A long time ago, I wrote for Slate about the political fight over Jerusalem, and explained that:
Jerusalem is the main reason we hear Olmert and Abbas talking about an agreement of principles rather than an agreement. This is the question on which no weak leader - and both are weak politically - can compromise. Olmert is under constant threat that Shas, the right-wing religious party, will leave the ruling coalition if Jerusalem is so much as discussed in the peace negotiations. Abbas, like every Arab leader, is under the more severe threat that he will become a target of violence by Muslim radicals if he decides to make compromises and accept an offer similar to the one Arafat rejected.
But Jerusalem becomes even more complicated when the Palestinian leadership repeatedly refuses to acknowledge that the city has not only a Jewish present – but also a Jewish past. This was the topic of an article I wrote for the IHT-NYT earlier this week – in which I referred to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ UN speech:
The speech was a disappointment. It was angry and full of frustration. (Abbas has once again been threatening to quit - though this might be a gambit to force other Palestinian leaders into begging him to stay and then give him more leeway.) As for Jerusalem, Abbas supposedly made good on his pledge to show more sensitivity to Jewish history by saying that the “land of peace” was “the birthplace of Jesus (peace be upon him), and ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the final resting place of Abraham (peace be upon him) - the land of the three monotheistic religions.”
This would seem to be a subtle acknowledgment that Judaism, being one of the three monotheistic religions, has some vague connection to the land of Israel. But that’s a bit too subtle for most Jews. Note Abbas’s shrewd choice of characters: Jesus is, no doubt, the ultimate Christian icon, and Muhammad is the Muslim prophet. But Abraham, as the father of all three monotheistic religions, is a much safer pick than Moses, Jacob or King David. What’s more, according to tradition, Abraham was buried in Hebron, a city in the West Bank that Palestinians claim in its entirety. (At least some of them are willing to split Jerusalem with Israelis.)
This part of Abbas’s speech was not about being sensitive to Jewish claims. It was a rhetorical trick.
Read it in full here.