Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Challenge to the world

In 2003, former US president George W Bush insisted, on the basis of lies and fabrications, to unilaterally invade and occupy Iraq. Bush claimed he was saving the world from imminent danger because Iraq allegedly possessed weapons of mass destruction, promising milk and honey to countries of the region, starting from Baghdad.

Instead, Bush’s arrogance and disregard for the opinion of the entire world resulted in many disasters, topped with the loss of life of more than one million Iraqis, dividing up the country over sectarian lines, and the creation of several terrorist groups, such as Islamic State group, which now pose a threat to countries of the region, Europe and his own country, the United States. Needless to say, no weapons of mass destruction were found, and Bush’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq created far more victims that any WMDs would have.

US President Donald Trump is repeating the same scenario after he unilaterally decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, ignoring warnings that were clearly conveyed to him by allies and foes alike. By announcing his intention to move the US embassy to the occupied city, Trump not only sent a very racist and arrogant message to Arabs and Muslims, but also sent a message to all those who believe that force, occupation and violations of international law should never be the way to establish legitimate facts on the ground.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can state day and night like a broken record that Jerusalem is the capital of his country, supported by Trump and a group of extremist Zionist advisers who surround him. However, the reality is that since Israel came into existence in 1948, its claim over Jerusalem was never recognised by the international community, represented by the United Nations, and its key body, the Security Council.

In 1947, UNSC Resolution 181 called for the establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine, and proposed international status for Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites in the old part of the city of Jerusalem to guarantee freedom of worship to followers of all Abrahamic religions. Arab nations, which were all under either British or French occupation at that time, never accepted the division of the historic land of Palestine, or giving up sovereignty over Arab Jerusalem, with all its very significant Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites. 

For them, the Zionist newcomers from all over the world were not any different from European colonialists who illegitimately gave themselves the right to occupy their countries. Britain did not own Palestine, and Palestinians were not British subjects so that a government in London would decide where they had the right to live on their own land; and worse, to give part of their own land to people who came from all over the world.

Arabs and Muslims did not commit pogroms against the Jews in Europe or Russia, and had no armies to fight in the Second World War. In our minds, we never understood why Palestinians should be the ones to pay such a hefty price for horrific massacres that were committed against Jews in Germany and Poland.

However, Israel did come into existence in 1948, depending mainly on military might and international support coming from Europe and the United States. The situation became more complicated and inhumane for Palestinians after Israel waged another war against several Arab countries on 5 June 1967, occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Egypt’s Sinai and Syria’s Golan Heights. Again, the international community never recognised Israel’s occupation of those territories simply because that would have set a dangerous precedent by legitimising the use of force to settle international disputes. Many resolutions were issued, starting with UNSC resolutions 242 and 338, and ending with Resolution 2334 a year ago that clearly stated that the international community did not recognise any changes carried out by the occupying force to territories occupied after 4 June 1967, including East Jerusalem.

When a right-wing, extremist Israeli government decided to unilaterally annex East Jerusalem in 1980, claiming it as a “united and eternal” capital, the international community refused to recognise this decision and warned against moving any embassies from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem. Arab leaders also held a summit and decided that they would sever diplomatic ties with any country that violated international law and recognised the unilateral Israeli decree.

It was also the United States that sponsored the Middle East peace process starting the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, and later the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel, signed at the White House. The guidelines of those talks were international resolutions based on the illegitimacy of occupation of land by force, and that Israel must pull out from all territories it occupied in 1967. That was the basis of the peace agreement reached between Egypt and Israel in 1979, and all peace negotiations conducted between Tel Aviv and Arab countries, including Palestine, Jordan and Syria.

Trump and his advisers are totally mistaken if they believe that their decision would simply be met with a few protests that soon fade away, without any consideration of the fact that the situation is already very volatile in the region with so many conflicts going on and the serious threat of terrorist organisations. The damage done in terms of the credibility of the United States and its capability to mediate any agreements between Arabs and Israel is insurmountable.

Arabs, peoples and governments alike, will not be able to meet or receive any US official who will come to the region to claim that his country has a new peace plan after this extremely dangerous decision by Trump to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That was the main reason why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church immediately announced that they would not meet US Vice President Mike Pence during his scheduled trip to the region next week. 

The angry demonstrations that broke up over the past few days in Cairo, Amman, Lebanon, Baghdad, and even war-torn Yemen, asked Arab leaders to follow the example of Abbas, and not receive Pence in case he insisted to carry out his trip. The message is simple: Pence or any other senior US official is no longer welcome in the region because after the unilateral decision on Jerusalem, that is holy to many Arabs, Muslims and Christians, there is nothing to talk about.

Instead, Arabs and Muslim countries should work closely with the rest of the world, starting with Europe, China, Russia, Asia and Latin America, to pressure Washington to put an end to the irresponsible decisions taken by the US president. Trump is free to take whatever decisions he wants to save his sharply decreasing popularity in the United States due to growing suspicion over the way he won the presidential elections a year ago against his rival, Hillary Clinton. Yet, that can never happen at the expense of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and Christian rights.

And while Arab governments need to deal with reality, and no one would expect them to take collective action to sever ties with Washington, the Arab peoples have already started a campaign to boycott US products, replacing them with goods coming from Europe, China and elsewhere. Oil-rich Arab countries that have signed contracts worth hundreds of billions of dollars with the United States also need to reconsider their decisions. Other Arab governments can certainly summon their ambassadors from Washington to protest the move and should deliver clear message to the Trump administration that he is jeopardising relations with the Arab peoples, and not only governments.

Trump has ignored that Jerusalem is dear to hundreds of millions in the Arab world, and more than 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. None of his advisers also warned him enough that the most violent Palestinian uprisings have occurred following irresponsible decisions taken by the Israeli government in relation to Jerusalem and its holy sites. Hopefully, he will get to know through international solidarity with the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation that there are limits to his ignorant arrogance.

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