NORMALIZATION UNDER OCCUPATION

For the first time since it was first proposed in March 2002 in Beirut, the Arab Peace Initiative is taking center stage again. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas insisted during his speech before the recently-concluded Arab League Summit in Jordan, that the Initiative is the only solution on the table; asserting that it will not be changed or even tweaked.

At the time, Head of the PA and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the late Yasser Arafat, was not allowed to attend that conference in Beirut. Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had Arafat placed under house arrest in Ramallah. He told Arafat that if Israel was to allow him to leave he would not be allowed back. I was in Israel at the time and literally came face to face with Ariel Sharon’s Merkava tanks as they prepared to invade Ramallah and other villages across the West Bank. That visit, my first of six trips to Israel/Palestine, was the basis for my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.

The Arab proposal was largely a reiteration of United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. It promised complete normalization between Arab States and Israel should Israel withdraw from Palestinian and Arab land it occupied in 1967. Its major flaw was its lackluster attitude towards the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees.

It was cautiously welcomed but then quickly overlooked by Washington at the time since Sharon had dismissed it as a ‘non-starter’. Subsequent Israeli leaders have hardly shown any interested either in bold initiatives to resolve the conflict, either by the Arab or the Americans.

Why, then, is this Initiative, originally put forward by Saudi Arabia fifteen years ago, now infused back into the already congested Middle East’s political discourse, despite the fact that Israel has rejected it repeatedly, and the US has shown little interest in enforcing it?

Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in the idea of unconditional normalization with the Arab world.

He told the daily Hebrew newspaper ‘Yediot Ahronot’ recently that he sees “a real chance that, within five years, Israel will be able to reach an inclusive peace deal with its enemies.” Circumventing the Palestinians and signing peace deals with Arab countries to break Israel’s regional isolation has been paramount in Israeli foreign policy since its inception in 1948. Since then, it has signed a peace deal with Egypt and Jordan and has informal contacts and ties with various other governments.

This explains Mahmoud Abbas’ recent reference to the Arab Peace Initiative. It is his way of saying that any normalization between the Arabs and Israel should take place through the Palestinian channel, and specifically though his leadership in Ramallah.

Israel, however, likes the idea of renewed interest in the Arab Initiative because it could galvanize efforts, led by the Americans, to achieve normalization with its Arab neighbors without peace with the Palestinians.

Donald Trump, since his election, has further contributed to the demise of any prospect of a just solution to the crisis by pushing America’s support of Israel to new levels. He has assigned his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew and a strong supporter of Israel’s right wing, to supposedly broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. As recently as a few days ago, Trump’s pick as US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was approved by the US Senate. Even in the eyes of some Israelis Friedman is controversial because of his close association with extremist Jewish parties whose goal it is to seize as many Palestinian properties as possible in Occupied East Jerusalem and expel them.

Under the guise of peacemaking, Kushner and Friedman are likely to focus on advancing Israel’s position and standing in the region. For them, the issue of normalization is at the helm of their prospective policies.

The Palestinians’ fear is that Trump’s Middle East policy will focus on trying to break down whatever little consensus Arab countries still have on Palestine and agree to normal relations with Israel.

Abbas, who is heading to Washington in April, knows only too well that his position is terribly weak and, without Arab backing, however symbolic, he will find himself cornered by a belligerent Trump regime.

While the US administration may try to re-brand its approach to the conflict, what truly interests Israel and its Americans backers is breaking Israel’s isolation through regional ‘peace’ pacts and separate deals – in other words, normalization under Occupation.

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SYRIA’S UNENDING NIGHTMARE

 

Syria’s minority population includes approximately 6% Christian, 3% Druze, 14% Alawite, 2% Shiite and 10% Kurdish. Then, there are the Sunnis who represent about 65% of the population, the majority of whom are secular-minded and just as afraid of al-Qaeda and ISIS as are the minority groups. If Bashar Assad were to call elections today, he would almost certainly get a majority of the votes in any free and fair election. That doesn’t mean people like living under a one-party or secret-police state. It just means that the rebel opposition turned to an extremist Sunni discourse that scares the minorities and secularists.

Why then was the US, until recently, so hell-bent on regime change in Syria? The idea of toppling the Assad regime and breaking up Syria into autonomous zones is not, in fact, a new idea. The plan first appeared in an article by the Israeli, Oded Yinon in 1982 entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties.” Yinon, like other Israeli leaders after him, believed that for Israel to survive it must become an imperial regional power that “effects the division of the whole area into small states by the dissolution of all existing Arab states.”

Henry Kissinger planed this same scenario for Lebanon post-civil war. It never came to fruition. It was also the plan for Iraq. Instead, we saw the US military’s “shock and awe” show that destroyed the country and contributed to the death of a million people.

After multiple failures, why then is the US so determined to continue on its futile, destructive warpath?

In the sequel to The Syrianthere is a conversation between Nadia and Hassan Jaafar in which they discuss the looming crisis about to befall Syria.

You heard the news,” Hassan said. “the US is funding opponents of the Syrian regime. Assad’s an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. His enemies are Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, the regional Sunni powers. They want Assad out and they’ll use their jihadist proxies to do it.”

“I get that but why now? The Assad family’s been around since the early Seventies. Sure, they’re brutal dictators but so is every other regional player.”

“Apparently Assad rejected a $120 billion, 1,500 mile natural gas pipeline that would have linked Qatar through Syria to the European Union. Instead, he approved a pipeline running from Iran’s side of the gas field to ports in Tarsus and Tarsus and Lebanon, making Shiite Iran the major supplier of energy to the European market, not the Qatari Sunnis.”

It was Iraq replayed, thought Nadia—gas and oil reserves trumping tens of thousands of innocent lives. As a diplomat concerned with human rights she’d seen it all—the senseless slaughter of thousands, the suicide bombings and the sectarian violence.

Hassan didn’t wait for her to comment and so continued. “It’s actually a brilliant plan. The US and its European allies initiate an uprising using their jihadist surrogates. Assad overreacts to the foreign-made crisis, attacks Sunni strongholds held by the jihadists and ignites a sectarian civil war. The US blames Assad, call him a war criminal and demands he step down. They have no choice then but to intervene to stop a humanitarian crisis.”

Hassan continued: “And according to a Pentagon report, the US won’t oppose a jihadist move across the Iraqi border from Mosul and Ramada into eastern Syria to form a caliphate because…”

“Let me guess. That’s the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline.”

He nodded.

So, why is the US so hell-bent on its destructive warpath? It’s the oil, stupid.

 

When Benjamin Netanyahu visited President Trump last month their public talks centered on a one-state versus a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. Their private discussions focused on a green light from Trump to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, an integral part of Syrian territory that Israel has occupied since the June 1967 war.

 

Why would the US back an expansion of a war with Israel against Syria and its ally Russia over the Golan Heights, a war that has already cost over 440,000 innocent lives? Oil, huge, recently discovered reserves of black gold in the Golan Heights.

 

Unless there is some very careful thinking we could find ourselves in another war for oil and this one involving Syria, Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah on the one side and the US and Israel on the other side.

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THE UN’S MORAL FAILURE

 

The United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits… While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp – not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes. This is apartheid!

On March 15, 2017, the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) published a report on Israeli practices and policies toward the Palestinians. Using international law as its comparative criterion, the report came to a definitive conclusion that “Israel is guilty of apartheid practices.” The term Apartheid was used in the report as a descriptor of fact based on the evidence and the accepted legal meaning of the term.

Such was the immediate uproar from the United States and Israel that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in a moment of moral failure, ordered the report’s withdrawal.

The head of the ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, declared that she could not, in good conscience, do so and tendered her resignation.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, declared that “when someone issues a false and defamatory report in the name of the U.N. it is appropriate that the person resign.”

Before making such statements I would urge the US’s Ambassador to the U.N. to look at the record of Israeli statesmen who have already condemned Israel as an apartheid state.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, famously said in a radio interview in 1967 that “Israel would soon become an apartheid state if it did not rid itself of the territories and their Arab population s soon as possible.”

Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak:: As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state. (2010)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished. (2007)

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem: Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime … is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa. (2002)

Former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel: In the situation that exists today, until a Palestinian state is created, we are actually one state. This joint state — in the hope that the status quo is temporary — is an apartheid state. (2013)

Israeli newspaper Haaretz editorial: The de facto separation is today more similar to political apartheid than an occupation regime because of its constancy. One side – determined by national, not geographic association – includes people who have the right to choose and the freedom to move, and a growing economy. On the other side are people closed behind the walls surrounding their community who have no right to vote, lack freedom of movement, and have no chance to plan their future. (2007)

Former Israeli admiral and Knesset member Ami Ayalon: Israel must decide quickly what sort of environment it wants to live in because the current model, which has some apartheid characteristics, is not compatible with Jewish principles. (2000)

Former Israeli attorney general Michael Ben-Yair: In 1967 we enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one – progressive, liberal – in Israel; and the other – cruel, injurious – in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day. (2002)

Former Israeli Minister of Education Yossi Sarid: What acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck – it is apartheid… What should frighten us, however, is not the description of reality, but reality itself… The Palestinians are unfortunate because they have not produced a Nelson Mandela; the Israelis are unfortunate because they have not produced an F.W. de Klerk. (2008)

Former Israeli Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni: Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s right in front of our eyes. It’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population. (2007)

Israel has successfully hidden its apartheid regime in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This has been done through imposing thousands of regulations and a civil administration that is run by the military. Dr. Jeff Halper, Coordinator of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions in Jerusalem, calls the system ‘the Matrix of Control.” According to him it is composed of three layers:

Military actions which include using undercover units and collaborators who undermine the fabric of Palestinian society;

Creating “facts” on the ground: expropriation of land; construction of settlements; carving the occupied territories into areas which confine Palestinians in some 200 + islands; a massive system of highways for Israeli-use only; control over aquifers and exploitation of holy places.

The most subtle, bureaucratic and legal restrictions, which entangle Palestinians in a web, including: closures, work discrimination; entrance and travel permits restricting movement; displacement through exile, deportation and induced emigration; land expropriation; house demolitions, transfer schemes; a freeze on the natural development of Palestinian towns and villages; and restrictions on the planting of crops and their sale. All these come under bureaucratic controls. More details on the Matrix of Control can be found in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.

Over the entirety of its 65-year existence, there has been a period of only one year (1966-1967) that Israel has not ruled over large numbers of Palestinians to whom it granted no political rights simply because they are not Jewish.

An objective consideration of Israel’s behavior makes it hard to escape the brutal reality of Israel’s condoned apartheid practices.

The moral failure at the U.N., represented by the withdrawal of the report, is the result of Secretary General Guterres’s decision to acquiesce in a denial of reality—the reality of Israel’s practice of apartheid.

The other moral failure is the corrupted view of our politicians and international leaders who refuse to stand up for a people repressed and occupied for 50 years.

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ONE STATE OR TWO, PRESIDENT TRUMP?

 

ONE STATE OR TWO, PRESIDENT TRUMP?

 

When asked in his February 15th press conference about whether the US was still wedded to a two-state solution, Trump broke with longstanding orthodoxy and responded:

“I am looking at two states or one state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

This statement implies that President Trump is undeterred by Netanyahu’s refusal to commit to a two-state solution saying he didn’t want to focus on certain “labels.” Netanyahu had no trouble, however, reaffirming two conditions he’d consider for “peace:” Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and Israel “must retain overriding security control over the entire Occupied Territories.”

This formula amounts, at best, to a Palestinian Bantustan under continued Israeli control. See my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides for more details on Israel’s military occupation.

Advocates of a two-state solution, including  all recent US administrations as well as many European governments, see this as a way to rescue Israel as a racist state that ensures its Jewish demographic majority through a battery of racist laws that they refer to as “peace,” meaning that Israelis have “peace” but the Palestinians don’t and won’t, ever.

Even before Trump’s remark, former Secretary of State John Kerry had already stated for the record that “the two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” He proved the opposite by describing in detail how Israel’s settlements are “increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality.”

Kerry went on to say: “Currently, there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace.”

That Trump even mentioned a possible one-state option has opened the doors in Washington, D.C. to a broader debate. Republican Senator Bob Corker who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations wondered, when questioning Trump’s nominee to be US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman “Are we helping the situation by continually talking about a two-state solution when having a military presence in the West Bank ad infinitum by Israel is really something different than a two-state solution?”

Such talk has been, until now, unheard of in the halls of Congress.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, too, pressed Trump’s nominee to acknowledge that “the US could never support a one-state solution, or any solution, where Palestinians are deprived of their full and equal legal rights.”

While I cheer these suddenly fearless Congressional leaders, I would like to refer them and their colleagues to a top secret memorandum written on June 4, 1947 entitled “A Plan for the Future Government of Palestine.  Even though this 70 year old memorandum was never approved at the highest levels of government many of its recommendations are still relevant to today’s policy debate.

Here are some of its proposals:

Palestine should become neither an Arab State nor a Jewish State but a single independent Palestinain State in which all its people of whatever religion or blood may live together in concord.

All the inhabitants of Palestine should accept the responsibilities and share the rights and privileges of a common Palestinian citizenship.

The government of Palestine should represent all Palestinian citizens and should protect their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Conversely, every effort should be made to foster the active participation of all Palestinian citizens in the government of their country.

The various Holy Places of Palestine, which are sacred to Christians, Jews and Moslems, should be forever safeguarded.

In light of these reasonable points I have a recommendation for both President Trump and our illustrious members of Congress: Dust off a copy of the 1947 State Department Memorandum and study it.

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THE BALFOUR DECLARATION, 100 YEARS ON

There are only a few documents in Middle Eastern history which have had as much influence as the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration was sent as a 67-word statement contained within the short letter addressed to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour on November 2, 1917. The declaration acknowledged the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine. The statement of the Declaration read as:

 

“His Majesty’s Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this objective, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

 

The letter was addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a British banker and a Zionist activist, who drafted the declaration with the help of fellow Zionist Chaim Weizmann and others. The declaration proved to be in line with the wishes of Zionist leaders who hoped for a homeland in Palestine. It was designed to encourage the intense immigration of Jews from all over the world to Palestine.

As Balfour was a part of the liberal government under Prime Minister David Lloyd George, they schemed to form a public opinion campaign stating that Jews had undergone injustices for a long time for which the West was to blame. Therefore, it was the responsibility of the West to find and establish a Jewish homeland. Their motivation for achieving a separate homeland for Jews was motivated by fundamentalist Christians like Lloyd George, who encouraged the idea for two reasons; to depopulate their own lands of Jews and to fulfill the Biblical prophecy, according to which the return of the Christ will occur after the establishment of a Jewish kingdom in the Holy Land.

The Zionist from the beginning were determined to turn Palestine into a Jewish nation-state but, being sensitive to British politics, their leaders denied the allegation that Jews had as aim to constitute a separate political nationality. The word the Zionist proposed for what they intended to create in Palestine was “heimstatte” which roughly translated meant something less than a state but equating a homeland.” It was to be used “until there was no reason to dissimulate our real aim.”

Everyone knew the Palestinians would not be content with the idea of a homeland for the Jewish people usurping them much less be relegated to an Old Testament role of a suppressed minority to be hewers of wood and drawers of water, but few cared. The word Palestinian was not even mentioned in the Balfour Declaration. It used, instead, the curious circumlocution of “the existing non-Jewish communities,” and focused on Jewish aspirations and avoided any mention of the Palestinians. It went on to specify that nothing should be done that would “prejudice” their “civil and religious rights,” again without specifying who the “they” and “their” was.

It was not until 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, that an attempt was made to find out what the Palestinians wanted. President Woodrow Wilson sent a mission of inquiry, the King-Crane Commission, to find out. The British were annoyed by the American inquiry; they didn’t care what the “natives” wanted. Meanwhile, the British were becoming increasingly disturbed that the “heimstatte” actually meant more than the Brits had intended. When Winston Churchill became Colonial Secretary and was responsible for Palestine, he publically rebuked the Zionists for trying to force Britain’s hand and emphasized that in the Balfour Declaration the British government had promised only to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It did not commit Britain to make Palestine as a whole the Jewish homeland. (This is discussed in great detail in my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.

The injustice done and the promises made were irreconcilable. So it is curious almost admirable the candor of Lord Balfour who in a statement in 1919 to his fellow Cabinet ministers admitted: “So far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers (Britain and France in their Sykes-Picot Accords) have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which at least in letter they have not always intended to violate.”

Jump ahead one hundred years to a recent letter in the New York Times by the 5th Earl, Roderick Balfour in which he acknowledged that while one part of the Balfour Declaration, which gave Jews a homeland in Palestine had been fulfilled, the other, respecting the rights of the native Palestinian population, had not. He went on to say:

“In 1917, my forebear Arthur Balfour, as British foreign secretary, wrote the Balfour Declaration, a great humanitarian initiative to give Jews a home in their ancient lands, against the background of the dreadful Russian pogroms.”

The Earl continued: “We are conscious, however, that a central tenet of the declaration has all but been forgotten over the intervening 100 years: respect for the status of the Palestinian people.”

He went on to say that Israel’s inability to abide by UN resolutions to cease building illegal settlements and withdraw from the Occupied Territories is a key factor behind growing anti-Semitism around the world. The Israeli Prime Minister owes it to the millions of Jews around the world who suffer because of Israel’s internal politics, particularly as they pertain to the disenfranchised Palestinians, to change his policies.

The Earl insists the centenary of the Balfour Declaration cannot be properly commemorated without not only progress on a viable solution but a simultaneous push toward to declaring Jerusalem the internationally protected capital for all three Abrahamic faiths as it was always originally intended to be.

Israeli and Palestinian Voices is available here:

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ISRAEL’S NEW LEGALIZATION LAW

Israel’s new Legalization Law legitimizes under Israeli law dozens of so-called settlement “outposts” that were built without official approval from Israeli authorities but were tacitly supported by successive Israeli governments as part of an effort to colonize as much Palestinian land as possible.

This new law follows Israel’s approval of 6,000 new settlement units in just the last two weeks and the announcement that Israel plans to build its first entirely new settlement on occupied Palestinian land in more than two decades.

According to Jonathan Cook writing in The National on February 8, 2017, the Legalization Law was the right’s forceful response to the eviction in early February of 40 families from a settlement “outpost” called Amona.The eviction of these families was transformed into an expensive piece of political theatre, costing an estimated $40 million. It was choreographed as a national trauma to ensure such an event is never repeated. As the evicted families clashed with police, sending several dozen to the hospital, Naftali Bennett, the Education Minister and leader of the settler party Jewish Home called Amona’s families “heroes.” Netanyahu added: “We all understand the extent of their pain,” and promised them an enlarged replacement settlement along with monetary compensation.

The real prize for Bennett and his far right party was the legalization law itself. It reverses a restriction imposed in the 1970s and designed to prevent a free-for-all by the settlers. International law is clear that an occupying force can take land only for military needs. Israel committed a war crime in transferring more than 600,000 Jewish civilians into the Occupied Territories.

Israel’s Attorney General has refused to defend the law should it be brought before Israel’s Supreme Court. Very belatedly the lower courts drew the line in land confiscation in Amona and demanded that the land be returned to its Palestinian owners. This new law overrules the judges in the lower courts, allowing private land stolen from Palestinians to be laundered as Israeli state property.

 

In practice there has never been a serious limit on theft of Palestinian land but now government support for the plunder will be explicit in law. It will be impossible to blame the outposts on “rogue” settlers or claim that Israel is trying to safeguard Palestinian property rights.

I saw this injustice for the first time in March 2002 when my Palestinian guide, Naim, on our way to Bethlehem, stopped his car and pointed off to the left.

“My family used to live here,” he said, and began to tell me his story. One of the things which upset me was the part about the ancient olive grove. No one knew how old the hundreds of trees really were. Some of the old-timers swore the olive grove was 300 years old or perhaps even older. The trees probably didn’t need irrigation because they’d been there so long. Their roots intermingled with the rich, dark dirt and delved deeply into the earth. A small village nearby had an olive press and every day during the season the villagers brought their freshly-picked crop to be pressed for oil.

Naim still remembered the exact location of his house, what time the sun shone through the kitchen window, and where each tree was planted. He remembered because he was the one who scurried up the trees and shook the branches at harvest time, carefully aiming for the sheet spread around the base of each tree to catch the olives as they fell.

Now there is no sign of a Palestinian presence. The villagers, if not already dead, have been dispersed to one of the many refugee camps. As for the ancient olive grove, it was uprooted to make way for Har Homa, a massive Israeli settlement. It sits atop Abu Ghnaim Mountain, once a forest of some 60,000 pine trees and a refuge for wild animals and plants. One the southwest edge of Bethlehem, this entire area was stripped bare to build 7,000 identical red-roofed, multi-storied square housing units, arranged in layers some two kilometers in circumference. When completed, the project looked from afar like asymmetrical Lego blocks. Gilo, another Israeli settlement, dominates the eastern perimeter of Bethlehem, sandwiching the Christian village between these two Israeli colossi. These and other stories can be found in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.

As opposition leader Isaac Herzog said: “The train departing from here has only one stop–the Hague, home of the International Criminal Court. If ICC judges take their duties seriously, we could see Prime Minister Netanyahu tried for complicity in the war crime of establishing illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land.

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JERUSALEM, A CORPUS SEPARATUM, NOT ISRAEL’S “ETERNAL AND INDIVISIBLE CAPITAL”

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 passed on November 29, 1947 provided for the full territorial internationalization of Jerusalem.

“The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations.”

Jerusalem holds unique spiritual and religious significance for the world’s Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Following World War 1, the victorious Principal Allied Powers recognized these as “a sacred trust of civilization,” and stipulated that the existing rights and claims connected to them should be safeguarded in perpetuity under international guarantee.

The United Nations General Assembly, therefore, does not recognize Israel’s proclamation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. U.N. general Assembly Resolution 623/30 of 2009 states that “any actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem are illegal and therefore null and void and have no validity whatsoever, and calls upon Israel to cease all such illegal and unilateral measures.”

Although the General Assembly cannot pass legally binding resolutions over international issues, the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to do so, has passed a total of six Security Council resolutions on Israel on the matter, including UNSC resolution 478 which affirmed that the enactment of the 1980 Basic Jerusalem Law declaring unified Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal and indivisible” capital, was a violation of international law.

The Security Council, as well as the U.N. has consistently affirmed the position that East Jerusalem is occupied territory subject to the provision of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The International Court of Justice in its 2004 Advisory opinion on the “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Territory” described East Jerusalem as “occupied Palestinian territory.”

This bizarre situation exists, in part, because most Palestinians in “undivided Jerusalem” are legally classified (by Israel) as “permanent residents,” rather than citizens of Israel, despite the de- facto annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel in 1967, deemed illegal by international law. As such, they do not enjoy the right to vote in national elections. Only an estimated 3,500 Palestinians of all ages, out of a total of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population of 320,000 (37% of Jerusalem’s total population, have received Israeli citizenship between 2002 and 2012.

On every social, economic and legal indicator there is a huge, purposeful disparity between Jewish West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem: Education, health, opportunities for professional employment, resource allocation from the municipality, the right to build, welfare spending (just 4.4% of Jerusalem Municipality welfare spending is allocated and spent in East Jerusalem yet Palestinians bear a heavier tax burden.) More on these issues can be found in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides.

Thus, the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the indigenous population under illegal Israeli control, are treated as non-Jewish immigrants to Israel. And why aren’t these Palestinian residents given Israeli citizenship? To do so would weaken the Jewish majority and the carefully gerrymandered political constituency of the state, and make them harder to expel.

The only place where Jerusalem is “the undivided capital of Israel” is in the fertile imaginations of ideologues like Netanyahu and his ilk. Nowhere else is there a prime minister so utterly detached from the realities of a city that he claims to be his nation’s “exclusive” capital. And when Netanyahu says he supports the two-state solution, but opposes anything less than an undivided Jerusalem under sole Israeli sovereignty, he is really saying: “I reject the two-state solution” (which as a solution is already dead in the water because of the extensive settlement expansion in both East Jerusalem and the West Bank making a contiguous Palestinian state now impossible.

But just when the myth of “undivided Jerusalem” was collapsing under the weight of its own fiction, President Donald Trump has stepped into the fray by announcing that his administration will move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That this move would effectively contravene the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemns all measures aimed at altering the status of the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, is apparently of no concern to President Trump.

It seems unlikely that Donald Trump’s new pro-settlement ambassador to Israel has explained the catastrophic implications that will be seen as deliberately inflammatory by the Palestinians and by the Islamic world, this making Trump’s chances of brokering the “ultimate deal” as he’s called it, impossible to achieve. Rather than endorse a united Jerusalem, his policy will only serve to intensity gargantuan divides and make the establishment of a Palestinian state impossible.
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