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Missing the point on Jerusalem

Jan 16,2018 - Last updated at Jan 16,2018

Much of the handling of the Jerusalem issue has been missing the point. The fact is that Jerusalem is an illegally occupied city. It is part of an illegally occupied country. This illegal situation has been ongoing for almost seven decades, assuming the Arab Israeli dispute started in 1948 when Israel was created.

If the United Nations had the power to enforce its own laws as manifested in dozens of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, this historic abnormality would have been resolved decades ago. 

The roots of the problem are in fact much older. They can be traced to the latest years of the 19th century with the onset of the Zionist plan for making Palestine a national home for the Jewish people.

On November 29, 1947, the Palestinians, along with the Arab League seven member states appositely rejected a United Nations compromise to divide Palestine into two states; one for the Arabs and the other for the Jews, (Resolution 181). The UN General Assembly partition plan gave the Jews 56 per cent of the land while the Arabs who were the majority ended up with 43 per cent. Jerusalem was to be placed under a special International Regime.

Since then, both the Palestinians and the Arabs have been blamed for missing a historical opportunity by rejecting the UN partition compromise.

The Jewish acceptance on the other hand, though tactical, reluctant and even described at the time as “painful” was seen as reasonable. In fact there were protests on the Jewish side as well by groups who believed that the offer was nowhere near their least territorial expectations. But the final verdict was that the offered portion of Palestine constituted a significant foothold and a fairly reasonable deal for a start.

Notably though, it is not unusual that important details of history are often overwhelmed by larger print; the headlines.

The hidden reality is that Israel never wanted to limit its territorial ambition to the land granted by the Partition plan. Until this day, Israel, which occupied Syrian and Lebanese lands in addition to all of Palestine, remains totally vague on its final borders.

The issue, therefore, is not about the actions of Israel and the Israeli forces in the Arab territories being occupied decade after decade, which is entirely illegal and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law. The essential issue is the occupation. All efforts should be focused on the occupation demanding its end by full implementation of the relevant UN resolutions.

Since 1967, much of the Arab and Palestinian emphasis has mainly been focused on the construction of illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Arab lands as well as on Israel’s measures in Jerusalem.

There is nothing wrong with that, provided it does not detract from the original and the core issue, which is the removal of the occupation.

Monitoring the continuing cruel occupation practices in Palestine; tracking abuses against the Palestinians; detecting the occupier’s changes to the character and the landscape of the land and cities; and exposing such acts to the attention of the world and the UN is a compelling duty on the part of the Arab states and the  Palestinian Authority. However, emphasising the manifestations should not help to sideline the root cause.

In the past, the Palestine Liberation Organisation continuously placed the demand for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state ahead of the liberation of the land. That tactic shifted the entire debate on the specific issue of statehood; thus distancing the concept that once the occupation was removed the Palestinians could do whatever they wanted with their land without the need for their occupier’s — Israel — consent.

Likewise, the Palestinian campaign against Israel’s relentless colonisation of their land is absolutely perfect, but such effort should serve as part of the campaign against the occupation rather than the alternative to it. By engaging in endless and sterile "peace process" negotiations, for 25 years, without defined terms of reference and certainly without any progress whatsoever, the Palestinian leadership was in actual fact providing time and a smokescreen for Israeli colonisation plans of their lands.

Just by routinely protesting the Israeli settlement construction and complaining to the American patron of the peace process as well as to the UN about it, the Palestinian efforts on this front only resulted in the vast rise of illegal settlements and settlers. In the meantime the occupation kept pushing forward and gaining ground.

For many years, the only demand by the Palestinian Authority as a condition for resuming the futile talks with the Israelis, was a freeze on settlement construction: not the removal of the existing settlements and not a commitment to negotiate on ending the occupation.

The handling of the Jerusalem issue has unfortunately followed the same pattern.

President Trump’s recognition of the Arab Palestinian city as the capital of Israel has shifted the debate oceans away from where it should remain focused. Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian city, like every other city in Palestine and like the rest of Palestine. It was partly occupied in 1948, then completely in 1967. It was declared as the united eternal capital of Israel almost 50 years ago. The US Congress recognised it as Israel’s capital since 1995, long before trump dreamt of becoming president. 

The Trump declaration however, has diverted the debate in one undue direction: should Jerusalem be the capital of Israel, or a shared capital for both the Israelis and the Palestinians?

Arab, Palestinian and Islamic reaction to the Trump move has been to place a massive emphasis, though entirely verbal, that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.

Does this imply that if Trump decides to retract his declaration, or even go as far as declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, it would put an end to the debate? Would the issue of Jerusalem be successfully resolved in the Palestinian’s favour? Obviously no way.

Should we not see the reality as it actually is? Jerusalem is an occupied city in the eyes of international law. It was occupied before the Trump declaration. It will remain occupied even if the whole world, Trump included, declares it as the capital of Palestine. That will remain the status of the city until the occupation ends.

 

All the so-called "final status issues" — settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, water and security — as invented by the Oslo Accords and the failed peace process enterprise, were meant to blur the nature of the conflict and block any final settlement. So far, the strategy of distraction is working well. 

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