Trump, Jerusalem, escalation and eschatology

Palestinian activists burned pictures of Donald Trump in Bethlehem in response to his Dec. 6 announcement that his administration will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He stated with typical bluster: "While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering." But this time the braggadocio was wedded to a nearly hallucinatory chutzpah: "I've judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians." (Palestine News Network, The Guardian) Of course precisely the opposite is true.

On the campaign trail, Trump inevitably promised in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to "move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem." (TownHall) AIPAC may be pleased, but the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights accuses Trump of "legitimizing Israel's violations in Jerusalem of the Fourth Geneva Convention, including but not limited to its demolition of Palestinian homes, its illegal settlements, and its apartheid wall."

And on Dec. 2, just days before Trump's announcement, young Palestinian protesters managed to bring down an iron gate that was set up as part of Israel's illegal "separation wall" in the outlying East Jerusalem village of Anata. (Ma'an)

Trump also called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to confirm his intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. US presidents must sign a "national security waiver" every six months to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, a technical violation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. (The waiver actually just suspends the financial penalty for failure to move the embassy that is officially imposed by the 1995 law, a freezing of half the appropriated funds for "acquisition and maintenance" of State Department buildings abroad.) Trump signed the waiver in June, putting off the decision.

Perversely, in making the announcement, Trump also said that the US would support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—if agreed upon by both sides. A critical caveat, which basically means green-lighting Israeli annexationism. "We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders," he said with the utmost cynicism. "Those questions are up to the parties involved."

Israel officially made (West) Jerusalem its capital in 1950, although Tel Aviv has remained the de facto capital; the Knesset, Supreme Court and prime minister's residence were moved to (West) Jerusalem, but most government ministries remain in Tel Aviv. Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 (13 years after occupying it in the Six-Day War). This move was of course bitterly protested by the Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem as their future capital, and universally rejected by the international community. So nearly all the foreign embassies remain in Tel Aviv. Every presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter has pledged to move the embassy to Jerusalem. None have.

This is because such a move would be seen to constitute recognition of Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, even if the embassy was located in the West (as it presumably would be). Israeli official rhetoric has always emphasized that the capital is a "unified" Jerusalem—not just the West. (NYT, WaPo, Haaretz, Ma'an972)

This point was certainly made by Amnesty International in its reaction to Trump's announcement. Raed Jarrar, Amnesty International USA's Middle East advocacy director, said: “This is a reckless and provocative decision by the Trump administration that further undermines the human rights of the Palestinian people and is likely to inflame tensions across the region. By recognizing unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announcing the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv, President Trump has shown yet again his blatant disregard for international law. There is international consensus, including UN Security Council resolutions, on the illegality of Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem. With this move, the United States is violating its own international legal obligations not to recognize or assist an illegal situation and to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions."

So even if US presidential hopefuls each had to go through the ritual of telling AIPAC what it wanted to hear, they realized the destabilizing effect that actual recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital would have, and thought better of it—at least once in power. Until now.

And if Trump is seeking to appease the Christian fundamentalist element of his base with this move, this should hardly be comforting to Jews. The evangelical fundis are consciously salivating for the Final Conflict, and see Jewish control of Jerusalem only as fulfillment of Bible prophecies portending the End Times. Which in their view will see Christians ascending in the Rapture, while the Jews are cast into the Devil's pit. What makes this wackiness dangerous is that with nuclear weapons, the human race now has the capacity to bring about the foreseen rain of fire and brimstone. 

Such a scenario would assuredly not be good for the Jews, whatever the illusions of the pro-Israel crowd. It would not even be good for the Christian fundis, whatever their even more bizarre illusions. It wouldn't be good for anyone. Needless to say.

As Haaretz emphasizes, it did not, perhaps, have to be this way.  Early Zionist leaders, many of them avowedly secular, were ambivalent about Jerusalem. Theodor Herzl himself envisioned the capital of his Jewish state on Mount Carmel, in the north. In his 1989 book Jerusalem: City of Mirrors, Israeli historian Amos Elon described how Herzl, as well as the young David Ben-Gurion and "cultural-Zionist" leader Ahad Ha'am, were all discomfited by the passionate connection to Jerusalem on the part of some Jewish pioneers in Palestine.

A final point. The UN General Assembly resolution of Nov. 29, 1947 that called for dividing Palestine into two states actually left Jerusalem (then with a large Jewish majority) out of the equation. Under the UN partition plan, Jerusalem and its surroundings (including Bethlehem) were to become a separate territory under international administration—a corpus separatum. The Zionists accepted the plan, and Ben-Gurion called the loss of Jerusalem as part of the Jewish state the "price we have to pay" for creation of that state.

In the ensuing war, Jerusalem was divided, with Israel seizing the west and Jordan the east. Jordan also declared East Jerusalem a second capital, although as Haaretz notes,  "it remained a very neglected second capital up until the Six-Day War." Since 1967, Israel has been engaging in a "Judaization" of place names in Jerusalem, in an effort to erase the Arab cultural legacy in the city.  

Perhaps it is time to revisit the idea of an internationally administrated Jerusalem—and viewing it not as either an Israeli or Palestinian capital, not either divided or annexed, but as a model for Israeli-Palestinian co-existence. A model to be eventually emulated in the rest of historic Palestine under a one-state solution. And not a one-state "solution" of Israeli annexationism and Jewish supremacy, but a single, secular state with equal rights for all.

But first... it is time for progressive Jews everywhere to repudiate Trump's move, and pressure the White House to keep its embassy in Tel Aviv. Before the maelstrom is unleashed.

Violence across West Bank, air-strikes on Gaza

The number of injured Palestinians continues to climb as clashes with Israeli forces continue to escalate across the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, in response to Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. At least nine have been injured with live ammunition. (Ma'an) On Dec. 9, declared a "Day of Rage," fierce clashes erupted in the nearby Aida refugee camp after some Palestinian youth set fire to an unmanned Israeli military watchtower in the camp. (Ma'an) Four were also killed in border clashes and Israeli air-strikes in the Gaza Strip. (Ma'an) In East Jerusalem, Palestinian marches were dispersed by the Israeli riot police. (Ma'an)

Another air-strike on Gaza

Two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli air-strike targeting a motorcycle in the northern Gaza Strip on Dec. 12. Local and medical sources confirmed that two Palestinians were killed in the strike in Umm al-Nasr village in the Beit Lahiya district. (Ma'an)

Avigdor Lieberman revives 'transfer' talk

Following angry protests from Palestinians within Israel over Trump's Jerusalem announcement, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Arab residents of the Wadi Ara area "do not belong to the State of Israel" and should be boycotted. Lieberman told Army Radio: "They should understand that they are not wanted here, they are not part of us." He said Wadi Ara residents "have no connection to this country... What is happening in Wadi Ara is intolerable. So I am calling for a boycott of Wadi Ara. Don't go there and don't buy there. They need to understand that it is impossible to demonstrate with Hezbollah flags, Palestinian flags and pictures of [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah. To accept billions from the National Insurance [Institute] and to also destroy us from within." (Haaretz, Dec. 10)

Wadi Ara is the area along the Israeli side of the Green Line that Lieberman has proposed be "swapped" to the Palestinians in his "population transfer" plan.

Israeli troops kill more Palestinian protesters

Israeli troops shot dead four Palestinians and wounded 150 others with live fire on Dec. 15, as protests over Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital entered a second week. Most of the casualties were on the Gaza Strip border, where thousands of Palestinians gathered to hurl rocks at Israeli soldiers beyond the fortified fence. Medics said two protesters, one of them wheelchair-bound, were killed and 150 wounded. (Reuters)

PLO protests US 'blackmail and extortion'

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley exercised the US’ veto power at the UN Security Council Dec. 18 to kill a resolution critical of Trump’s unilateral move. The veto blocked the resolution, despite the 14 other members of the Security Council voting in favor. Ahead of the vote the US said that it would “take names” and possibly cut donor funding to those countries who voted against it. Responding to the threats, Hanan Ashrawi, member of the PLO's Executive Committee, described them as "blackmail and extortion." (Ma'an)

General Assembly demands compliance on Jerusalem resolutions

The United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 21 demanded (PDF) that all member states comply with Resolutions issued by the Security Council regarding the status of Jerusalem.

The General Assembly described question as "a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant United Nations resolutions," and declared that "any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council."

With apparent reference to the United States' decision earlier this month to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the UNGA called on all states "to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem" and to adhere to Security Council Resolution 478, which urges all member states to withdraw diplomatic missions from the city. The General Assembly also renewed it's call to end conduct "imperiling the two-State solution and for the intensification and acceleration of international and regional efforts and support aimed at achieving, without delay, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East[.]"

The measure was approved by a vote of 128-9-35.

Following the vote, Yemen and Turkey asked the Secretary-General to reume (PDF) a currently suspended emergency session in order to pursue the "Uniting for Peace" procedures in Resolution 377(v) (PDF). That procedure allows the General Assembly to make recommendations for "collective action ... including the use of armed force" when the Security Council fails to fulfill its duty to protect international peace and security due to the inability of the permanent Council members to agree to a course of action.

The General Assembly resolution comes just days after a nearly identical Security Council resolution was vetoed by the United States. The remaining fourteen members of the Security Council, including the four other permanent members, approved of the Resolution. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that the veto was an exercise of US sovereignty, and that the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem "does not prejudge any final status issues, including Jerusalem’s boundaries." The draft resolution was put forward by Egypt, who expressly identified the US decision as animating the proposed resolution.

From Jurist, Dec. 21. Used with permission.

Israel to name Western Wall train station for Trump

Israel plans to name a train station near the Western Wall after Donald Trump, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz told Yedioth Ahronoth daily Dec. 26. The station is being planned for the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City. Katz said he decided to honor Trump following the president's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to ultimately move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. (Haaretz)

Israel quietly moves to annex West Bank

rime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party for the first time has urged the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the nation's top legal officers pressed to extend Israeli law into occupied territory. The Likud central committee voted unanimously on Dec. 31 to support the "free construction and application of Israeli law and sovereignty in all liberated areas of settlement" in the West Bank.

Simultaneously, Israel's attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, published a new formal instruction to all government offices, as part of an agreement with the Justice Ministry, that any new legislation explicitly state how it should be applied on the West Bank, or else the responsible government agency must say why it should not apply there.

"We are telling the world that it doesn't matter what the nations of the world say," Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told more than 1,000 members of Likud's central committee. "The time has come to express our biblical right to the land."

Daniel Seidemann, director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, which focuses on the Holy City's fate in a potential two-state solution, said that "what was winked and nodded about before is now being acknowledged publicly: 'We have no intent of sharing this land with anybody else except as a barely tolerated minority.'" (NYT, Jan. 1)

Trump slashes funds to UNRWA

The US government is cutting more than half of its planned funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, a move that could prove catastrophic for millions of people in need. The State Department announced Jan. 16 it is withholding $65 million out of a $125 milliob aid package for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). In a letter, the department said that additional US donations will be contingent on major changes by UNRWA.

Trump tweeted: "We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.... With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?" (Al Jazeera)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Jan. 14 said Israel killed the Oslo Accords and called Trump's peace effort "a slap in the face" during a dramatic meeting in Ramallah on Sunday, adding that "we will slap back." Abbas said that "today is the day that the Oslo Accords end. Israel killed them. We are an authority without any authority, and an occupation without any cost. Trump threatens to cut funding to the authority because negotiations have failed. When the hell did negotiations start?!"

He added that "any future negotiations will take place only within the context of the international community, by an international committee created in the framework of an international conference. Allow me to be clear: We will not accept America leadership of a political process involving negotiations." (Haaertz)

Israeli cabinet minister calls for 'death and injuries'

Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, speaking to Reshet Bet Radio on the Gaza Strip air-strikes, said: "What is this special weapon we have that we fire and see pillars of smoke and fire, but nobody gets hurt? It is time for there to be injuries and deaths as well." (Haaretz, Jan. 10)

Israel police recommend indictment of Netanyahu

The Israeli police force said Feb. 12 that they have enough evidence to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has allegedly accepted bribes in two separate cases and acted against the interests of the public.

The first case, called "Case 1000," reportedly concerns whether Netanyahu accepted gifts from prominent figures in return for advancing and protecting their interests in Israel. The gifts allegedly total to approximately USD $280,000 and include champagne, clothing, and jewelry. The gifts are said to have been given by Armom Milchan, an Israeli-American movie producer. In exchange for the gifts, Netanyahu attempted to pass a law that would have given large tax breaks to individuals returning to Israel after living abroad, a move which may have saved Milchan millions of dollars.

In the second, known as "Case 2000," Netanyahu is alleged to have reached an agreement with Yedioth Ahronoth, the nation's second-largest newspaper, in order to secure positive coverage in exchange for undermining Israel Haymon, the paper's primary rival.

After the police made their announcement, Netanyahu made a televised statement in which he said that the recommendation to indict him had "no weight" and that he never did anything against the interests of his country. Netanyahu also stated that he will not be stepping down. The final decision whether to indict him will be made by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. (Jurist, Feb. 14)

US plan to open embassy in Jerusalem on Nakba Day 'provocation'

The Palestinian leadership on Friday slammed a US decision to open its embassy in Jerusalem in May, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel's independence, as "a provocation to Arabs." The founding of Israel seven decades ago on May 14, 1948, is mourned by Palestinians as the Nakba, or "catastrophe" in Arabic. (Daily Sabah, Feb. 23)

US cuts aid to Palestinian Authority

As part of the general budget bill, Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, which cuts US aid to the Palestinian Authority until the PA ceases providing stipends to the families of slain militants. It is named for a US veteran who was slain by a Palestinian in March 2016. (Jewish Journal, March 23)