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Only Israel Can Preserve Jerusalem as a Holy City for Three Faiths

Yesterday, Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the UN, testified at a congressional hearing about the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. To Gold, the question of the embassy is part of a larger issue: “the need for Western recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” The absence of such recognition, he argues, “helps fuel the dangerous fantasy, popular in the Middle East, that Israel is impermanent and illegitimate.” But there is an additional reason the West should ensure that Jerusalem remains in Israel’s hands:

[O]nly a free and democratic Israel will protect the holy sites of all the great faiths in Jerusalem. Let me stress, to the extent that the U.S. reinforces Israel’s standing in Jerusalem, it is reinforcing core American and Western values of pluralism, peace, and mutual respect—and it is reinforcing the position of the only international actor that will protect Jerusalem’s holy sites. . . .

UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947, which endorsed the partition of Mandatory Palestine, . . . called for establishing an international entity around Jerusalem, [that] would be governed by the United Nations itself. On May 15, 1948, when Israel declared its independence, invading Arab armies placed Jerusalem under siege. . . . Israel’s foreign minister, Moshe Sharett, reported to the UN that “ancient Jewish synagogues are being destroyed one after the other as a result of Arab artillery fire.” Those artillery shells hit churches and even the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. The mounting attacks led to a mass exodus of the Jewish population of the Old City—what today would be called “ethnic cleansing.” What did the UN do? Nothing.

Decades later, the 1995 interim agreement, an extension of the Oslo Accords, gave the Palestinian Authority some control over Muslim holy sites. Much like the idea of a UN-administered Jerusalem, this, too, proved disastrous:

It the aftermath of the failure of the Camp David summit in July 2000, the PLO launched what became known as the second intifada. Religious sites were specifically targeted. In Bethlehem, Fatah operatives and Palestinian security services assaulted Rachel’s tomb in December 2000. Less than two years later, in April 2002, thirteen armed Palestinians from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah Tanzim forcibly entered the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem—the birthplace of Jesus and one of the holiest sites for Christianity.

The gunmen took the Christian clergy hostage, looted church valuables, and desecrated Bibles. Another repeated target for attack was Joseph’s tomb in Nablus, the protection of which was undertaken by the Palestinians in [1995]. Gunmen from Fatah and Hamas took part in the ransacking of the site in October 2000. The site came under attack again as Palestinians torched Joseph’s tomb in October 2015 and set it on fire.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Jerusalem, Second Intifada, US-Israel relations

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy