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American Presidents and Jerusalem

Ghada Hashem Talhami

Hardback
Any casual observer of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict would immediately recognize that the holy city of Jerusalem is the core issue impeding a permanent peace settlement between the two antagonists. The religious symbolism of this city and its centrality to major religious faiths has never faded and has become increasingly vital to various strands of twentieth-century religious nationalisms. The political fate of Jerusalem was inevitably mired in international political struggles of the Cold War, particularly after the United States inherited Britain’s mantle as the ultimate arbiter of regional conflicts and strategic disputes. The asymmetrical balance of military power between Israel and Jordan made superpower intervention both inevitable and unpredictable.

This study examines the policies of twentieth-century US presidents regarding the status of Jerusalem. It traces the evolution of the United States’ embroilment in the politics of Mandatory Palestine, successive wars, and regimes that vied for control over Jerusalem, and tracks the conflicting historical narratives presented by various states in the region. It also takes a detailed look at the role of the American Jewish lobby, which constantly pressured the United States to overlook Israel’s refusal to go back to the lines of June 5, 1967, or to stop creating facts on the ground in East Jerusalem. The role of the oil lobby in seeking the reversal of Israeli annexationist steps in Jerusalem is also analyzed. The failure of several American presidents to broker an Arab–Israeli peace agreement is seen here as the result of the latitude enjoyed by presidential advisers in determining the main contours of American foreign policy in this region and guarding access to the chief executive in times of crisis. Finally, the book is an illustration of the perils of downplaying the human rights abuses of junior client states in order to placate national lobby groups in the Untied States, leading to the entrenchment of the Israeli state not only over Jerusalem, but throughout the West Bank.
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Lexington Books
Pages: 234Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4985-5428-2 • Hardback • May 2017 • $95.00 • (£65.00)
978-1-4985-5429-9 • eBook • May 2017 • $94.99 • (£65.00) (coming soon)
Ghada Hashem Talhami is professor emerita at Lake Forest College.
Chapter 1: The British Mandate: Jerusalem Undivided
Chapter 2: American Zionists Take the Lead
Chapter 3: The Battle for Jerusalem: Bucking the International Consensus
Chapter 4: Planning for Expansion: Overcoming the Limitations of the First Borders
Chapter 5: War Unites Jerusalem
Chapter 6: Israeli Faits Accomplis and Jordanian Weakness
Chapter 7: Oslo: The Chimera of a Just Peace
Chapter 8: Clinton’s Quest for a Mideast Legacy
Chapter 9: Conclusion
Ghada Hashem Talhami has assiduously unveiled and documented the preeminent role of American presidents in the Zionist takeover of Jerusalem, despite their politically-pragmatic non-recognition of the city as Israel’s capital. Mining the Johnson presidential archives with laser focus on Israel’s gains from the 1967 war, she explicates the evolution of the US commitment to Israel’s aberrant political behavior, going beyond acceptance to strategic ally. She has brought to life often neglected Palestinian resistance actions to Israeli machinations. With analytical acuity, this study details the Zionist tactics used to prevent the internationalization of Jerusalem until the opportunity to gain control of all of it developed, as it did in 1967. Talhami’s book is unique in its focus on Jerusalem, though this emphasis is ably placed within the larger context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. This readable work of scholarship spotlights the critical importance of Jerusalem to any settlement to the conflict.
Elaine Hagopian, Simmons College


Continuing her well-known tradition of fine scholarship, Ghada Talhami’s American Presidents and Jerusalem provides essential reading for anyone who is concerned with the evolution of the Jerusalem issue and the broader question of Palestine, from which it cannot be separated. The recent American presidential election and the beginning of a new administration in Washington have again renewed the timeliness of the topic, demonstrating once more the ‘twisted priorities’ and ‘subordination of foreign policy issues to domestic political considerations’ that Professor Talhami writes about in the case of earlier chief executives. With its focus on the role of American presidents—from Wilson to Clinton—in shaping Jerusalem’s destiny, Professor Talhami’s well-written, objective study will interest students of American foreign policy in general and especially of presidential decision-making. This is a straightforward account by an author who avoids the kind of jargon that characterizes some studies. Her heavy reliance on primary sources, exemplified by her extensive research at the Lyndon Baines Presidential Library, adds to the book’s academic significance, and the way she brings in statements by presidents and other policymakers during crisis periods often enlivens the story.
Glenn E. Perry, Indiana State University


Of the many areas in which US government has disregarded international law and the rights of indigenous inhabitants in the formulation of its foreign policy is with regard to Jerusalem, where ideology, sentimentality, racism, and short-sighted perceptions of strategic interests proved to be of greater consequence than the legal and moral rights of the city’s people or the possibility or a peaceful resolution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Ghada Hashem Talhami does a great service in taking into account the perspectives of Palestinian Arabs and others who had lived in the city for centuries prior to the Zionist movement and the establishment of the state of Israel. Emphasizing the role of presidential advisers and domestic political pressure on presidents unfamiliar with the complexities of the issue or the dangerous ramifications of the policies they promoted, Professor Talhami provides an important contribution to the study of the failure of the United States to be an honest broker.
Stephen Zunes, University of San Francisco


Ghada Hashem Talhami has given us a deeply-informed, ambitiously-conceived, richly-researched, and forcefully-argued study of the international history of Jerusalem over the last century. She shows that Zionist and Israeli actors worked tirelessly to extinguish Palestinian Arab claims and connections to the city, and that successive US presidents—with varying degrees of awareness and approval—repeatedly acquiesced in these erasures. Readers of all persuasions, especially those inclined to question Talhami's conclusions, should attend to this important book and consider its implications.
Salim Yaqub, University of California, Santa Barbara


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