Responses to Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy – Part I

Responses to Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy – Part I

by

Howard Adelman

I was proud to see that my analysis of Trump’s announcement to move the American embassy in the foreseeable future and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as distributed Wednesday afternoon, generally held up very well with other analyses, with one clear exception. Though I accepted that the policy statement was nuanced, that it was impelled by domestic realities, I was out of synch with some commentators who thought the move was reasonable and realistic internationally as well as domestically. I was on the side of those who believed that Trump’s initiative in setting in motion steps to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and, more importantly, immediately recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, would add to the difficulty of advancing progress on the peace front.

This blog will primarily focus upon commentators who agreed with me with respect to the lack of realism internationally regarding the announcement. Usually, they went further and made the judgement that the move was ill-advised or considered it a clear setback to negotiations. Subsequently, not even counting the leadership of all the major political parties in Israel, I will deal with analysts who viewed the initiative as a reasonable one and generally welcome at this time.

In beginning with critics, I will not include any analysis of those who saw the move as part of Zionist and colonialist efforts to deny Palestinians their rights to self-determination and their rightful ownership of Palestine or other more moderate stances of countries in the Middle East who were outraged but still supported a two-state solution.  In dealing with those who agreed with me on the international repercussions, I will say very little about those who were unequivocally apoplectic and loudly denounced and demonstrated against the new policy because they found it indecent and contrary to international law.

For example, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) organized a petition and a series of demonstrations declaring their shock and outrage. CJPME opposed any initiatives of countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem. They declared that, Trump ignored “all previous UN resolutions and an international consensus on Jerusalem.” Trump did not ignore previous resolutions. His statement was made in opposition to such resolutions, and specifically the one in December in the Security Council which President Obama did not veto which weighed in on the negotiations and declared ALL settlements on the other side of the old Green Line to be illegal. As I had analyzed the initiative, Trump’s move was intended to counter Barack Obama’s failure or refusal to use the veto.

Nor did I contend that Trump’s decision undermined all Middle East peace efforts calling for a negotiated settlement on the status of Jerusalem. Trump specifically qualified his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital by insisting that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the plan to move the embassy did not address the issue of Jerusalem’s borders but that such a decision must result from negotiations between the two parties. I was interested in critics on the left who were more analytical, though a few were also clearly very upset.

I distinguish between analyses and appraisals. For although I might have agreed with some critics’ analyses with respect to the international dimensions, I disagreed on their ultimate evaluation. For whether one agreed or disagreed with Trump, whether one has a very low regard for Trump as I do, I thought the policy statement was well crafted and nuanced.

Let me begin with some of the very bright lights among the critics. I start with Peter Beinart who is very sharp analytically but seemed to be almost as apoplectic and hysterical about Trump’s announcement when I watched him on CNN as anti-Zionists. He had expressed his extreme displeasure in the past with respect to Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to build 2,500 more new housing units in parts of Jerusalem that were once on the other side of the Green Line as well as with Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Beinart repeatedly insisted that these moves were incendiary and would cost Israeli lives.

In contrast, Alan Dershowitz, who has a liberal pedigree but in the last few years has sounded like he was more on the right, argued that, “Violence should not determine policy.” Any instigated violence should be met by counter-measures by the police and the military. “The reason violence  – whether rock-throwing or more lethal forms of terrorism  – is used because it works… as a way to extort concessions from the world. And it works because policy makers often make or refrain from making controversial decisions based on the fear of violent reactions.”

For Dershowitz, unlike Beinart, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was not unreasonable nor was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. According to Dershowitz, Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s capital. It is a fact and not a matter for debate. When such moves explicitly insist that this in no way predetermines the boundaries of Jerusalem or who should have sovereignty over the Old City, for Dershowitz that is not only a reasonable move, but a prudent one.

For Dershowitz, it does not matter whether the threat of violence comes from Palestinians, from Islamic demonstrators in Malaysia or from settlers on the West Bank. Policy should not be determined by such threats. As an example, Dershowitz cites the threats and the actual violence that resulted when, in 2000-2001, President Bill Clinton and then Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, put forth what was for Israel an extremely generous set of concessions. The threat – and the response: the Second Intifada! Dershowitz was even critical of the Israeli government for backing down under the threat of violence to its initiative in installing security cameras on what Jews call the Temple Mount (Har HaBáyit) and Muslims call Haram esh-Sharif. Dershowitz is fond of quoting Yitzhak Rabin. “We will pursue the peace process as if there no terrorism, and respond to terrorism as if there were no peace process.”

Other commentators supporting the Dershowitz position cite opposite moves that were far more widespread than recognizing the central site as special to Muslims as well as Jews. The UN General Assembly went further in the other direction in October of last year when it recognized the central holy site in Jerusalem as Muslim, supported Muslim claims and ignored Jewish ones.

The Dershowitz position could be questioned because it did not go far enough but also because it went too far in declaring Trump’s rationale to be reasonable. Was the diplomatic initiative reasonable? The peace offer of Barak was reasonable – whether or not one agreed with it. The installation of cameras on the Temple Mount (Har Habayit), however, broke an agreement between the Israeli authorities and the Muslims who administered the plaza of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Golden Dome. Israel had concurred that any changes with respect to the Temple Mount would take place as a product of consultations and joint initiatives. Unilateral actions on the part of Israelis, even those that on the surface seemed very reasonable, were read and interpreted as additional steps reducing Islamic authority on a site which they considered very holy.

Was the initiative to move the American embassy and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without prejudging the boundaries of that capital, unreasonable in breaking with previous agreements and seemingly both symbolically and on the ground advancing Israeli claims of sovereignty at the expense of Palestinian claims? That is the nub of the issue. America’s allies by and large took that position. At this time, such an initiative was “unhelpful”. The Czech Republic initially followed the Russian example of recognizing West Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital which, for many Israelis, seemed implicitly to deny Israeli claims on other parts of Jerusalem, even when qualified by assertions that the move did not signal any assessment on the ultimate boundaries of the capital of the Jewish state. In any case, the next day the Prime Minister rescinded the statement of the president of The Czech Republic.

Dershowitz’s argument in defence of the move and his rant against threats of violence, and Beinart’s apoplectic responses to the initiative and fears for “Jewish” lives, both depended on the assessment of a prior issue – was the initiative reasonable? More importantly, was it reasonable now? Canada was not agnostic on this question, even though the Canadian government refrained from criticizing the American initiative. Canada simply reiterated its position that any unilateral initiatives at this time would further complicate the difficulties in advancing the peace process and that our country would refrain from taking any unilateral steps.

The moderate and experienced negotiator on the Palestinian side, Saeb Erekat, backed up by Abbas, did not threaten violence and at least rhetorically called only for peaceful demonstrations. He did pronounce not only the peace process, but even the prospect of a two-state solution, dead. The only possibility, he insisted was now fostering a one state solution with equal rights for both Jews and Palestinians in the whole territory. However, he spoiled his threat by getting the facts wrong in asserting that Donald Trump had recognized a “united” Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Trump did no such thing.

Dershowitz asked all bystanders not to “be fooled by those who say that the two-state solution is dead or that it is time to adopt a one-state solution.” Why? Because under any resolution, “Jerusalem would be recognized as the capital of Israel and its holiest places would remain under Israeli control.” That may be a realist prophecy. That may even be a realistic policy. But since it was at the heart of the dispute over Jerusalem, it would be all the more reason not to signal a pre-emptive outcome at this time. Even Donald Trump never went that far in putting forth his position. If Donald Trump had done so, if he had kept his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without qualifying that initiative as not preempting any outcome on the borders of Jerusalem that could result from an agreement, then a Palestinian rejection should be viewed as reasonable and not just “the latest excuse by Palestinian leaders to refuse to sit down, negotiate and make the painful compromises necessary for a complete resolution of the outstanding issues.”

However, Dershowitz offered another argument why an initiative, without the qualification of not predetermining the sovereignty over the holy sites, was the reasonable one. It goes back to the point I made at the beginning of this blog that Trump was indeed attentive to previous UN resolutions. “President Trump’s decision merely restores the balance that was undone by President Obama’s decision to engineer a one-sided Security Council Resolution that changed the status quo.” That is, of course, why I criticized the failure of the US, when Obama was already a lame-duck president, to veto the Security Council resolution that Israeli settlements were illegal. The motions of the Security Council, unlike those of the UN General Assembly, do have legal status. With the U.S. landmark decision not to join the other 14 votes in favour of declaring all settlements illegal but to abstain, an initiative was permitted to take place which did preempt declarations on the outcome of the negotiations.

The Obama White House had rationalized its abstention which had far more significance than Donald Trump’s moving the embassy or recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, again without predetermining the borders of Jerusalem. For one, it was accompanied by a press release explaining the American failure to veto the resolution was determined by “the absence of any meaningful peace process.” That meant that the US was declaring Israel to be the main culprit in sabotaging the peace process. But if one defended the Obama initiative and, thereby, its rationale that the peace process had reached a dead end, then Donald Trump’s initiative should have posed no problem since, unlike the UN resolution, there was no presumptions about a final outcome.

Of course there was a presumption in both moves. Both the Obama and the Trump initiatives signaled an understanding of who was to blame for the stalled peace process. The UN resolution went even further in weighing in, not only on the agent to blame, but on the substance of negotiations, for that resolution declared that areas of West Jerusalem, such as French Hill, illegal as well. The resolution stated that Israel’s settlements had been placed “on Palestinian territory,” that the area captured in the 1967 war and occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, was Palestinian, and the occupation had “no legal validity.” Though the resolution only demanded a halt to “all Israeli settlement activities” as “essential for salvaging the two-state solution,” and did not demand a roll-back of previous actions, it made the quest for a two-state solution even more difficult. For the process was now under an international determination that the settlements were illegal and Israel, whichever party formed the government, would resist participating in negotiations that, in advance, undermined the Israel position that the settlements were not illegal.

There was another voice on the left that criticized Trump’s initiative, not for its content, but for failing to demand any quid pro quo from the Israeli government for what is broadly considered to be a bold American move. Tom Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for The New York Times, seemed to criticize the initiative, not for its substantive content, but for the failure to link the American concession to a demand that Israel halt its settlement activities. For Friedman, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had been understood as a concession that would be offered in return for Israeli concessions on other issues, such as settlements. Trump had awarded Israel a prize a) at a time when Israel did not deserve it; b) without extracting balancing concessions; and c) while offering Palestinians nothing of consequence in exchange.

In fact, the Trump initiative had been accompanied by a number of prior moves in the opposite direction – the expansion of Israel building more housing units on territory on the other side of the Green Line, such as in Gilo, which, under any peace agreement, was expected by all parties to remain part of Israel. There were other moves – the downgrading of the PLO “embassy” in Washington, the withdrawal of financial support by Congress to the Palestinian Authority because of its implicit support for terrorism in awarding recognition and providing the families of these “martyrs” with pensions. This was seen as a move towards defining the PA as a supporter of terror. The ground was being laid for subjecting the PA to US sanctions.

 

To be continued – Those Who Applaud Trump’s Initiative

 

Tomorrow: to be continued – Plaudits for Trump’s Initiative

Demography, Settlements and Jerusalem

Demography, Settlements and Jerusalem

by

Howard Adelman

Thus far, I have attended only to the framing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. I now want to turn to the nub. There are four issues, not just one. I deal with three in this blog: demography and Jerusalem as well as settlements. In the next blog, I will take up the impact of the resolution on the two-state solution and the issue of borders.

The resolution condemned “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.” Secondly, the resolution reaffirmed “that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” That is a mouthful. Demography and Jerusalem bracket the core thesis of settlements. The resolution demanded “that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” UNSC Res. 2334 required the freezing “by Israel of all settlement activity, including “natural growth,” and the dismantlement of all settlement outposts erected since March 2001.

As I stated, in my next blog on Resolution 2334, I will discuss whether and to what extent the settlements “dangerously imperil the viability of the two-State solution, particularly in light of the claim of that resolution that the two-state solution must be “based on the 1967 lines.” It is certainly a key repeated theme of the resolution which insisted on non-recognition of “any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.” But then why is there no reference made to the distinctions between Areas A, B and C that was arrived at through negotiations? As I stated above, a follow-up blog will focus on border issues and the impact of the resolution on the two-state solution.

Excluding Nahal settlements established by the IDF for security purposes and outposts created by Israeli settler groups that are not legally recognized by Israel, I focus only on so-called “legal” settlements, that is, settlements authorized by the Israeli government, though they may be considered illegal by most of the international community and, in a few cases (Ofra), even illegal under Israeli law because much of the settlement was built on privately held land. Further, it is important to distinguish between and among settlements in different areas.

I already wrote about the Resolution’s reference to the wall. Many settlements are on the eastern side of the wall. Excluding the 28 Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley (population 15,000), there are less than 50,000 Israelis living in 10 different settlements that can be considered exurbs of Jerusalem as follows:

Kiryat Arba just outside of Hebron where the patriarchs and matriarchs
of Judaism are said to be buried and where Jews continuously lived
until the Hebron massacre of 1929. 7,100
Since the settlement was re-established in 1970, 16 settlers have
been killed in 8 different incidents, just over half the number
killed by Baruch Goldstein (29) in a single massacre.
Kokhav Ya’akov about 12 miles equidistant from both the Qalandiya
Checkpoint and Ramallah. 7,300
Beit El north of Jerusalem and just east of al-Bireh & Ramallah 6,500
Site of Jacob’s dream of angels going up and down a ladder
Geva Binyamin 5 km north-east of Jerusalem 5,200
Eli, Mateh Binyamin, north of Jerusalem and Ramallah 4,100
Ofra, northern West Bank between Jerusalem and Nablus 3,500
20 km. north of the old Green Line
Most built on expropriated privately owned land, hence illegal
under Israeli law; adjacent to Silwad and Deir Dibwan
Talmon, 18 km. north of Modin 3,700
Shilo, Mateh Binyamin 45 km. north of Jerusalem 3,400
Tekoa, Gush Etzion, 15 km. south of Jerusalem & 20 km. northeast of
Hebron; 5 killed in 3 separate incidents 3,500
Mitzpe Yeriho, 20 km. east of Jerusalem; 10 km. east of Ma’ale Adumim 2,300

Total 46,600

There are also over 90 settlements west of the wall or separation barrier with a total population of almost 400,000. In addition, there are almost 180,000 living in different very familiar Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem on land captured in the Six Day War in 1967 – East Talpiot, French Hill, Gilo, Giv’at Hamivtar, Har Homa, Ma’alot Dafna, Neve Yaakov, Pisgat Ze’ev, Ramat Eshkol, Ramat Shlomo, Ramot and Sanhedria Murhevet. Further, there are about 3,000 residents and 1,500 Yeshiva students living in the Old City, overwhelmingly in the Old Jewish Quarter with a very few scattered Jewish families in East Jerusalem. This can be compared to a non-Jewish population of 30,000 in the Old City and just under 500,000 non-Jews in East Jerusalem.

As I indicated in my last two blogs, ALL of these areas are considered illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, including the re-establishment of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City that was totally ethnically cleansed of Jews when the Jordanian government captured the Old City in 1948 and expelled all its Jewish inhabitants. Jews had continuously resided in the city for centuries. Under that Convention, it does not matter whether the case is one of a returned population or of voluntary movements as opposed to forced relocation of Israelis, these areas are all considered illegal since the population moved there after Israel occupied and annexed some of these areas after the Six Day War. Right wing defenders of Israeli actions insist they are legal under international law because a) they were captured in a defensive war; b) the territory did not previously legitimately belong to a recognized state. But most interpreters of international law simply make occupancy of a territory held by a belligerent following the cessation of a conflict as the relevant marker.

Currently, about 1 out of every 10 Jewish Israelis live in areas considered illegal under international law. International law may be an ass in not making any of these distinctions. It also may be totally ineffective. One need only recall the effort to evacuate 9,000 Jews from Gaza and the political storm that caused within Israel in the forced removal of a population living in an area lacking all the deep religious attachments of the sites under consideration. Can you imagine the effort it would take to move over 600,000? That would certainly tear the country apart. Anyone who opposed settlements all these years has to at least recognize this.

Well, what about the 65,000 living east of the separation barrier in the Jordan Valley and in the 10 neighbourhoods listed above? Many of the latter areas have deep religious significance for Orthodox Jews. Why do they have to be evacuated? Why could the population there not continue to live in a Palestinian state? After all, almost 1.5 million Arabs live within the Jewish state. This was precisely the question asked courageously by a Palestinian law student who was head of the youth wing of Fatah at a conference at al-Qds University that I attended. But then, what about all the settlements west of the separation barrier? If they stayed in Israeli hands, then Israel would be acquiring territory by force even if subsequently ratified by negotiations. After all, in the Oslo talks, the Palestinians had agreed to a land swap of an almost equal amount of territory in exchange for the territory on which these settlements were located.

Recall that the resolution condemned “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.” It did not call for a swap. It did not call for returning the settlements east of the separation barrier to a nascent Palestinian state, but leaving the settlers in place. The resolution condemned the whole effort to settle Jews on land cleansed of Jews between 1948 and 1967 whether or not they lived on that land prior to 1967. Why 1967? Why not include the territory captured by the new state of Israel in the 1948 war?

The answer is simple. If you go back to 1948 for the Jews, you have to go back to 1948 for the Arabs and the territory was not sovereign Arab land then. In particular, in the 1947 division of territory recommended by UNSCOP, Jerusalem was to remain an international city under UN auspices. But the two principles pushing the members of the Security Council last week were: 1) no acquisition of territory by force and then by movements of people into a territory; and 2) the principle of self-determination, namely that a territory should become the sovereign land of the national group constituting the largest majority in a territory. But then in the areas of settlement west of the separation barrier excluding Jerusalem proper, there are about 400,000 Jews and only 100,000 Palestinians. Does not a land swap already agreed to make sense and be worthy of endorsement by the international community? The supporters of the resolution were not being puritans about the issue. They did not condemn the occupation and seizure of different parts of Jerusalem in 1948.

The real answer is that using 1967 rather than 1948 is already a compromise, but one which allows control of both the Old City as well as Eastern Jerusalem to go to a Palestinian state. And though the two sides eventually agreed on water sharing and on refugees, they could not agree on Jerusalem. Hence, John Kerry yesterday rehashing an old condominium proposal on Jerusalem that had been consistently rejected by both sides.

Further, there had been two separate thrusts to the settler movement. One was the establishment of secure borders for the Jewish state. Second there had been the claims made by the Israeli right for sovereignty over the whole of the Mandate territory. The current right wing government in Israel includes heirs to that belief. They repeat the mantra and make most members of the international community believe that this is the ultimate goal of the settlements and not a two-state solution.

In the Oslo Accords, the territory of the West Bank had been divided into three zones. In zone A, the Palestinians had exclusive administrative and security responsibility. In Zone B, the Palestinians exercised administrative responsibility but security was a matter of joint responsibility. In area C, where most of the populated settlements are located, Israel retained both administrative and security control. The jurisdiction of the Israeli municipal regional councils cover almost two-thirds of Area C. Palestinians are forbidden according to their agreement to engage in construction and development in area C. Therefore, some could with some legitimacy claim that the settlements could now be said to have taken place in this area by agreement.

The resolution did not condemn settlement activity only in areas outside those in which Israel had been given the right to control and settle by previous agreements. Rather, 1967 and the old green armistice line became the dividing line. Why? Because by allowing the Fourth Geneva Convention to trump agreements already entered into by the parties, the status of the settlements west of the separation barrier were left in question. So, certainly, was the status of East Jerusalem and especially the Old City.

There are other issues. Some parts of a few settlements, specifically Ofra, were built on land expropriated from private Arab citizens, contrary to the legalization of those settlements by Israel. There were issues of division over water supplies, the provision of access roads and the provision of equality of water and sanitary sewers available to Palestinian towns in comparison to the Israeli settlements. Often, this was not because of intent but because of the difficulty of getting the two sources of authority to agree, especially when one authority disputed the legitimacy of the other. As a result, Israeli settlements enjoy advanced infrastructure; the nearby Palestinian towns do not. Further, Jewish settlers in the West Bank remain and retain full Israeli citizenship while Palestinians in Area C live under martial law.

I have concluded that the resolution is not really about the settlements, but about the status of East Jerusalem and the Old City and about using the humanitarian laws of war as leverage on behalf of the Palestinians who are in the much weaker position. Unable to defeat the Israelis militarily with or without the help of the Arab states, the Palestinians have enlisted the international community using international humanitarian law, diplomacy and economic pressure to confront the Israeli settlement policy.

There is, of course, for many Israeli Jews, and now perhaps most, the issue of the right to settle and live in the West Bank. Eugene Rostow wrote resolution 242 which ended the 1967 war. He has always claimed that it gave Jews the right to settle anywhere in the old Mandate territory since the resolution did not obligate Israel to return ALL occupied land, but only occupied land in anticipation that there would be a future further division. Further, resolutions calling for withdrawal of Israeli forces from ‘all’ the territories were defeated, not only in the Security Council but in the General Assembly as well. The 1993 Oslo Accord and the 1995 Israel-Palestinian Authority Interim Status Agreement specify that the issue of settlements was to be negotiated and neither accord prohibited Jewish settlements in the West Bank. However, the international community has come to the conclusion that in the over two decades since, it is Israel that has been the obstacle to concluding a final two-state solution. It is Israel that has been using the interim period to predetermine the results of the permanent status negotiations.

The mantra at the time and continuously preserved, but with a seriously diminished status, has been the refrain, “secure and defensible borders” when Israeli settlements and the wall were intended to put facts on the ground that would help predetermine the outcome instead of waiting for “secure and recognized borders” to be determined in negotiations. The number of applications for new homes in the West Bank continues to grow with almost 4,500 applications in 2015. The equivocation of diplomatic linguistic compromises allowed others to interpret the requirements of Resolution 232 in very different ways, and in a way that seems to have displaced its previous emphasis on security. Israelis have always contended that the old Green Line, the armistice line determined by the ceasefire agreement in 1948, was NOT a border and should not be used as a reference for applying international humanitarian law. Israeli courts have upheld that opinion, but the international court in The Hague did not in its advisory and non-binding opinion.

The situation had now been radically changed by the resolution at the same time as Donald Trump is coming into office and the Israeli right wing government is reacting to the passage of the resolution with very aggressive diplomatic and economic moves putting, as I will argue in my next blog, the prospect of a two-state solution in never-never land. The debate may be conducted over the rhetorical issue of whether Israel is an occupying power when the territory occupied did not legitimately belong to another state and, therefore, was not foreign territory, but the debate will be won, not in the diplomatic halls or through international and domestic courts of law, however useful they have been, but in power games which Netanyahu and the new Trump administration seem ready and eager to play.

With the help of Alex Zisman