastern Jerusalem of its Jewish population. Or, that in Israel’s moment of triumph, Dayan voluntarily gave administrative control of the holiest site of the Jews to the Muslim Waqf.

Instead, however, he chose to downplay the centrality of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in Judaism by choosing that particular anecdote about Dayan, and only later mechanically reciting that “the Aqsa compound is also the holiest place for Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical temples.”

Next, Carlstrom asserts that,

Half a century later, it is impossible to imagine a prominent Israeli uttering such words [i.e., Dayan’s]. From the center-left to the far-right, politicians vow to keep the city united, a position that effectively rules out a two-state deal with the Palestinians.

By this point, he has already set the stage for readers to react unsympathetically to the desire of the majority of the Israeli public to keep their historic and current capital city undivided, and to keep Jewish holy sites under Israeli control – after all, “What do [they] need all this Vatican for?”

Even worse, the author appears unaware of far-reaching Israeli offers and an American proposal to compromise on the city, none of which brought about a two-state deal. In 2000, at the Camp David negotiations, according to a contemporaneous report in the New York Times, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak “made what the [Clinton] administration regarded as considerable concessions in relinquishing control to the Palestinians in the outer and inner suburbs of East Jerusalem.” Yet, the talks failed. “The president and other American mediators made clear that it was Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who balked in the end, and by all accounts the issue was Jerusalem,” reported the Times.

In 2008, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “offered [to Palestinian Authority President Abbas] an unprecedented compromise over the Holy Basin, which includes the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism. He proposed that in the context of a permanent peace agreement, a special committee with representatives from five countries – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, the United States, and Israel – would administer the critical area.” Again, the Palestinians walked away.

In 2014, moreover, Abbas ignored an American proposal that included a Palestinian capital in eastern Jerusalem (though it had not been presented to or approved by Israel). During the US-mediated negotiations, the American team presented Abbas with a draft framework that said “in order to meet the needs of both sides, the permanent status agreement will have to provide for both Israel and Palestine to have their internationally recognized capitals in Jerusalem, with East Jerusalem serving as the Palestinian capital.” (Emphasis added.)

Abbas, however, “didn’t accept Obama’s framework document,” Ha’aretz reported. “He didn’t reject it, though – he simply didn’t respond.”

It’s clear, therefore, that it is Palestinian, and not Israeli, unwillingness to compromise on Jerusalem that stands in the way of reaching a two-state deal.

Even if it were true, however, that both sides were completely unwilling to compromise on the issue of Jerusalem, why would this mean that it was the Israeli insistence on maintaining Jerusalem, and not Palestinian insistence on an unattainable demand, that caused the problem? If both sides were intransigent, the inability to reach a compromise, logically, must be the fault of both parties. Yet, as we have seen so many times in the media, Carlstrom holds only one side – the side that in fact has demonstrated willingness to compromise – accountable.

Notably, Carlstrom also omits the historical Jewish connection to the city. Jerusalem was established as the capital of the Jewish Kingdom of King David in 1004 BCE. It has remained holy to Jews, and a residence of Jews, ever since. In contrast, there has never been Palestinian sovereignty over the city. In all of Jerusalem’s history, moreover, it has been divided for only 19 years – during Jordan’s illegal occupation of eastern Jerusalem. The majority of the international community declined to recognize the Jordanian annexation of eastern Jerusalem.

In addition to misrepresenting the issues surrounding Jerusalem, the article hides the Arab identity of the July 14 Temple Mount attackers. It also, without any apparent basis, attributes Netanyahu’s initial reluctance to remove the metal detectors that had been placed on the Temple Mount to “fear of losing his right-wing base.”

The article ends by comparing Netanyahu to Abbas:

Abbas has ruled for 12 years; Netanyahu, for 11. They rarely speak to each other, and their styles are sharply different, yet they have begun to resemble one another—unpopular, long-serving leaders obsessed with political rivals and preserving their rule.

Again, the Atlantic omits a crucial fact. While Netanyahu last won reelection in 2015, Abbas was elected in 2005 to a four-year term. To Carlstrom, apparently, democracy is irrelevant.

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