Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ancient though Jerusalem is, 1971 was a long time ago

On September 25 1971 the UN Security Council adopted resolution 298, which was one in a series of resolutions calling upon Israel to refrain from developing Jerusalem; indeed, the resolution actually went so far as to require of Israel that it rescind all actions it had taken since June 1967. 14 members of the SC voted for the resolution, and Syria abstained - I assume because it had been taken in response to a Jordanian request and implied recognition of Jordanian claims to Jerusalem, something Syria wasn't interested in doing.

On November 15 that year Israel's Foreign Minister Abba Eban responded in a letter to the UN Secretary General.

Letters such as these, written by diplomats for diplomats, need not be taken as the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, just as many utterances of many officials and other people often need to be understood as statements of positions in context. One of the primary tasks of the historian is to seek contrasting sources and try to evaluate them and reach a plausible interpretation. Thus when Eban notes, for example, that the number of East Jerusalem voters who participated in the municipal election of 1969 was greater than the total of eligible voters in Jordanian Jerusalem, his facts are correct. Under the Jordanians only some 5,000 propertied citizens could vote, and then the mayor was appointed by the government anyway. Yet his statement elides the fact that most East Jerusalem eligible voters didn't, in practice, use their eligibility.

Of course, when Eban ridicules the UN position that Jerusalem must be returned to its June 1967 circumstances, he's quite right. Dividing the city with a hostile and at times violent border, preventing any Jews and all Israelis including the Arab ones from reaching the holy sites in the Old City, and even merely pretending that time wasn't happening and that no municipal policies could be undertaken, was not a serious option, no matter how many members of the UNSC voted for it.

The most interesting part of the entire discussion, however, at the UN and in Israel's response, is the total lack of any mention of the Palestinians. The word is never mentioned in either document, nor does there seem to be anyone in the discussion giving them any thought as a nation (as a community and as individuals, the Arabs of East Jerusalem are of course mentioned). This is not intended as a reflection on any current debate, merely as a historical note: in late 1971 the international community was very interested in Jerusalem, but was not thinking about the Palestinians as a partner to the discussion.

File ×’-12/12796

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