- The Rise and Fall of Arab Jerusalem: Palestinian Politics and the City since 1967
Jerusalem has been at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict since its beginning. Since the Oslo Accords (1993), the Palestinian authority strived to promote East Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital, while Israel made efforts to consolidate its hold of all Jerusalem as its capital. The second Intifada (2000–2005) and its suppression by Israel diminished Palestinian hopes, cut East Jerusalem physically from the rest of the West Bank by erecting the Israeli “security barrier,” and thus brought Palestinian Jerusalem into a cul-de-sac. Nonetheless, over the years many Palestinians from the West Bank have moved to East Jerusalem, despite Israeli measures to prevent this internal migration. Today, there are about 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem (out of 800,000 inhabitants of Jerusalem), and their proportion has risen from 26% in 1967 to 34% in 2007.
Hillel Cohen has taken the task of narrating the Palestinian recent history in Jerusalem, mainly since 2000, within this complex and volatile reality. The book is based on a study sponsored by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, an independent, non-partisan Israeli think tank (a Hebrew version was published in 2007). The author has used a plethora of sources: official Palestinian and Israeli publications; NGO, academic, and think tank websites and reports; printed and online media; military court files (open to the public); and, above all, hundreds of conversations with Palestinian Jerusalemites of various political inclinations, using his good connections and his fluency in Arabic. Thus, he has succeeded in both the difficult task of writing contemporary, recent history (of which this work is a fine example) and writing a lucid, highly informative history of Palestinian Jerusalem.
There are few scholarly books on Palestinians in recent decades: this is the first among them to address the Jerusalemite Palestinians in particular. The book has five chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter is a historical introduction, depicting briefly the Palestinian history in Jerusalem during the period 1917–1993. The second chapter, titled “Capital in Decline,” relates to the stagnation and deterioration, from a Palestinian point of view, of Jerusalem’s affairs during the “Oslo years” (1993–2000). In chapter 3, Cohen draws a bold narrative of the “al-Aqsa” (second) Intifada period (early 2000s), including vivid descriptions of suicide attacks and their perpetrators. Chapter 4 is dedicated to political actions during the second Intifada, including the political struggle for education and identity, the activities around al-Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount), and joint Palestinian-Israeli peace initiatives. Chapter 5 examines the Palestinian elections in 2006, in which Jerusalemites took part, and analyses their results. The conclusion, written in 2010, is actually an epilogue in which Cohen tries to look into the future, and identifies four principal approaches currently prevailing among the Palestinian Jerusalemites. The first is “the Islamic approach,” whose supporters are convinced that “in the end, Islam will prevail” (p. 131). The second is “a mood of passiveness, driven partially by a feeling of inability to change the situation and recognition [End Page 749] of Israel’s power … the Palestinian identity of these people is comatose” (p. 132). The third approach has few adherents, Cohen tells us: it consists of “people who believe that it is important to actively work on finding a solution to the problem of Jerusalem, sometimes in cooperation with Israelis” (p. 132). The fourth approach, which was prevalent in the past, is “nationalism à la Fateh.” Cohen argues that the boundaries between the groups are not rigid, and that they are all fighting to preserve Palestinian Arab life and identity in the city. Cohen concludes that “The struggle between Israel and the Palestinians over East Jerusalem, al-Quds, is not over … The Palestinians in Jerusalem itself, who are in a relatively weak position, continue to work in order to strengthen the Arab identity of the city … and reinforce the Palestinian hold …The neglect of the Arab neighborhoods by...