Jerusalem: Co-existence not Denial

Jerusalem: Co-existence not Denial
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Jerusalem: Co-existence not Denial

Moving U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem does not support the cause of peace, but it’s not drastic. It exploits the shameful weaknesses of the Arab World leadership. Here’s a look at Jerusalem’s history

By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

Washington DC, March 26, 2018 — President Donald Trump has not advanced the cause of peace by unilaterally declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Our President is well aware that Palestinians, too, have a claim on the Holy City; to be precise, their eyes are fixed on East Jerusalem. In May, the US Administration plans to move its embassy from Tel-Aviv to the disputed “City of Peace”; our president will celebrate a historic occasion which feels like a wedding for Israelis and a funeral for the Palestinians.

As an isolated act, the sudden shift of US policy on Jerusalem is not drastic. But when viewed through a perspective of history it reflects denial of permanent Palestinian presence in the Holy City. This policy shift, having followed a series of punitive acts looks vindictive. Being an instance of a recurring pattern this shift conveys acceptance of a long record of hegemony. Trump’s move is essentially a “deal”, emerging from an election campaign promise.

In taking such a provocative decision Trump counts on a shameful weakness in Arab leadership. The ongoing visit of Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to the US illustrates well the distraction of Arab leaders from central causes, causes such as Palestine. Bin Salman’s visit is deepening his friendship with President Trump.  What lessons have Arab leaders learned from history?

Jerusalem from the Mt of Olives Hotel. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania

Jerusalem from the Mt of Olives Hotel. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania

Exposing the reader to the ancient history of Jerusalem may be taxing. Bear with me. The period of King David and his descendents in Jerusalem represents the first Jewish political era – starting around 1000 BC. The second Jewish era starts in the second century BC, ending in the later part of the first century A.D. So there are historical roots for Jewish presence in ancient Palestine.  

But there are also roots for Palestinians in the same area. Referring to the Canaanites before King David era, Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as an ancestral home. Fast forward: Arab population in Jerusalem increased with the Arab regional conquest in the seventh century after Christ. Throughout various Islamic rules Arab presence has never been interrupted.

It is hard to figure out exactly which periods of predominance (in demography, political or of geographic spread) are for Palestinians and which are for Jewish tribes. We are talking about forty centuries. However, in affirming or challenging rights of ancient tribes to modern statehood, national sentiments of both sides should not be ignored. Regardless of records of history, both Palestinians and Israelis have already built strong cases for self determination and  statehood.

Fast forward again: in the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948 Jewish forces carved out a “home state”, namely Israel, on land covering 78 % of Historic Palestine.  The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan had to administer the remaining 22 % of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea for a short period:1948 to 1967. In the 1967 (six-day) war Israel invaded the rest of Palestine. This fifty year old, second military victory has become known as the “Israeli Occupation”. Things have gotten worse: increasingly, Jewish hardliners are getting comfortable with referring to the West Bank and Jerusalem as “Judea and Samaria”, alluding to “rights” to new territory of “ancestral” land. 

As for Jerusalem, the newly formed state of Israel (in 1948) included the western side of the Holy City.  In 1967 Israel completed the occupation of the city by taking East Jerusalem together with the West Bank and the Gaza strip. In 1980 Israel unilaterally declared Jerusalem the “unified and indivisible” capital of the Jewish state.

Regardless of the age of its occupation, prosperity of tourism and diversity of places of worship, Jerusalem remains legally disputed. Several United Nations resolutions have repetitively stipulated that the dispute is to be resolved by negotiations between the protagonists.

Israel is well aware that the internationally accepted Geneva Convention forbids conquerors to annex land taken by force in war times. Shortly after the Six Day War the international community- through UN Security Council Resolutions 242- called on Israel to withdraw from Occupied Territories via a peace settlement between the Palestinians and the Arab states.

Back to Trump’s move. Obviously the Palestinians were shocked by this sudden shift of US policy on Palestine’s most sensitive issue. Palestinian Scholar Rashid Khalidy reminds us that Jerusalem is the thorniest of the five core Arab-Israeli issues of contention: Jerusalem, borders, refugees’ right of return, Israeli settlements and security. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/06/trump-jerusalem-disaster-arab-world-israel

Our president started his initiative to resolve the Arab Israeli conflict with Jerusalem, unilaterally and at the worst possible time. Trump’s action on Jerusalem reflects unconditional support to questionable Israeli practices. For Palestinians, Israel’s step-by-step acquisition of Jerusalem reflects a longer, deep rooted, pattern of territorial expansion. Critics argue that it is habitual for Israel to create “inevitable-just-war” conditions, then invade to “prevent” or “control damage”, then establish military rule on conquered territory, annex stabilized property, and, finally, legitimize land acquisition with new laws and seamless public relations.

The impact of Trump’s Jerusalem move is far-reaching. Think about it; in one step President Trump, without blinking, ignored international law and symbolically slapped 1.5 billion Muslim in the face.

What makes Trump’s declaration highly regrettable is its political context: Trump has already provoked the region in several ways. He has ordered a ban on Muslim entry, cut aid to the Palestinian Authority and to UNRWA Palestinian refugees. He has threatened closure of PLO office in Washington, promised to end the nuclear peace agreement with Iran, sold lethal massive arms to the Saudis and Emiratis and supported a devastating war in Yemen. He has backed four Arab countries to isolate Qatar, undermining the Gulf Cooperation C­ouncil. Lastly Trump has embraced Netanyahu’s leadership in building Israeli settlements on land designated for a future Palestinian state and rallied behind the prime minister’s approach of demonizing Iran. Adding insult to injury, Vice President Mike Pence rephrased Trump’s promise to the Jewish state by stating that he, as a Christian, is excited to recognize the new status of Jerusalem.

One would hope that Jerusalem would become the foundation for co-existence of Israelis and Palestinians, not the basis for one people to eliminate the other. Jerusalem, Jerusalem: what matters most is the larger context of injustice, not only policy shift.

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Ghassan Rubeiz

Ghassan Rubeiz

Blogger, writers at The Arab Daily News online
Dr. Ghassan Rubeiz is an Arab-American writer, journalist and commentator on issues of development, peace and justice. He is the former Middle East Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. Reach him at rubeizg@gmail.com.
Ghassan Rubeiz
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