Of the dozens of books about Jerusalem, Divided Jerusalem is one of the more authoritative and unbiased. Wasserstein accomplishes this by de-emphasizing religious claims to the city and focusing instead on its political history. Here, the author demonstrates, there are far fewer interpretations.
His account begins with what he calls the "wars of the consuls" during the long period of Ottoman rule, 1516-1917. He focuses on diplomatic intrigues between the French, Germans, English, Greeks, and Russians to attain what he calls "spiritual imperialism," or religious primacy, over a city that is holy to all of Christianity's competing sects. Jerusalem entered a new phase when the Ottomans lost control of the city in 1917 to the British, who ruled it until 1948. Those three decades saw Jews and Muslims exert to establish rights over the city; during this time, the "spiritual imperialism" from outside largely waned. In retrospect, this would have been the moment to internationalize Jerusalem, but when the British relinquished their control in 1948, it was too late. Muslims and Jews were making war plans, which included control over Jerusalem.
While Wasserstein describes the centrality of Jerusalem in the subsequent Arab-Israeli conflict, he notes that for much of the twentieth century, Palestinians did not stress "Jerusalem as a priority." After the 1964 founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Jerusalem, the movement "placed curiously little emphasis on the city." It was not until the Palestinian intifada of 1987-92 that Jerusalem became synonymous with the Palestinian cause. Today, Palestinian political leaders and terror groups iterate their intentions to form a state with "its capital in Jerusalem."
Indeed, the Oslo diplomacy crumbled in 2000 in part due to Palestinian intransigence over Jerusalem. The Israelis, for their part, will likely not budge on the issue, particularly in light of a 1980 Israeli law stating that the city, "complete and united, is the capital of Israel." Hence, as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict drags on, the well-documented account in Divided Jerusalem is likely to remain salient for years to come.