- American Presidents and Jerusalem by Ghada Hashem Talhami
Lake Forest College professor emerita Ghada Hashem Talhami contributes to the burgeoning field of Jerusalem studies in her latest book, American Presidents and Jerusalem, which explores the policies and diplomatic interventions of various United States presidential administrations regarding Jerusalem's status. Mining official publications, including the Foreign Relations of the United States series and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library archives in Austin, Texas, Talhami offers a detailed description of how the US executive branch, initially supportive of "international" solutions for the city, gradually came to favor the position that Jerusalem should remain a unified city under Israeli sovereignty. The central argument is that pressure brought to bear by pro-Israel lobbyists, "manipulation by Jewish voters" (p. 44), and the latitude enjoyed by pro-Israel presidential advisors all worked to steer American presidents in a direction inimical to both conflict resolution and US national interests.
The best parts of the book are where Talhami relates the disagreements between American officials over how to interpret developments in the city and how these differing accounts were transferred up through bureaucratic channels, privileging certain voices along the way.
For example, in Chapter 5, Talhami shows that, in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, officials at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv provided "filtered accounts" (p. 110) at odds with those produced by Evan M. Wilson, the more "competent monitor of events on the ground" serving as consul-general at the American consulate in East Jerusalem. According to Talhami, US ambassador Walworth Barbour's "Israel-friendly analysis" (p. 125), which focused on how Israel was creating a more superior administration of the city, was repeatedly contradicted by Wilson's investigative reports of "Israel's excesses in the Old City" (p. 125) and his detailed accounts of how Israel was tightening its control over east Jerusalem. Yet, the Johnson Administration failed to utilize this "unmatched trove of information" in order to pressure its "errant ally" (p. 125).
Despite these insights, American Presidents and Jerusalem provides an uneven analysis of the city's fraught politics and the ways they have stymied Israeli-Palestinian peace. Specifically, the book works to support a narrative of an exclusive Palestinian victimization, highlighting Israel's alleged misdeeds, "intransigence and nationalist zealotry" (p. 134) and "atrocities" while exonerating Arab policy-makers from any wrongdoing. For example, the blatant antiSemitism of Jerusalem grand mufti Hajj Amin al-Husayni is whitewashed (pp. 10, 23, 32), including his role in fomenting horrific anti-Jewish pogroms, collaborating with [End Page 170] Nazi Germany, and destroying the prospects for Jewish-Arab peaceful coexistence.
Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan's actions in the aftermath of the 1967 war are depicted as harmful to peace, even though it was Dayan who immediately relinquished day-to-day management of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to the Islamic waqf (much to its surprise). Talhami also condemns longtime mayor Teddy Kollek (pp. 142–43) while leaving his "mosaic policy" unexplored. Envisioning a Jerusalem with self-segregated and coexisting ethnic and religious communities, Kollek's policy has long been recognized as a commendable effort to diffuse tensions, especially when compared to the more chauvinistic policies that subsequent mayors adopted.1
Talhami devotes considerable space to Israel's "ethnic cleansing" of Arabs from the Jewish Quarter and its decision to demolish the Moroccan Quarter in June 1967 in order to make room for a plaza that could accommodate Jewish worshippers to the Western Wall (pp. 104–8). But she barely mentions Jordan's earlier wholesale destruction of the Jewish Quarter (p. 52), something which surely impacted Israel's policies for the city years later. At one point Telhami even preposterously suggests that Jordan's wanton disregard of its obligations under the 1949 armistice agreement was fabricated by Israel as part of its "propaganda war" (p. 114).2
American Presidents and Jerusalem would have been stronger had Talhami refrained from overusing the work of virulently anti-Israel scholars (such as historian Avi Shlaim, whose books she repeatedly cites) and instead incorporated a more...