Jerusalem: Trump’s politico-legal gambit


Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

THE Trump Administration’s conjectured plot or an ill indoctrinated move to shift the US’ embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem, a reflection on Washington’s political acceptance of Israel’s illegal jurisdiction over Jerusalem, could spur violence, turmoil and instability in an already eroded Middle Eastern region while public remonstrance / diplomatic backlash is also expected in the Muslim world. The Trump-Netanyahu arrière-pensée behind this Machiavellian deal orchestrated prior to the final peace settlement between Israelis and the Palestinians underpins nothing but usurpation of the Palestinian legitimate right over Jerusalem, a right accepted by the international community as well as acknowledged by the international political actors. The UN General Assembly (GA) on last Thursday, with a majority vote of 151 member states, passed a resolution thereof nullifying Israeli jurisdiction over Jerusalem.
In October 1995, the US Congress adopted S.1322 – the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act – which noted that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and recalled several past Congressional resolutions that called for the city to remain united. The Act states that Jerusalem that should remain a united city, should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel and that the U.S. Embassy should be moved there from Tel Aviv no later than May 31, 1999. Every six months, however, Presidents can sign a waiver to this Act on national security grounds. Until recently, the US position has been divided between the ‘historically pro-Israel US Congress and the equally pro-Israel but seemingly more pragmatic White House’. And yet allowing the waiver to expire represents America’s devious policy shift from past Democratic and Republican administrations: Every single US President, whether Republican or Democrat, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, has refused to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
News outlets including the New York Times and CNN reported that Arab leaders, including King Abdullah-II of Jordan, cautioned against moving the Embassy. Jerusalem is a disputed territory between Israelis and Palestinians. If the United States moves its Embassy to Jerusalem, that would be viewed as endorsing Israel’s view and would anger Arab leaders. Jeddah- based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) issued a warning that recognizing Jerusalem or establishing any diplomatic mission in the disputed city would be seen as a “blatant attack on the Arab and Islamic nations”. “This can go as far as severing Turkey’s ties with Israel. I am warning the United States not to take such a step which will deepen the problems in the region’’, said Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The White House strategist team has said: “We have spent a lot of time listening to and engaging with the Israelis, Palestinians and key regional leaders over the past few months to help reach an enduring peace deal,” said Jason D. Greenblatt, the president’s chief negotiator. “We are not going to put an artificial timeline on the development or presentation of any specific ideas and will also never impose a deal’’. Though Trump is likely to soften the announcement for Palestinians by specifying only west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in no way, Palestinians would tolerate Washington’s act of crossing the red lines.
The peace strategists rightfully argue if President Trump is really sincere in his peace move soliciting a two state solution thereby envisaging west and east Jerusalem as the would be capitals of the Israelis and Palestinians respectively, he should float his peace idea via the Quartet peace forum : the UN, the EU, the US and Russia. This argument holds much logic: relocating the Embassy would be impossible to pull off smoothly: parts of Jerusalem were annexed by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, and the city is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital. EU foreign relations Chief Federica Mogherini already warned in January this year that if Donald Trump moved the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem it could have “serious consequences in terms of public reaction in large parts of the world”. Any decision on the contested city’s status must be “within the framework of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians”, the French President Emmanuel Macron said.
As for the Palestinians, the fatality of Trump’s Embassy shifting from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem lies in extending sweeping uncertainty over the future of an independent Palestinian state with its capital of east Jerusalem. They justifiably reject Trump’s peace substratum endorsed by no political guarantors. Thanks to the coaxing Israeli-American-British political honeymoon, the Mideast peace moves could only see a false dawn preventing the pacification of decades old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. And it has been an irony that the Quartet peace process could not achieve its set objectives. US-Israel exclusivism vis-à-vis Hamas reflects on devil’s advocacy. Trump’s young son in law Jared Kushner who created a strong lobby in Israel by inefficiently replacing Tony Blair’s role in the Quartet, is the mastermind behind this move.
In his latest thought-provoking book on America’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obstacle to Peace, the editor of Foreign Policy Journal, Jermey R Hammond convincingly exposes Washington’s complicity with Israel in blocking the peace process, undercutting a two-state solution , resisting the demands of international law, disregarding war crimes, endorsing the Gaza blockade and opposing Palestinian statehood. Veritably by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, not only would President Trump prejudice peace negotiations, but he could also damage US’ legal image. Given the magnitude of international consensus that Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem is legally ultra vires, the UN General Assembly could solicit an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) questioning the legality of locating the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.
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