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 . 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.