For Israeli academic Dr. Mordechai Kedar, there is no confusion about Jerusalem. While politicians and negotiators debate the status of the city in any long-term peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, he insists that their views are based on false Arab claims.
Kedar, an expert in Islamic and Arab culture, told NJ Jewish News — as he has told Arab audiences on Al-Jazeera TV network — that Palestinians’ insistence on having eastern Jerusalem as their capital has absolutely no historic justification. In a phone interview from Jerusalem on Jan. 7, he said, “Jerusalem was never, not even for one day in history, the capital of any Arab or Islamic entity. No king or caliph or emir or sultan governed from Jerusalem.
“So on what do they base their claim to Jerusalem?”
Kedar will tackle those questions in a talk at Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah in Clark on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, exploring the conflicting claims to Jerusalem, and the chance of a peaceful resolution.
It will be his first visit to the area since a talk in Scotch Plains last February. On Jan. 12, as last time, he will be the guest of the Israel Support Committee of Central NJ and the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. The ISC draws its members from Beth O’r/Beth Torah, Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains, Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield, Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, and Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains/Fanwood.
Kedar is an assistant professor of Arabic and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a member of the Herzliya Inter-Disciplinary Center study team on “Facing Radical Islam.” Fluent in Arabic, as well as Hebrew and English, he is frequently asked to comment by Israeli and Palestinian media and has addressed both the Israeli Knesset and the United States Congress.
He told NJJN that Secretary of State John Kerry, like his predecessors, is overlooking the facts on Jerusalem. “The Americans whitewash over the problems by creating solutions tailored to American interests and the American worldview, and ignore the facts,” he said.
Among those facts, he said, was “when Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria for no less than 7,000 days between 1948 and 1967, it had the opportunity to establish a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital. Why didn’t Jordan do then what they demand today from Israel?”
Of course, it’s not just the Americans who envision a Palestinian capital in parts of present-day Jerusalem. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert supports the idea; Ehud Barak broached the idea during the 2000 Camp David talks; and in a 2010 Hebrew University poll, Israelis supported by 52 to 38 percent the so-called “Clinton parameters,” which include Israeli sovereignty in the western part of the city and in the Old City’s Jewish quarter, and Palestinian sovereignty in the eastern part of the city and the rest of the Old City.
Nevertheless, Kedar also rejects the idea expressed by Arabs that Jerusalem is the third-most important holy place for Islam after Mecca and Medina. That is only true for Sunni Muslims, he said. “Shiites regard Jerusalem as a regular place,” he said. “Najaf in southern Iraq is the third place in holiness for them.”
These questions, he said, “raise doubts about the sources of the importance of Jerusalem which the world is not aware of, and they accept the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem at face value without questioning it.”
ISC chair Conrad Nadel said, “Last year the audience was so impressed with Dr. Kedar’s knowledge of the Middle East and Arab culture, many people came up to me afterward to say how much they learned and enjoyed his talk. His observations and ideas about the Middle East were so extensive, our committee wanted him back.”