Move to Jerusalem ‘a colossal blunder’
Jerusalem. Its status in international law is that of a ‘corpus separatum’ NOT the capital of Israel. Riyad Mansour, the US-educated diplomat and Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, said that the move would represent a blatant defiance of Palestine’s rights over occupied Jerusalem. “If they do that, nobody should blame us for unleashing all of the weapons that we have in the UN to defend ourselves and we have a lot of weapons in the UN,” he said. Photo by Qanta Ahmed.
Institute of Palestine Studies
December 14, 2016
Kellyanne Conway, President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign manager, has stated that relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a “a big priority” for the incoming administration. She added: “It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish-Americans have expressed their preference for.”
Meanwhile, in a passage that has since been removed from the online article, theTimes of Israel has reported that the Trump transition team “has begun exploring the logistics of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv, and checking into sites for its intended new location,” adding that the site being considered was formerly the location of the Allenby Barracks,the site of the British army’s Jerusalem garrison during the Mandate.
However, as is revealed by Walid Khalidi’s SPECIAL REPORT on the subject, [see below] originally published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, the site being considered is Palestinian private property stolen from its owners, including the waqf property of several families. He points out that the move would recklessly violate US and international law and have the following impact:
- The law of belligerent occupation applies to Jerusalem. Neither Israeli nor American laws have a bearing on the status of Jerusalem as an occupied city. Moving the embassy will not change the fact that Israel is the occupier, would contradict the stand taken by every US administration since 1967, and would violate international law and UN resolutions. These include 1980 UN Security Council resolution 478, which declared Israel’s announcement of Jerusalem as its capital “null and void.”
- On 18 January 1989 a Land Lease and Purchase Agreement was signed between Israel and the US, for land serving as a US embassy site in what was known as the Allenby Barracks. Much of the land in this area belongs to Palestinian refugees, including privately owned and Waqf land. He notes: “with all that Jerusalem connotes, it is, to say the least, unbecoming for the United States’ future embassy in that city to be built on land that is stolen property.”
- On 21 July 1989, Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois wrote a memorandum on the legal implications of the lease agreement, arguing that the expropriation of waqf or private property in Jerusalem was illegal; that the lease agreement itself was illegal; and that Congress is legally barred from providing funds for the implementation of the agreement.
- Relocating the embassy means endorsing the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, and predetermining the fate of Jerusalem in a final status solution. This endorsement includes acceptance of Israel’s illegally built settlements and the wholesale confiscation of Palestinian refugee property.
For these reasons, moving the embassy would gravely undermine the American role in the Middle East, especially since it contradicts and repudiates the commitments and assurances of all previous U.S. administrations since 1967. The implications of such a move for the position of the United States in the Middle East will be grave, including its adverse impact on the numerous Arab regimes that turn a blind eye to all the US does in support of Israel.
The impact inside Palestine and on Palestinians elsewhere is also likely to be great, whether in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or among the 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel. Finally, given how important the issue of Jerusalem is for Muslims around the world, and especially at a time when radical Islamist groups systematically exploit the Palestine issue, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem will constitute a potentially explosive provocation.
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SPECIAL REPORT. First paragraph only.
By Walid Khalidi
One of the most difficult issues of the final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is Jerusalem. The complexity of this issue has been compounded by US. actions to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and by allegations that the prospective site of the embassy is Palestinian refugee property confiscated by Israel since 1948.
Evidence of Palestinian ownership of the 7.7-acre site-the subject of this report-was gathered by a group of Palestinians from the records of the United Nations Conciliation Committee on Palestine (UNCCP) in New York, the Public Records Office (PRO) in London, the US. State Department (DOS), the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israeli Land Registry Records (Tapu), the Israeli Ministry ofJustice, and heirs of the original owners. The research extended over a six-year period and involved some forty individuals. Although hampered by the inaccessibility of the site to surveyors and by Israel’s re-zoning and re-parcellation of the land in question, the evidence yielded by this research shows that at least 70 percent of the site is refugee private property, of which more than a third is Islamic waqf (trust). On 15 May 1948, the last day of the Mandate, the site was owned by seventy-six Palestinians.
Why Trump’s plan is a terrible idea for Israel, Palestine, and the wider Middle East.
By Hussein Ibish, Foreign Policy
December 22, 2016
Among the many alarming ways in which President-elect Donald Trump might upend traditional American foreign policy, one of the most immediate and troubling concerns his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Other successful presidential candidates, most notably Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, made the same promise, only, once inaugurated, to emulate all of their predecessors by invoking the executive waiver to the 1995 congressional mandate to relocate the embassy.
Trump, however, appears less inclined than either of them to back away from the idea. What awaits is a potentially colossal blunder — not just for Palestinians, but for America’s diplomatic reputation and standing, and also for Israel’s national security.
This appointment is troubling enough, assuming the Senate confirms Friedman (which it shouldn’t but may well do). Trump may be rewarding a loyal subordinate with a cherished appointment in a manner that plays fast and loose with policy and political realities but that could still be manageable because ambassadors don’t make policy. It’s going to be extremely difficult for Friedman, as U.S. ambassador to Israel, to have a reasonable relationship with anyone other than the Jewish Israeli ultra-right, but as long as he is merely the American representative, the actual policy damage could and should be limited and reversible.
The same cannot be said for the idea of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Ever since Congress mandated the move in 1995, every president, including those who vowed to relocate the embassy, has invoked an executive waiver holding that it is not in the American national interest at the moment. Since 1947, the international community has, virtually unanimously, regarded Jerusalem as a corpus separatum whose future and precise political status must be determined through negotiations between Israel and the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians.
Because of the unanimous international consensus regarding the status of Jerusalem, no international embassies to Israel are currently located in the city, and almost all are in Tel Aviv. This has always been true of the United States and other major powers, although 24 countries did once have embassies in or near West Jerusalem. However, after Israel’s purported annexation of this occupied territory, in violation, as the U.N. Security Council has repeatedly pointed out, of “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” these missions were eventually all relocated. Should the United States move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, therefore, it would be taking the lead in abrogating an international consensus that has held for almost 70 years.
Not only would Washington be abandoning, and effectively trashing, the international consensus it played a leading role in building and maintaining over decades — as well as effectively discarding the idea that territory can’t be acquired militarily as stipulated by the U.N. charter — the United States would also be abandoning any hope of serving as an honest broker or effective negotiator between Israel and the Palestinians in the foreseeable future. Combined with the appointment of Friedman, it would send a very strong message to the Palestinians that Washington is no longer interested in securing a realistic or viable two-state solution, which has been the bedrock of American policy for decades.
The Palestinian response on the ground is hard to predict. But the potential for an explosion of outrage, and possibly violence, is obviously very great. Jerusalem is the most sensitive issue between Israelis and Palestinians, as the outbreak of the Second Intifada and other repeated instances in which it has served as a uniquely potent flash point have illustrated. Jerusalem brings together religious, nationalistic, symbolic, and ethnic sensibilities in a singularly powerful and dangerous mix. If Palestinians conclude that their future in what they consider to be their capital is being effectively foreclosed by American policy, an outraged, and even violent, response in the form of a spontaneous, or possibly even organized, uprising is extremely plausible — perhaps even inevitable, if not immediately.
For Israel, the benefits of a Jerusalem-based U.S. Embassy would be entirely symbolic, while the costs could be significant and substantial. Not only could the Israelis end up dealing with a new eruption of violence and unrest directly linked to the move; it could severely damage Israel’s regional posture and diplomatic gains with key Arab states. The embassy move would certainly violate the spirit, if not the letter, of Israel’s Washington-brokered peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and the reaction of these countries is hard to predict but unlikely to be insignificant. If nothing else, domestic political pressure would virtually guarantee that Cairo and Amman find some way of expressing their extreme discomfort, and broader cooperation with Israel will become far more difficult for both of them.
This applies even more to the Gulf Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, which have entered into a cautious, politically sensitive, and positive re-evaluation of their relations with Israel in light of the shared perception of Iran as an overarching regional threat. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies have been exultant about the quiet progress that has been made with these Arab countries because of shared anxiety about Tehran’s agenda, the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would likely prove a massive complication, if not a complete end, to these developments.
Along with other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the leading Gulf Arab states would almost certainly feel it necessary to practically demonstrate their objections to the relocation of the U.S. Embassy by finding some means of reasserting Palestinian, and even broader Christian and Muslim, claims on Jerusalem — and the most likely fallout would be a curtailment of security cooperation with Israel on matters concerning Iran’s nefarious activities in the Middle East. Adding such an additional layer of tension between Israel and the Arab states would be an enormous gift to Tehran and its regional alliance.
Moreover, for Palestinian diplomacy, the lesson will be all too clear: Israel preaches the pointlessness of purely symbolic gestures regarding national morale on the Palestinian side but wholeheartedly embraces them when it comes to issues such as Jerusalem. It will be impossible for Israel and America, if the U.S. Embassy is moved to Jerusalem, to successfully lecture the Palestine Liberation Organization about how pointless or quixotic purely symbolic moves at the United Nations and other international organizations and forums might be on the grounds that nominal gains with practical costs are foolish. Both the United States and Israel will have demonstrated that they don’t believe that at all and instead embrace symbolic moves that come at high costs when it suits them. There’s almost no question the Palestinians will take it as a virtual mandate to charge forward in international forms, ratcheting up as many symbolic victories as possible with a similar disregard for the practical consequences.
Israel’s national security establishment almost certainly understands these dangers, and it’s clear that much of it has and will be quietly counseling against any dramatic move to relocate the U.S. Embassy. Some half measures are possible: Building could be initiated on a site intended for a future U.S. Embassy but without much urgency and without actually relocating diplomats. Other gestures, short of a calamitous actual relocation, are also possible, as is the most likely and advisable course: the repetition of what other presidents have done in the past, which is abandon the campaign promise because it is bad for American policy, very dangerous for Israel’s national security, devastating to prospects for peace, and a gift to Iran and other nefarious actors.
Trump may have committed to moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel, but given how flexible he has proved to be on a huge variety of issues throughout his campaign and pre-inaugural interregnum, reversing course shouldn’t be particularly difficult. But it requires that someone first carefully inform him of the real costs at stake. And, sadly, his nominee for ambassador to Israel means there’s one less person inclined, or able, to do just that.