Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1330, (2 - 8 February 2017)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1330, (2 - 8 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A threat to the international system

Moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be an attack on the international system and could spark a Palestinian uprising that would reverberate around the world

Donald Trump has now taken charge of the US presidency. He is threatening to radically change the rules of the game, not only in the Middle East, but also around the world.

Anticipating the policy that he will adopt towards the Palestinian issue, be it positive or negative, is important in order to ready a response.
Trump is unpredictable, and his stance on issues is often unclear. He is neither traditional nor ideological, and he has no previous political experience.

During his election campaign, he exhibited warm sympathy towards Israel. There was one exception to this when during his bid to win the Republican Party nomination he announced that he would adopt a “neutral position” between the Palestinians and the Israelis and that he would seek a fair agreement amenable to all.

As a result, he was subjected to a fierce campaign by Israel and by its friends and allies in the US. Since then, he has taken the reverse approach, adopting extremely pro-Israeli rhetoric. Trump has repeatedly promised to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and said that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were not an obstacle to peace and that negotiations between the two sides should proceed without any outside intervention.

Furthermore, he has said that the Palestinians should fight terrorism before a peace deal can be discussed. Trump also opposed the recent UN Security Council Resolution on the settlements and tried to intervene to push the former Obama administration into vetoing the resolution. It refused.

Trump has appointed a team whose members are almost all known for their open bias towards Israel; two of them are Zionists, including his own son-in-law Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, who Trump aims to use in peace efforts with Israel. Indeed, on the eve of his inauguration, Trump told Kushner that “if you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.”

Trump has also nominated his friend David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel. Friedman is a strong supporter of the settlements, to the extent that he donates annually to them and plays a direct role in their expansion. Friedman also strongly supports moving the US embassy and has decided to live in his Jerusalem residence when he arrives in Israel.

Relocating the embassy would constitute a change in the rules of the game and in the foundations that have anchored the so-called peace process since its launch decades ago.

Attempts are underway to try and bypass the gravity of what this could mean, such as proposing that the embassy move to West Jerusalem, claiming that this would be Israel’s capital in any final settlement meeting with Palestinian approval.

But this claim is refuted by the argument that Jerusalem is “already united” and has been declared the united and eternal capital of Israel.

Another suggested means of deception would see the embassy remain in Tel Aviv, while the US ambassador carries out his duties from one of the three American consulates in Jerusalem. This would be an act of subterfuge, since the location where the ambassador works is what symbolises the embassy, rather than the building itself.

Moving the embassy would amount to a blatant attack on national Palestinian rights and on the rights of Muslims and Christians alike, considering the tremendous spiritual significance of Jerusalem to both faiths. It would destroy the international convention regarding Jerusalem, namely UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which was passed in 1947 and asserts the status of Jerusalem as a separate entity.

It would undermine the Jordanian Hashemite mandate over the holy shrines in Jerusalem as stated in Article Nine of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty of 1994. It would constitute a serious violation of international law and a deviation from the fixed policies of the US since the conflict erupted.

It would be a violation of the authority of the UN Security Council, which has passed six resolutions on Israel regarding Jerusalem. It would be a violation against the advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in 2004 regarding Jerusalem.

It would be a violation against the many UN Resolutions that have been issued, the most recent of which was Resolution 2334 in December 2016.

It would mean the renunciation of international agreements, including the Oslo Accords of 1993 as well as previous obligations to which the US is a party.

If the US moves its embassy, it will no longer be able to play the role of a broker or mediator in the peace process negotiations. Such a development should be regarded in the light of what might follow.

For example, US aid to the Palestinian Authority might be suspended and attempts might be made to change or amend previously adopted UN Resolutions supporting Palestinian rights. Moving the embassy could well lead to the eruption of a popular uprising in Palestine, which would reverberate around the world and generate global sympathy and support for the Palestinians.

The visit by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 2000 resulted in the Second Palestinian Intifada, an uprising that lasted more than four years, leaving behind many deaths and much destruction and suffering. Moving the embassy would not pass without sparking similar, or even worse, repercussions.

The continuous encroachments of the Israeli occupation and the rise of Israeli extremism, amid the widening gap between the Palestinian people and their leadership, would pave the way, once more, for a strategy of resistance. This could also lead to the emergence of groups similar to Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS).

The challenges and dangers on the horizon, as exemplified by the embassy move, would undoubtedly prompt a significant Arab, Islamic and international response. There is already a global front against Trump’s policies, which are seen as representing a coup and a revolt against the rules that govern the international system. There is a need to progress with the current rules, rather than regress.

Moving the embassy would not pass peacefully, especially since it would be unlikely to be an isolated step taken by the new US administration. Israel will endeavour to exploit the Trump presidency in the US to implement its plan for establishing a “Greater Israel” by annexing vast areas of land on which the settlements are built, the whole of Area C under the Oslo Accords, and perhaps even the entire West Bank.

This would leave what remains in partitioned islets, separated from one another within the framework of “autonomy” under Israel’s hegemony. Relocating the US embassy is not just an attack on the Palestinian people. It is an attack on the entire international system.


The writer is director-general of Masarat, the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies.

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