Redd: What About Jerusalem?

Adrienne Redd writes in a guest column for Informed Comment

After remaining silent for the first month of the semester, a student in my seminar entitled “Understanding Global News” spoke up after I presented historical context pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He first acknowledged to the rest of the class that he is of Palestinian ancestry and then asked (regarding my optimism about peace in the Middle East) “What about Jerusalem? How can it be partitioned?”

What about Jerusalem? If frantic efforts on the part of the U.S. and the other three representatives in the quartet the European Union, United Nations, and the Russian Federation) persuade the Palestinians to remain at the negotiating table, Jerusalem is the next crucial hurdle to a peace accord. The city is arguably the plot of territory most ancestrally precious to the three Abrahamic religious groups—perhaps a billion Muslims, more than two billion Christians, and 13 million Jews.

In my new book, Fallen Walls and Fallen Towers: The Fate of the Nation in a Global World, I argue that that in order to successfully navigate international disputes, the conception of the nation-state must move beyond the 350-year old Westphalian principle of sovereignty. As a relatively recent political concept, its genesis lies in the principle of (religious) non-interference that ended the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648. Later, the word “sovereignty” came (problematically) to mean overreaching control of national interests and even pre-emptive self-defense. However, both the expansion and hardening of “sovereignty” have gotten the world into trouble.

The tired analogy of clearly defined lines between the “artificial” persons (political states in an international community) that Hobbes first described and that were codified in the Peace of Westphalia will not work in a globalized world. In the real world, that we occupy, torrents of information, money, goods and people stream through formerly watertight nation-state boundaries. Nation-state can’t and should not try to remain sealed behind impermeable seals. Clearly, the worst-off nation-states of the world are today the most “sovereign”: North Korea, Myanmar, etc. What nation-states should strive for is the sweet spot between isolation and almost total loss of control, as in Somalia.

As much as I adore my philosophy professor who said, “Your rights stop where my nose begins,” metaphorical “skins” and “noses” are no longer the images we should use to think of nations-states and that primal of all nation-state properties, sovereignty. Layers of political “clothing” (cooperative authorities) are more like it.

To probe this need for evolution of sovereignty, I pored through over 500 opinion-editorial texts in three newspapers: The New York Times, the Times of India and the Daily Gleaner (of Jamaica) that had been written over 62 years. I examined texts written immediately after the end of the Cold War, and finally I chased my own hunches in ideas intimated by sixteen scholars, politicians and pundits. Not necessarily expressing their ideas in concert, they all suggest that historical conceptions of the nation-state needed to evolve so it can survive globalization.

I too believe that the world must undertake a conversion to a form of sovereignty that entails reciprocity, transparency and mutual recognition—consistent with the mutuality that British diplomat, Robert Cooper describes in his 2003 book, The Breaking of Nations.

Forget the label of “new liberal imperialism” that other thinkers have slapped on Cooper (as well as on Michael Ignatieff, and Thomas P.M. Barnett, two more of the public intellectuals whose work I examine). The power of the idea of “shared” or mutual sovereignty is both that it has historical precedents and thinkers from diverse points on the ideological spectrum have begun to explore this idea. George Shultz, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Fareed Zakaria, and Kofi Annan have all been groping toward or hinting at such refinements of our outdated ideas about what political institutions should do. One could argue that shared sovereignty is precisely what the United States has worked from since 1941, but that this trend was dangerously reversed after September 11, 2001, as discussed by Brzezinski and Ignatieff and others.

Cooper touts polities that have matured from advancing narrow self-interest to a foreign policy of reciprocal strength and protection of one’s neighbors. This is crucial to what must happen between Palestine and Israel and within Israel in this precious, ancient city.

It is entirely possible for Muslims, Christians, and Jews to share jurisdiction over—for example—which authority keeps the street lights working, who repairs potholes, and who has access to the Muslim Noble Sanctuary, venerable Christian churches, and the Wailing Wall and Jewish Temple Mount. Responsibility, control and funding are now shared around the world among local school districts that receive money federal taxes and adhere to their standards while setting their own, or between inspection at several levels of governance for safety standards. Such cooperations are negotiated elsewhere and can be negotiated for Jerusalem.

There is even precedent for shared sovereignty in international law; it is know as “condominium.” Though it has struggled of late, the Brčko district of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is one such example of a locality shared between multiple international bodies. Native American nations share “sovereignty” with federal government of the United States. (The status of “sovereign” Native American nations is related to the Medieval arrangement of “suzerainty,” though no one calls it that). When Rome transitioned from truly being an empire, Vatican City was pared down to be a partially “sovereign” entity that cooperating Italy in some ways but also holding a seat in the United Nations Organization. There are also several much older historical precedents, such as cooperation between the Hittite Empire and Egypt dating to the 13th century B.C.

Is this a solution that could work for Jerusalem in the creation of a nation-state of Palestine—without a Berlin Wall-like partitioning? Yes it is. The separation barrier isolating the annexed territory of East Jerusalem is precisely the wrong structure and the wrong idea. An overlay of tasks, funding, control and populations is already what is happening among political authorities around the world. Opinion-makers, statesmen and thinkers must examine shared sovereignty, study it where it is already happening, negotiate who does what, and imagine the solution into existence.

Adrienne Redd is an adjunct professor of sociology and communications at Arcadia University in suburban Philadelphia. She holds a Ph.D. in human and organizational systems and masters degrees in sociology and human and organizational systems. She has developed and taught seminars and courses that include: “The Individual versus the Public Good,” “Understanding Global News,” “Contemporary Social Problems,” and “The Sociology of Whiteness.” She is the author of
Fallen Walls and Fallen Towers: The Fate of the Nation in a Global World.

(See the book’s web site, as well as this recent essay.

19 Responses

  1. Last time I looked, there were not “tens of millions” of Jews, only 13 million. 6 million were annihilated in the Holocaust because they had no state of their own.

    • It’s quite a streach to say that the Nazi’s massacred Jews because they had no country. Actually it’s more than a stretch, it’s simplistic, self serving ( if you’re a Zionist) misleading and probably a lot of other things to boot. Lot’s of groups lack a country of their own and are still surviving. I am very happy that this Zionist use of the holocaust to promote their agenda is beginning to be seen for what it really is, disgusting. If zionists really believe the holocaust was such a horrible thing, why do they copy so many of it’s strategies in Palestine?

      • Dear Yusuf,

        In reply to your question about why the policies of Israel now appear to mirror what the Nazis perpetrated, I belief that Israel still operates out of the fear and horror of 65 years ago. This is not justify putting Palestinians in a nation-sized armed compound. Roger Cohen discussed this foreign-policy-crafted-from-fear in an editorial of April 2009. link to My pointing the depth of dread in the Israel psyche (what people now glibly refer to as an existential threat to Jewish state) is not meant to justify the misguided belief that Israel must buffer and wall itself off from all threats, merely to explain the terrible root of that fear. Only through inclusion and shared sovereignty can the threat – the time bomb of the Israeli-Palestinian standoff be address. And Fareed Zakaria intelligently talked about this in a piece for Newsweek: How to Stop The Contagion; This is battle, not an academic seminar. August 1, 2005.

    • There are various sources of statistics about how many people into any given ethno-religious group. Depends on whether you emphasized the “ethno” or the “religious” part, for one thing. Also depending on whether you use cultural identity or religious practice. There are enough gusts up to an estimate of 20 million that I felt I could say that for rhetorical purposes.

  2. As the great powers began to imagine the new world that would be created by the end of World War I, there was considerable consensus that Jerusalem should be an international city. The United Nations, in is post WWII partition envisioned it as an international city. A weakened Catholic Church may still hold to that position, although it has been silent on it. The issue of sovereignty in the face of globalization needs to be discussed, because there is a greater interconnection between people but there still is the issue of governance and control of our lives. Sovereignty as we think of it today cannot be abandoned where there is no realistic option to replace it. Borders are important and whatever the rules of a new world, they must be taken into account.

    • Dear Herman, I don’t deny that boundaries and territory are still crucially important to people, both in terms of international function and identity that connects with land and lines around land. I would like to expand the essay based on comments such as yours. Will you email me directly at if you would like to participate in that process?

  3. Juan Cole: KPFA Berkeley radio has had a wonderful series of interviews and speeches by Robert Fisk over the past 2 weeks.

    One of the most recent is Fisk’s speech on how modern journalism uses cliched phrasing to hid the truth of what goes on in the Middle East, to falsely situate the ‘peace negotiations’, to avoid discussions of the points of view of those facing horrors from within the Middle East.

    An with Fisk while he is in Ireland is available from the September 12th show for listening or downloading here on the program “Sunday Show” is here:

    link to

    And a speech by Fisk in Santa Cruz is available on the September 26th show at:

    link to

    The interview and speech are, as always from Fisk, insightful, de-propagandizing, and bitterly amusing at the same time.

  4. Interesting that this post coincides with a BBC flash about an Indian court’s decision on the division of a site holy to Hindus and Muslims. link to

    Jerusalem is holy to the “Big Three” monotheistic religions. Although the vast majority of practitioners believe in peace, each in its time has wreaked havoc (to put it mildly) upon “nonbelievers.” Moreover, the Middle East will continue to be a cauldron for dispute. It would be difficult to implement shared sovereignty in these religious and political contexts.

    A better solution would be along the lines of an “open city” administered by someone with no military or even temporal power whatsoever, who also has no “skin in the game.” Like the Dalai Lama. Within the city there could be limited “territory” for both the Israeli and Palentinian states (much like embassies are deemed territory of the occupant nations).

    Of course, when one can’t open a muslim center a few blocks from the fallen towers without provoking an international furor, it’s hard to believe that anything reasonable can be done about Jerusalem.

  5. “Human rights organizations and the United Nations criticize the ongoing demolitions of Palestinian homes as violating international law, and contend that Israeli governments actually use demolitions to collectively punish Palestinians and to seize property for the expansion of Israeli settlements.” (Quote from an internet article.)
    Israel treats the Palestinians as being less than human, yet we (the U.S.) continues to pour billions of U.S. dollars to them every year. My opinion is that we should cease all aid until the Israelis become more civilized.

  6. Amen! The ethnic-based nation state that we’ve inherited is a knuckleheaded basis for social and political organization. Obviously there’s a need for multi-jurisdictional compromise a la Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    If Jews should have a nation state, why shouldn’t Palestinians and all other ethnic or religious group? Should Palestinians join the other uncompensated dispossessions and genocides — Armenian, Kurd, Aztec, Herero, and countless others? Should those other groups just get over it?

    Twentieth Century European Jews are arguably history’s most tragic victims, but today Israel ranks among the worst of the world’s bad guys. Nice going! Morality aside, it’s a public relations and long-term strategic blunder.

  7. The essay is excellent, this Israeli government however would not even imagine such an approach.

  8. Prof Redd is looking at the right issue, which lets us get away from the often futile exasperation we feel with the latest news. But, it does become a philosophical issue of evolution that is hard to imagine being managed directly in any planned sense.

    In the real world, on one hand you have the evolution possible through a herky-jerky 2 step forwards/1 step back process, driven by enlighted self-interest and memes. On the other hand, you may have a deep seated pathology that (paradoxically when you think about it), serves to enpower a given country or group of people, at least in the short run. This is a tough force to rollback, even temporarily. My read is that the essential model of colonialism, from the earlier Persians, to the Romans, to the British, and now to the Americans, has varied only in style and sophistication. It is rooted in economics, avarice, and not a little bit of racism. At bottom, what individual is not drawn at some level to want to improve his lot (or that of his family, or some larger group), at the expense of others? The notion of a non-zero sum world only works when there is some third party/danger to collaborate against. When it gets down to it, even in the face of knowing better, people are remarkably creative when it come to enriching themselves at the expense of others.

    Education, through formal argument, meetings, classes, essays, etc, may infect (in a positive sense) the evolution of behavior, morality, and the sort of vision the Prof is alluding to, but overall progress can only comes as society itself matures, and it is an awfully slow and painful evolution that can as easily go in a backward direction.

  9. You might also take a look at Shanghai between the World Wars & the shared sovereignty of China, the International Settlement, & the French Concession.
    Not always pretty, but it worked.

    Tom Collier

  10. Suzerainity (not sovereignty) was also the legal status of Tibet under China. China recognizing this would go a long way to eliminating a lot of trouble.

    Oh, it’s also basically the status of a number of islands with respect to various ex-colonial powers.

  11. The world doesn’t need weaker sovereignties.

    North Korea and Iran are examples of countries whose sovereignty is under threat.

    The Iraq and Afghan wars are what happen when a country’s sovereignty is extinguished.

    Palestine needs strong sovereignty. Lebanon needs strong sovereignty. They need governments with adequate force to resist and deter attack and encroachment.

    Sovereingty is not obsolete. Rather, some very rich and powerful Western countries want the poorer and weaker countries to submit to an integration under the dominance of those rich and powerful countries.

    Even rich countries like mine, Canada, need stronger sovereignty. Unfortunately the Quislings among our investor class have sold out their fellow citizens in order to get a little piece of the global capitalist adventure.

  12. Redd’s argument is less than naive or childish. It is totally blind to the realities of people. People want jurisdiction over Jerusalem because they want it to be theirs, not just because they want to fix the potholes in it. Recommending split jurisdiction as an acceptable agreement because it can physically work is like recommending that two women share the same man because he can physically switch apartments every night. Just because it is physically possible does not mean that any one in their right mind would accept it.

    As a Jerusalem resident I can tell you that the first thing people want to do is exactly what caused the problem in India: tear down the other’s, and build theirs. Potholes. Really.

    • I believe your analogy is flawed.

      Although no doubt your argument that both sides want to possess the city is accurate, it is solipsistic to argue that no one in their right mind would accept some form of agreement to share the city.

      It seems that the refusal to share the land, or even to live peaceably alongside their chosen neighbours is doing much to destroy the very thing that Israelis obstensibly desire. How long does a Jewish State remain Jewish, when its inhabitants ignore the values that (rhetorically) make them Jews?

      Back to your analogy, in many times and in many cultures polygamy has not only been accepted as the norm, it has also been a perfectly rational practice in context to the circumstances of those societies. Even if it is anathema to our own contemporary cultural circumstances.

      Likewise, in many times and many places, differing cultures and ethnic groups have effectively shared the same living spaces. If not in harmony, than at least without recourse to ethnic cleansing and the blatant oppression of minority inhabitants.

  13. A sad further thought about this fine essay. Since the Israeli government truly mocks such ideas, the ideas cover the mockery of the Israeli government. Watch how Israel is brutalizing the so-called Peace Process while America pretends to not understand. This Israeli government which is supported fully be most Israelis is hellish to Palestinians, and America or the Obama Presidency seem to care nothing at all about that.

  14. We damn well shouldn’t destroy secular nationalism if we don’t want theocracy to come roaring back as its replacement. Say what you want about the Treaty of Westphalia, but the seemingly invincible absolute kings it appeared to create were giving way to parliaments and republics in the next century. Reason? A secular state must justify its existence on practical realities, including the power of ethnic solidarity as a tool for building a better society. If people give up on that idea, it’s back to religion, which never has to justify anything with facts or data. And that is a catastrophe in a world of fundamentalist monotheism, whose logic is that all problems can only be solved by the elimination of all other religions.

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