West Asia

Woe to Jerusalem

Print edition : January 05, 2018

President Donald Trump holds up the proclamation recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel during an address from the White House in Washington, D.C., on December 6. Photo: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

The Al Aqsa mosque in the Old City in Jerusalem. Photo: Getty Images

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya. Photo: SAID KHATIB/AFP

A pro-Palestinian protest in Istanbul on December 8, 2017. Photo: YASIN AKGUL/AFP

Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, against international opinion, legitimises Israel’s brutal occupation of the city and dumps the two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine dispute.

In a move loaded with deceit, cynicism and contempt for Palestinians, United States President Donald Trump made good his campaign promise of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem, in the process giving de jure recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Until now the U.S. was masquerading as an honest broker in the never-ending peace talks for a “two-state” solution between Israel and the Palestine. It was the U.S. that had promised Palestinians a separate state after they were virtually coerced into signing the Oslo accord in 1993. Trump, in his provocative speech authorising the shifting of the U.S. embassy did not have the courtesy to mention the State of Palestine even once.

Trump said that recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was the “right thing to do” and criticised his predecessors in office for failing to do so. He insisted that Palestinians “must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is absolutely, truly unbreakable”. There was nothing on offer for Palestinians except a few platitudes and warnings to desist from violence. Palestinians, Trump solemnly opined, should “respond to disagreement with reasoned debate, not violence”. According to reports in the U.S. media, the Secretaries of State and Defence, Rex Tillerson and James Mattis, had warned Trump against taking such a dangerous and precipitate step.

East Jerusalem is the designated capital of the Palestinian state. It is a city where the people belonging to the three faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, coexisted peacefully until the Zionist project was imposed on the region by the colonial powers. The status of Jerusalem, along with the right of return and statehood, are the three main pillars of the Palestinian movement. These principles will never be given up. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem coincided with the centenary of the infamous Balfour Declaration (a statement by Britain in November 1917 supporting the establishment of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine), which led to the creation of the Zionist state and the uprooting of the Palestinian people from their ancestral lands. The Al Aqsa mosque, among the holiest sites for Muslims, is located in Jerusalem. Right-wing parties in Israel are demanding control of the site saying that the mosque was built on the site where the Temple Mount, one of Judaism's holiest sites, had existed.

Uproar in Arab streets

The reaction from the Palestinian and Arab streets, as expected, was an angry one. There were huge protests in faraway Indonesia and Malaysia, too. The Hamas leadership warned that Trump’s decision “had opened the doors of hell”. The Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, called on Palestinians to launch a third “intifada” (uprising) until such time the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land ended. “Trump can never change the reality of history, geography and the identity of the holy city,” he said. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) President, described Trump’s decision as “deplorable” but he is against launching another intifada. His administration has been accused of not taking a tough stand as the Israeli government appropriated or demolished Palestinian homes in Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers. Jerusalem, which had a majority Palestinian population before 1967, is now a Jewish majority city. Even so, more than 40 per cent of the population in the holy city consists of Palestinians. The P.A. had allocated less funds for the welfare of the residents of Jerusalem than it had for the rest of the West Bank.

Feeling let down by the U.S., the P.A. has announced that the U.S. Vice President, Mike Pence, was not welcome in the West Bank. He was scheduled to have a meeting with Abbas in late December during his visit to the region. The spiritual heads of al Azhar University and the Coptic Church in Egypt also declined to meet Pence. Three protesters were killed and more than 800 civilians injured in the protests by Palestinians in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip soon after Trump’s speech. The Israeli Air Force carried out attacks on Gaza allegedly in retaliation for two rockets being fired into Israel, injuring 25 Palestinians, including six children. In the Jordanian capital, Amman, angry protesters gathered near the U.S. embassy and burnt U.S. flags and pictures of Trump with the words “go to hell”. In Jakarta, more than 10,000 people rallied outside the U.S. embassy. Indonesian President Joko Widodo said Trump’s move was in violation of United Nations resolutions. Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, has refused to establish diplomatic contacts with Israel.

India’s reluctance

India, which was among the first states to recognise the State of Palestine, did not criticise the U.S. action. The External Affairs Ministry issued a mild statement: “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country.” There was no mention of India’s consistent stand that East Jerusalem was the capital of the State of Palestine or that India supports the two-state solution. It is no secret that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) are great admirers of the Zionist model, where non-Jews have been reduced to the status of second-class citizens. During his visit to Israel in July 2017, Modi made it a point to go to Jerusalem. He did not visit Ramallah, where the P.A. is headquartered. “Unlike the worldwide opposition to this move, the official spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs has scrupulously refused to criticise the U.S. decision,” the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau said in a statement.

The U.S.’ traditional allies, including Britain, were critical of the Trump administration’s decision. The U.S. was completely isolated when the United Nations Security Council discussed the issue on December 8. The U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has reiterated that there is no alternative to the two-state solution to end the impasse in West Asia. He said the two states, Israel and Palestine, had to “live side by side, in peace, security and mutual recognition—with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestine”.

The legal status of Jerusalem was defined in General Assembly Resolution 181, which was adopted in 1949, when Israel became independent. The resolution stated that Jerusalem should be administered as a separate entity. Israel had agreed to this definition at the time. It was only after the occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank after the 1967 war that the Israeli government started laying claim to the whole of Jerusalem. In 1967, Israel captured East Jerusalem and in 1980 unilaterally declared Jerusalem as the country’s capital. The U.S. government had desisted from formally recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite the U.S. Congress voting overwhelmingly in favour of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in 1995.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed a decision that forbids those born in Jerusalem from claiming that they are Israeli citizens. Only two countries, the Czech Republic and Colombia, have recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Israeli government has been stressing that recognition of Jerusalem as its capital means the recognition of the entire city as being under its administration.

Innumerable U.N. Security Council resolutions, which the U.S. have not blocked, have termed the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem as illegal. U.N. Resolution 242 of 1967 asked Israel to withdraw from all territories occupied in the war that had taken place earlier that year. Security Council Resolution 252 of 1968 specified that Israel should rescind “actions that tend to change the status of Jerusalem”, including the expropriation of land and property. Security Council Resolution 465 of 1980 had warned Israel to stop construction activities on the West Bank and Jerusalem. Such acts, the resolution warned, amounted to a “flagrant violation” of the Geneva Convention. Another U.N. resolution passed in the same year censured Israel for enacting a law changing the status of Jerusalem. The resolution stated that “it constituted a violation” of international law.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has not only trampled on international opinion and law but has helped entrench Israel’s brutal occupation. Israel has promulgated apartheid laws and indulged in ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and the occupied territories. The European Union (E.U.) foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said that the U.S.’ action “has the potential to send us backwards to even darker times” and that “what happens in Jerusalem concerns the entire region and the entire world”. She suggested that the U.S. role in the region would be considerably diminished now. Frederica Mogherini reiterated to the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was visiting Brussels in the second week of December that the E.U. remained committed to a “two-state settlement” to the Israel-Palestine dispute “with Jerusalem as the capital of both”. The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was even more forthright. He said that because of Trump’s move on Jerusalem, the U.S. could no longer play the role of a mediator in West Asia.

The move on Jerusalem by the Trump administration did not come as a surprise to Mahmoud Abbas, the P.A. President. He, along with key Arab leaders, including the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, were briefed by the U.S. on the move to recognise Jerusalem.

Trump’s Jerusalem gambit may have had the tacit approval of the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was briefed about the announcement by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The Kushner family are avid Zionists. Kushner’s father, who is a real estate magnate, has contributed funds for the building of settlements in the occupied territories. Many of Trump’s financial backers during his presidential campaign, like the casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson, are supporters of the Zionist plan to colonise Palestinian land.

The Saudis have struck up an alliance with Israel, which is no longer under wraps. Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh now consider Tehran as their main enemy. Saudi Arabia had tried to convince the Palestinian leadership to accept the U.S. decision on Jerusalem and sign up a plan that would have given Palestinians a more truncated state, without Jerusalem as the capital. The Trump administration had threatened to close the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) office in Washington, if the P.A. did not accept the “ultimate deal” to solve the Israel-Palestine dispute cooked up by Kushner, with the support of Saudi Arabia. As it is, the current P.A. leadership’s role is that of policing the Palestinian people on behalf of Israel and the U.S.

Israeli atrocities

Palestinians in Jerusalem, unlike their compatriots in Israel proper, have been reduced to the status of non-citizens. Israel treats Palestinian residents as foreigners who have been benevolently bestowed the right to reside in their city and has issued “permanent residency” cards to them. They live in constant fear of their residency being revoked by the Israeli authorities. Since 1967, Israel has revoked the citizenship rights of more than 14,000 Palestinians and built Jewish colonies in the middle of densely populated Palestinian localities in East Jerusalem. Around 200,000 Jews live in such areas today under the protection of the Israeli security services. According to the U.N., since 1967, 20, 000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed by Israel in Jerusalem.

For all practical purposes, the two-state solution for Palestine is now dead. Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for Palestinians, speaking after Trump’s announcement, said that Palestinians should now focus on fighting for their democratic rights in a “single state”. Albeit one that describes itself as a Jewish state. Erekat accused Trump and his advisers of being “more Israeli than Israel”. Hannan Ashrawi, another senior member of the PLO, said that the U.S. had made peace talks between Israel and Palestine “irrelevant and superficial” with its recognition of Jerusalem. She stressed that the Trump administration had “totally ripped apart the legal foundation for peace in the region”.

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