Why is Palestine not annexing Jerusalem?


Jan Busse

To person

holds a doctorate in political science and is a research associate at the professorship for international politics and conflict research at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich. [email protected]

Stephan Stetter

To person

is Professor of International Politics and Conflict Research at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich and co-editor of the "Journal for International Relations". [email protected]

Jerusalem is one of the central points of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been going on for well over a century. In this article we want to show what considerations - be it by local or external actors - have been made in order to settle the Jerusalem question peacefully. However, since such a conflict solution has not yet been achieved, but there were - often under very unequal power relations - phases of political stability and coexistence in Jerusalem, the reality of conflict management is also outlined. We dedicate ourselves to the various attempts to make Jerusalem the starting point or end point of a peace settlement, be it through international activities or initiatives by Israelis and Palestinians. We conclude with a classification of the Trump administration's latest political initiative with a view to Jerusalem and the EU's options for action.

Historical and social embedding

The Israel-Palestine conflict has been one of the central conflicts in international politics for many decades, and because of its importance it is often elevated to the key conflict in the Middle East. [1] Two central starting premises should be kept in mind: First, it should be noted that the conflict over Jerusalem arose from historical constellations of the modern age and by no means has an (unbroken) millennia-old continuity. [2] Second, it should not be forgotten that Jerusalem is also a "normal" modern city where people live, work and go about everyday life.

There are two major developments of the 19th century in particular that shaped the Jerusalem conflict. This is on the one hand the development of international claims to rule over Jerusalem in the final phase of the Ottoman Empire, on the other hand the emergence of two nationalist movements - political Zionism on the one hand and Arab and Palestinian nationalism on the other. Often with reference to real or supposed historical facts and religious legitimation patterns, these were also accompanied by claims to power.

In the middle of the 19th century there was hardly any international press coverage of the city, which - also from the perspective of the Sultan in Istanbul - was in a relatively peripheral administrative part (Sanjak) of the Ottoman Empire. Jerusalem was undoubtedly religiously significant, but no direct political claims to power by local Muslim, Christian or Jewish actors or external powers were derived from it. The heavenly Jerusalem was the point of reference, not the earthly Jerusalem, about which - with the exception of Napoleon's short and failed Middle East mission in 1799 - there was no noteworthy political dispute.

This changed in the second half of the 19th century, [3] mainly due to developments at the international level. One can speak of a veritable discovery of Jerusalem by the European (great) powers, beginning with Tsarist Russia, Great Britain, France and followed by the German Empire and others. Jerusalem quickly became a "symbolically loaded site of imperial rivalry" - and European tourists, believers, intellectuals and travel writers were drawn into this enthusiasm for Jerusalem. [4] The struggle for influence clearly preceded the actual occupation of the city - there was even talk of a "war between the European consuls". [5] On the one hand they tried to wrest privileges from the Ottoman Empire, on the other hand they tried to outdo their European opponents, for example by portraying themselves as the protective powers of certain local population groups.

Also at the end of the 19th century, further claims to power were added: namely the claims of local actors to cultural, political and soon also to national self-determination against the Ottoman Empire and later Great Britain. Both the Zionist movement that arose in Europe in the 1890s, which sought a way out of the European nation-states in historical-biblical Israel, with their lack of integration opportunities for Jewish citizens, and the Arab and then Palestinian nationalism that emerged in Egypt from the 1830s on territorial claims to power in the sanjak Jerusalem. [6] At that time, however, the focus was not on Jerusalem, but rather on the emergence of genuine Jewish and Arab movements for autonomy and independence. There was no question that Jerusalem should be part of the claimed area. However, the city did not become a central conflict issue until the 1920s.

This is where the second starting premise comes in - namely that Jerusalem is also a "normal" city with everyday life for its residents. It should be noted here that the city was limited to the area of ‚Äč‚Äčtoday's old town well into the 19th century. Arab, Jewish and international settlement outside the city walls was late; but with the construction of apartments, hospitals, schools and universities, modern shopping streets, theaters and hotels, Jerusalem has become a modern metropolis. For both the Arab and the Jewish population, the city is no longer just a religious center, but also a political, cultural, intellectual and economic center.

This indicates that any peace settlement must not only meet the needs of the two conflicting parties and the international community for borders and territorial claims, but also the good everyday life - or in other words: the human security the diverse urban population - should serve.