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Michael Jansen: US policy on Arab-Israeli conflict
December 04, 2017
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Next week the Trump administration is expected to proclaim a change in policy on the status of Jerusalem that could torpedo the peace process, the so-called “two-state solution” involving the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel, and any US role in mediating an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

During the presidential election campaign Donald Trump pledged to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would amount to US recognition of the thrice Holy city as Israel’s capital. This would overturn the 70-year old status quo which has prevented a confrontation over the city between Zionist Jews and Muslims who reject Israel’s 1967 conquest and illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, which had been ruled by Jordan between 1948-67 and Britain from 1918 to 1948.

The US embassy in Israel and 85 other missions are located in Tel Aviv for two serious reasons. First, under the November 1947 plan for the partition of Palestine between Jewish and Palestinian Arab states, Jerusalem was to be a corpus separatum (separate entity administered by an international body. This meant no embassies could not be located in Jerusalem. Under the 1993, Oslo Accord the fate of Jerusalem was meant to be decided in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. This has not happened because Israel has refused to cede the territories occupied in 1967 and permit the emergence of a Palestinian state.

Previous US presidents have avoided making the highly controversial decision to violate both the UN plan and the Oslo Accord by waiving on a six monthly basis 1995 Congressional legislation calling for the transfer of the embassy and allocating funds to achieve this end. Trump had said he would not move the embassy until he has made “a shot” at securing a peace agreement. Instead, the Israeli liberal daily Haaretz reported he could decide to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and but delay the embassy move.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not personally make any pronouncement on the issue of US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or the transfer of the US embassy. His spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaina reminded Washington the only just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute involved the emergence of an independent #Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. He stated, “East Jerusalem, with its Holy places, is the beginning and end of any solution and any project that saves the region from destruction.” While the second part of his statement was over dramatic, he was absolutely right when he said there can be no settlement between Palestinians and Israelis without a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. This means the Old City and its suburbs, not some village on the periphery of the city which Israel might designate as “East Jerusalem” while retaining the Old City and other Palestinian Arab neighbourhoods.

Trump’s submission to the Israeli diktat over Jerusalem would seriously weaken the already precarious position of Abbas, sponsor of the failed Oslo peace process, who abandoned the Palestinian armed struggle in favour of negotiations. The failure to prevent Trump from capitulating could prompt Palestinians to demand the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority established as an interim body under the Oslo Accord to administer Palestinian urban areas in the West Bank between 1993-99 while Israel was meant to pull out of the countryside to make way for the Palestinian state.

Jordan’s King Abdullah and other world leaders have urged the Trump administration to maintain the status quo and press Israel to resume talks with the Palestinians on the basis of the two-state solution. As guardian of Muslim shrines in Jerusalem, Jordan — with more than half its citizens of Palestinian origin — would be in a very difficult situation if Trump moves to change the status of Jerusalem.

Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel was concluded in 1994 in the expectation that the Palestinian—Israeli dispute would be resolved by the Oslo peace process. Egypt, the only other Arab country to have made peace with Israel would also find itself in a bind.

Egypt was ostracised and punished for signing that treaty in 1979 and the vast majority of Egyptians still vehemently oppose any connection with Israel, rendering the deal a “cold peace.”

As the world’s leading state and “Guardian of the Two Holy Shrines” of Makkah and Madinah, Saudi Arabia would be obliged to protest vigorously or suffer loss of face if, regional rival, Iran led the chorus of condemnation. Trump’s cozy relationship with the kingdom could be compromised.

Other Arab and Muslim countries would be bound to protest as the world’s more than one billion Muslims regard Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam and reject Israeli control over the Haram Al Sharif and other sacred sites. Messianic Israelis want to destroy the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque in order to build a new temple on the site they claim was the location of a Jewish temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD during a Jewish revolt.

After 1948, Israel made contingency plans for the seizure of East Jerusalem from Jordan, and since 1967, Israel has done its utmost to build an overwhelming Jewish presence in the occupied eastern quarters of the city. The Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, reports occupied East Jerusalem is now home to 370,000 Palestinians and 280,000 Israelis. They have been settled there “in order to ensure a Jewish majority in (this sector of) Jerusalem,” despite the prohibition against the transfer by an occupying power of its citizens into occupied territory under international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. For half a century Israel has got away with colonising both East Jerusalem and the West Bank, an activity which, until Trump took office, was regarded by the US as harmful and an “obstacle” to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.


The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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