Tuesday,22 August, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1347, (1 - 7 June 2017)
Tuesday,22 August, 2017
Issue 1347, (1 - 7 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Israeli plans for Jerusalem

In contravention of international law and UN Security Council resolutions, Israel is continuing with its plans to take over the whole of Jerusalem

Israeli forces enter Jerusalem, June 1967

Jerusalem has been the natural social, political and economic centre of Palestine throughout the ages. For long periods of its history, the city, stretching from Ramallah in the north to Bethlehem in the south, was the engine of the Palestinian economy. In spite of its importance to all three of the revealed religions, Israel has persisted in its systematic drive to assert its exclusive sovereignty over the whole of the city of Jerusalem since 1967, flouting international laws and UN Security Council Resolutions that classify Jerusalem as occupied territory.

After the June 1967 War, the Israeli occupation authorities began to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians have long claimed as the capital of the independent state to which they have long aspired. In spite of the fact that UN Security Council Resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016 calls for a complete and immediate halt to settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, leaders of the Israeli right in the Israeli government and Knesset have insisted that they will not halt their settlement expansion drive, especially in Jerusalem which they claim is the “eternal” and “indivisible” capital of Israel.


Israeli settlements in Jerusalem

The fact that the 1993 Oslo Accords postponed the question of Jerusalem to the “final status” negotiations gave the Israeli occupying authorities both the encouragement and the opportunity they wanted for their plans to Judaise the city. They have sustained a relentless campaign to alter its features and demographics so as to strip it of its Arab and Islamic character and to impose a de facto reality on the ground that will be difficult to overcome in any future solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

When the UN General Assembly resolved to partition Palestine in 1947, the general presumption was that Jerusalem and its vicinity (including Bethlehem) would be placed under international administration as an independent entity. However, in 1948 Israeli forces invaded Jerusalem and occupied 85 per cent of the city, now called West Jerusalem. In June 1967, Israel occupied the rest, which became known as East Jerusalem. In 1980, in flagrant violation of international law, the Israeli authorities annexed East Jerusalem and imposed their laws and jurisdiction over it.

Jerusalem is of central importance to the Israeli creed. David Ben Gurion, one of the founders of the Israeli state and its first prime minister, said that “Israel makes no sense without Jerusalem, and Jerusalem makes no sense without the Temple,” for example.


Palestinian protesters at Al-Aqsa Mosque

Since the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, Zionist propagandists have propagated the notion of the importance of the Temple on the Mount to the Jews, selectively drawing on and interpreting Old Testament and Talmudic texts as a way to prove that the original temple that Solomon built stood where they say it did.

Indeed, Zionist organisations have specifically been founded to find concrete archaeological evidence to help successive Israeli governments substantiate their claims by conducting archaeological digs at the foot of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Although such projects have so far failed to produce any incontrovertible proof, Israeli and Zionist leaders continue to insist that they have religious grounds entitling them to monopolise Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Palestinian organisations, politicians and rights advocates have maintained that since 1967 the Israeli authorities have pursued apartheid policies and practices in Jerusalem with the aim of driving out its Palestinian inhabitants and entrenching Israeli control over the city. Needless to say, these practices and policies violate UN Resolutions, international human rights law and universal humanitarian norms.

 

SETTLEMENT EXPANSION: After annexing East Jerusalem in 1980, the Israeli occupation immediately began the illegal construction of Israeli settlements inside and alongside the borders of Jerusalem. These settlements now form a ring surrounding the occupied portion of the city, totally severing it from the West Bank.

The city received another blow with the construction of the apartheid wall that Israel calls the “Separation Wall,” the true purpose of which is to cut Jerusalem off from its natural hinterland, to forestall the realisation of its role as the capital of the Palestinian people, who have been suffering under occupation for 50 years, and to connect the city’s religious sites to Israel and disconnect them from worshippers in the West Bank. The door to Jerusalem is now open only to the Palestinians of 1948, being those Palestinians who have remained inside Israel proper and have been given Israeli nationality.

One of the immediate consequences of the wall, which the Palestinians call the “annexation” and “expansionist” Wall, has been to cut off around 120,000 Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem from the city since the districts in which they live, such as Mukhayyam Shaafat, Dahiyat Al-Salam, Ras Khamis, Kafr Aqab, Samiramis, and Al-Ram, are all now situated outside the wall.

Khalil Al-Tafkaji, an expert on Jerusalem and the Israeli settlements, has said that Israel has succeeded in altering the geographical map of Occupied Jerusalem and, in tandem, has also altered the demographic map. Native Jerusalemites have been experiencing a massive demographic invasion on the part of Israeli settlers who are being housed in the heart of the Palestinian neighbourhoods of the city.

In statements on Palestinian Websites, Al-Tafkaji, in charge of cartography at the Arab Studies Association in Jerusalem, said that over the past two decades Israel has doubled the numbers of Jewish settlements in Occupied East Jerusalem and that the upsurge in settlement construction there has been part of the “Jerusalem 2020” plan which aims to expand the borders of the Israeli-controlled municipality.

According to Al-Tafkaji, Occupied East Jerusalem alone now contains more than 58,000 settler housing units housing more than 220,000 settlers, compared to some 300,000 Palestinians. He adds that in spite of the Israeli demographic wars in the city, native Jerusalemites still make up 38 per cent of the total number of inhabitants. He estimates that the budget allocated for Israeli settlement activities in Jerusalem is no less than $10 billion a year, stressing that this is a rough estimate as it covers not just the construction of the settlement units but also services such as education, healthcare, road construction and the construction of access ways to connect the settlements with other towns and areas.

The UN regards the settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as illegal. One of the Palestinian demands is that Israel withdraws from the territories it occupied in 1967 and that it dismantle all the settlements. Israel rejects the principle of withdrawal to the borders of 4 June 1967, but it has said that it is prepared to withdraw from parts of the West Bank so that it can annex the major settlement complexes in which most of the settlers live. Among these settlements are those that encircle Jerusalem, perhaps the best known of which is Ma’ale Adumim.

Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem in the period following the occupation, has said that the demographic ratio of the city should consist of no more than 28 per cent Arabs to no less than 72 per cent Jews.

Native Jerusalemites carry Israeli resident permits and are allowed to vote in Israeli municipal elections. However, under Israeli law they are not entitled to run for office in these elections. Nor do they have the right to vote in Knesset elections or to obtain an Israeli passport. The Israeli authorities can also easily strip them of their resident permits for any reason.

Palestinian sources estimate that the Israeli occupation authorities confiscated around 15,000 ID cards from native Jerusalemites between 1967 and 2015 on the grounds that they had changed their domicile, which is to say moved outside Jerusalem. This has directly harmed more than 20 per cent of the Palestinian families in Jerusalem.

 

CONFISCATION AND RESTRICTIONS: The Zionist project to Judaise Jerusalem is based on two related processes: Controlling geography and controlling demographics.            

The former is performed by confiscating Palestinian land. Israel has appropriated about a third of the area of East Jerusalem for the purposes of settlement expansion. It simultaneously works to confine and encroach on Arab neighbourhoods, demolishing or threatening to demolish thousands of Palestinian homes and prohibiting construction to meet natural population growth.

The occupation authorities allow Palestinians to build and live on only 13 per cent of the area of Occupied East Jerusalem. Building permits in this area are extremely costly and are almost impossible to obtain due to restrictions, red tape and, above all, the occupying power’s racist and discriminatory policies. These policies make it easy for the authorities to demolish the homes that Palestinians have had to build without licenses in order to accommodate the natural growth of their families.

According to a report by the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD), since 1967 Israel has destroyed more than 3,450 Palestinian homes and other buildings in East Jerusalem. Among these have been some historical and religious sites, most notably the 770-year-old Moroccan Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

In addition to this, since 1993 the Israeli authorities have prohibited Palestinians who are not residents of Jerusalem from entering the city without specially issued Israeli permits, which are very difficult to obtain. As a direct consequence, four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are denied access to their holy sites and mosques and churches in the city. They are also deprived of certain medical services that only exist in Jerusalem.

 

THE OSLO ACCORDS: The Oslo Accords signed between the PLO and Israel in 1993 deferred the question of Jerusalem, as well as the questions of the final borders, the Palestinian refugees, the settlements and security arrangements to what were termed the “final status” negotiations.

Today, 24 years after Oslo, Jerusalem is reeling beneath the processes of Judaisation and Israelisation due to Israeli settlement expansion, the confiscation of Palestinian land and property, home demolitions and the construction of the Separation Wall. An important part of these has entailed the closure of major Palestinian institutions, such as Orient House which had served as the headquarters of the PLO and had stood as a national, political and social compass for the city. Moreover, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and surrounding sanctuary area have been put in the crosshairs of plans by Jewish extremist groups to reconstruct the Temple of Solomon, which they claim stood here, on what today are ruins.

Palestinian politicians and analysts have described the effect of the Oslo Accords on the city as catastrophic. They argue that the deferral of the question of Jerusalem to the final status negotiations worked to tie the hands of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and to enable Israel to press ahead with its drive to Judaise the city with impunity.

Oslo divided the Palestinian areas occupied in 1967 into those classified as Area A (under Palestinian administrative and security control), Area B (administered by the PA but under Israeli security control) and Area C (under Israeli administrative and security control). Jerusalem was not included. The PLO negotiators agreed to this division and to postpone the resolution of the question of Jerusalem to the final negotiations with no stipulated regulations or restrictions to check on Israeli practices, an opportunity that the Israeli authorities have seized to the fullest.

Palestinian politicians and analysts say that in the post-Oslo period Jerusalem has become a city without a national authority or political centre to oversee, follow through and attempt to solve its problems and concerns. Instead, there has emerged a group of authorities connected with the PA, giving rise to such posts as “Jerusalem officers” in the PLO, the PA, the Palestinian presidency, the Office of the Prime Minister and the PA Ministry for Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was once the political, economic and cultural heart of Palestine, and this is without mentioning its unique religious importance. It was a vibrant city that teemed with life. As the Palestinians have observed first hand, Oslo has put paid to that.

Seven years after the Oslo Accords, negotiators met at the Camp David II Summit in 2000 and in Taba in 2001 for the final status talks. The negotiations failed to reach a final agreement. But they did produce the formula made famous by former US president Bill Clinton for a solution to the question of Jerusalem: “What’s Jewish goes to Israel, and what’s Arab goes to Palestine.”

Clinton had invited Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, at that time president of the PA, to the US presidential retreat at Camp David in July 2000 to reach a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The summit lasted two weeks and ended in failure. The Western press put the blame on Arafat because he rejected the US and Israeli proposals. One of these was to partition Jerusalem and annex most of the city to Israel apart from certain areas that would be placed under Palestinian sovereignty. The Al-Aqsa Mosque would be transferred to Israeli sovereignty on the grounds that it sat atop the “Temple Mount,” although Muslims would still be allowed to visit the mosque.

Arafat was adamantly opposed to the idea. The second Palestinian Uprising, the Al-Aqsa Intifada, erupted months after the collapsed talks.

 

US EMBASSY TRANSFER: As all observers of Palestinian affairs have noted, current US President Donald Trump has outstripped all his predecessors as the clearest and strongest advocate of moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

He made the transfer of the embassy one of his campaign pledges, promising to depart from the decades-old convention in the US to leave the question of the status of Jerusalem alone until the Israelis and Palestinians had reached an agreement. For years, official US policy, including that of previous US presidents who had pledged to move the embassy, was to observe the relevant legal and constitutional provisions and the international resolutions that do not recognise the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem.

Most of the members of Trump’s political team are in favour of the decision to move the embassy. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, sees Israel as “America’s most important ally in the Middle East,” and Washington’s new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is well-known for his opposition to the two-state solution, for his support for settlement construction in the West Bank, and for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

A strategic assessment of “Scenarios for Trump’s Relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem” prepared by the Beirut-based Al-Zeitouna Centre for Studies and Consulting concludes that “Arab and Islamic circumstances, the forces influencing US policy towards relocation, and Trump’s team will prompt him to take an advanced step relative to former US presidents with regard to some form of relocation.”

The paper discusses the possible scenarios regarding the actions the Trump administration might take. One it calls the “Israeli scenario,” which is to confirm the relocation but to defer implementation to some “appropriate” time later in Trump’s term. The second is the “circumvention scenario,” which could take the form of upgrading the existing US consulate in West Jerusalem to an embassy. Alternatively, the embassy could remain in Tel Aviv while the ambassador resides in Jerusalem and exercises his duties from there. The paper also adds a third possibility: “Trump could enact a double move, declaring the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem while recognising the state of Palestine to appease the Palestinians and absorb angry Arab and Palestinian reactions.”

The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot has quoted Friedman as saying, after Trump had nominated him as US ambassador to Israel, that he wanted to reside in Jerusalem even if the transfer did not take place. According to the paper, the ultra-right-wing politician owns an apartment in West Jerusalem and wants to reside there rather than in the American ambassador’s residence in Herzliya which is where all previous US ambassadors have lived.

The Al-Zeitouna Centre’s strategic assessment cites a number of factors that may work against the Trump administration’s ability to act on the pledge to move the embassy. Firstly, from the legal standpoint the US has adopted the position of the non-recognition of the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem. This is why, for example, it abstained in the vote on UN Security Council Resolution 478, approved by 14 states, which deemed the Israeli annexation a violation of international law. Secondly, many US experts and diplomats have warned that relocating the embassy would precipitate strong Arab and Islamic reactions in view of the religious value of Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, constant Israeli pressures on successive US administrations to move the embassy to Jerusalem, thereby giving tacit recognition to the illegal Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, have paid off in another law-related way. In 1995, the US Congress passed the so-called Jerusalem Embassy Act stating that the US embassy in Israel should be moved to Jerusalem on the grounds that “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city” and that it “should be recognised as the capital of the State of Israel”.

However, ever since Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 all subsequent US presidents have routinely signed memorandums every six months to defer the move on the grounds of “national security interests,” thereby enabling them to remain committed to the established policy of leaving the question of Jerusalem to the final status negotiations.

Analysts have suggested other scenarios regarding the transfer of the US embassy. One is that Washington might move the embassy to West Jerusalem, while retaining the consulate in East Jerusalem. Since 1948, the embassy in Tel Aviv has been responsible for matters related to US relations with Israel, while the consulate in Jerusalem has been responsible for relations with the Palestinians. There is no direct administrative relationship between the embassy and the consulate, though both are connected to the US state department in Washington.

Another scenario goes one further: The embassy moves to West Jerusalem while the consulate in East Jerusalem is upgraded to an embassy in recognition of the city’s status as the capital of Palestine. For the Palestinians, this is the preferred option. However, no US official has ever proposed it, and Israel is adamantly opposed to it.

In a sign that the Trump administration is backing away from the electoral pledge to move the embassy to Jerusalem, Tillerson has said that Trump is trying to determine the extent to which his pledge will affect his hopes of brokering a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In an interview with the US TV programme “Meet the Press” broadcast on the NBC network on 14 May, Tillerson said that “the president is extremely interested to know how a decision like that might affect the peace process.”

Tillerson’s remarks triggered an immediate reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose office issued a statement denying that moving the embassy would harm the peace process. “On the contrary,” the statement continued, the move “would advance [the peace process] by correcting a historic injustice and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy according to which Jerusalem isn’t the capital of Israel.”

 

JERUSALEM AND UNESCO: In spite of its persistent efforts to establish its claims to Jerusalem as its capital, Israel has encountered considerable opposition from the international community because of its flagrant violations of international law and UN Resolutions.

Perhaps the most formidable resistance in this regard has come from the UN agency UNESCO, which has repeatedly criticised Israeli actions in Jerusalem as an occupied city and against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Buraq Wall which are sacred to the Islamic faith.

On 2 May, UNESCO adopted a resolution on Occupied Palestine restating that Jerusalem is an occupied city and reaffirming all previous UNESCO resolutions on the matter. This resolution was brought to a vote at a special meeting of the organisation’s executive board convened at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and it passed by a majority of 22 votes in favour against 10 opposed, while the remaining board members either abstained or were absent.

The resolution, submitted in collaboration with Jordan and with the support of the Arab states, according to a statement by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki, predictably triggered fury in Israel. Netanyahu lashed out at UNESCO for refusing to believe the “truth” that Jerusalem is Israel’s united and eternal capital and that it will remain under its sovereignty. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called the UNESCO Resolution “biased and deceptive” in a tweet and stressed that it would not alter the fact that Jerusalem was “the historic and eternal capital of the Jewish people.”

Last year, UNESCO included 55 sites on its List of World Heritage in Danger prepared by the organisation’s World Heritage Centre which is responsible for protecting the world’s cultural heritage. Among these sites was the Old City of Jerusalem, precipitating another bout of anger and condemnation in Israel.

On 26 October 2016, UNESCO adopted another controversial decision that referred to the area around the Al-Aqsa Mosque using the Arabic terms of Al-Haram Al-Sharif and the Buraq Wall and without using the Hebrew terms “Temple Mount” and “Wailing Wall”.

UNESCO has been repeatedly driven to reproach the Israeli authorities for refusing to allow its experts access to the holy places inside Jerusalem in order to document their condition as World Heritage Sites. This was one of the motives for the resolution by the World Heritage Committee on the terminological issue, which passed by 10 votes in favour, with two opposed and eight abstentions, while one member of the 21-member committee was absent.

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