(CNSNews.com) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent his Mideast envoy to deliver a message on his behalf to a conference in Qatar this week whose aims include “pointing out the weaknesses of the Jew’s historical arguments backing their claims” to Jerusalem.
Co-hosted by the Qatar government and the Arab League, the two-day “International Conference for the Defense of Jerusalem” brought together politicians from across the Arab and Muslim world, representatives of pro-Palestinian organizations, clerics and academics.
Participants included Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an influential Sunni cleric regarded as the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who has drawn criticism for comments about Palestinian suicide bombings.
Ban’s Middle East envoy, Robert Serry, shared the platform with the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al-Arabi, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
The organizers’ objective was to contest the “judaization” of Jerusalem – the Islamic claim that Jews are trying to tighten their grip on Israel’s capital by highlighting what Muslims say is an invented Jewish heritage.
One of the aims of the event, according to the conference Web site, was “pointing out the weaknesses of the Jew’s historical arguments backing their claims to the holy city. Of paramount importance is the disclosure of Israel’s deeds at falsifying History and archeology by means of destruction, omission, modification and fabrication of historical and archeological facts.”
Qatar’s emir proposed to the gathering that the U.N. Security Council be asked to adopt a resolution setting up an international commission to investigate actions taken by Israel in Jerusalem “to erase its Islamic and Arabic identity.”
Ban’s message, delivered by Serry, described the conference as an “important international forum.”
Ban did acknowledge Jerusalem’s significance to “Muslims, Jews and Christians,” but reserved his criticism for Israeli actions and policies, citing settlement activity, home demolitions, forced evictions, the revocation of permanent residency, restriction of access, and the forcible transfer of Palestinian lawmakers from East Jerusalem to Ramallah.
He told Israel it was violating international law and pointed out that “the international community does not recognize Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, which remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory.”
Ban’s only direct advice to the Palestinians was that they “should remain constructively engaged. And he said that “both sides have a particular responsibility to create a conducive environment for meaningful negotiations.”
The message made no reference to a sustained Arab-Islamic campaign aimed at denying Jewish claims to the city.
Palestinian, Arab and Muslim figures have often challenged Jewish heritage in Jerusalem, with the OIC’s Ihsanoglu, for example, having called the site of the historical first and second temples “the alleged Temple Mount.”
Abbas in his speech at the Doha conference raised the issue again, accusing Israel of conducting a “war aimed to erase and remove the character of the Arab-Islamic Jerusalem” and claiming that Israel was plotting to rebuild the Temple “on the ruins of the al-Aqsa mosque.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a brief statement described Abbas’ speech as “harshly inflammatory” and the al-Aqsa claims in particular as “baseless and irresponsible.”
“The time has come for the Palestinian leadership to stop denying the past and distorting reality,” he said. “For thousands of years Jerusalem has been the eternal capital of the Jewish people. Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, will continue to be open to believers of all faiths. There is freedom of worship for all and Israel will continue to carefully maintain the holy places of all religions.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a press briefing Monday that “statements that serve to delegitimize the deep religious links that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all have to Jerusalem are not helpful. They’re not helpful to the process, not helpful from any side.”
Asked whether the administration had raised those concerns with “the parties,” Nuland said, without elaborating, that it had.
Israel claims historical links to Jerusalem going back 3,000 years, when the biblical King David made it the capital of his kingdom.
Bible vs. Qur’an
The Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, marks the location of the temple built by Solomon, David’s son, and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC; and later of the second temple, razed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Muslims conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century and two mosques were subsequently built on the site, which Muslims call Haram Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). Muslims revere one of the mosques, al-Aqsa, as the third holiest in Islam, based on the belief that Mohammed stopped there during his “night journey” – a trip from Mecca to heaven on his legendary winged steed, al-Buraq.
Jerusalem is not mentioned by name in the Qur’an, and there is no historical record of Mohammed having visited the city during his lifetime. But the Qur’an’s sura 17 says that he traveled from “the sacred mosque” in Arabia to “the farthest mosque” (al-Aqsa) en route to heaven, and Muslim scholars generally contend that that refers to Jerusalem.
The Temple Mount and surrounding Old City and eastern Jerusalem were controlled by Jordan from 1948 to 1967, when Israel captured the area during the Six Day War.
Israel’s government at the time took the decision to allow continued Islamic control over the site. The overall area falls under Israeli sovereignty, disputed by the international community.
The closest observant Jews can get to the Temple Mount most of the time is the remnant of a retaining wall on the platform’s western flank, which is often mistakenly described as Judaism’s holiest site.
Israeli governments of all political hues have declared Jerusalem to be the “eternal, indivisible” capital of the Jewish state.
The P.A., backed by the Islamic world and the United Nations, wants at least some of the city – including the area of greatest religious significance – as its future capital.
The U.S. Congress in 1995 passed a law stating that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”
But a waiver was built in and presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama all used it for consecutive six-monthly periods, citing national security interests.