Hot Topics

18
May
2017

Four Pertinent and Timely Comments on the Trump Visit


Western Wall, Jerusalem.

Western Wall, Jerusalem. (Daniel Majewski, CC BY-SA 3.0)

In anticipation of the upcoming visit of President Trump to Israel, statements have been made by various sources regarding issues involved in the peace negotiation process, including the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the location of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, the Palestinian willingness to make peace, and Israel’s settlements.

The following four comments address these issues.

The U.S. Consulate Comments Regarding the Western Wall

U.S. Jerusalem consulate staff, part of the White House advance team, charged that the area of the Western Wall “is not your [Israel’s] territory,” is part of the West Bank, and Israel does not have jurisdiction there.1 Their remarks are indicative of a worrying mindset maintained by the Jerusalem consulate staff.

This flawed and even hostile conviction has developed over the years as a result of a strict separation maintained by U.S. Administrations between the Tel Aviv embassy, accredited to the State of Israel, and its Jerusalem consulate. The consulate defines itself as “an independent mission that serves Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.” The consulate’s website adds that “…since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Consulate General has served as the de facto representative of the United States government to the Palestinian Authority.”2

This situation emanates from the American refusal to recognize any part of Jerusalem – whether western Jerusalem (since 1948) or eastern Jerusalem (since 1967) – as part of the State of Israel.

U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem

U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem (Magister, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The U.S. Jerusalem consulate reports only and directly to the State Department. It is not part of, nor subject to the authority of the U.S. diplomatic mission to the State of Israel.

It is, in fact, perceived, by the State Department and especially by its own staff, as being the informal U.S. embassy to the Palestinians. As such it functions to further Palestinian interests and identifies itself with Palestinian concerns.

The above-noted comment by the consular officials regarding the status of the Western Wall brings to the fore a long-existing and serious flaw in the U.S. policy towards Israel.

The wide, liberal, and independent political latitude practiced by the consular staff and their manifest enmity to Israel and animosity to Israeli citizens requiring consular services would appear to be at odds with the basic tenor and positions of this U.S. Administration.

Whatever decision will ultimately be made regarding the physical location of the United States’ Israel embassy, it is high time that the role and the activity of the U.S. Jerusalem consulate, including the attitude of its staff, be placed under serious review, with the aim of bringing them into line with the U.S. relationship with Israel.

Threats against U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

According to media reports, officials at the U.S. State Department, U.S. Defense Department, and the U.S. intelligence community have warned the White House that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be “harmful to the peace process and carry broader regional risks.”

The warning echoed sentiments coming from within the White House as well as those of Gulf states, Arab diplomats, and the Palestinian leadership.

Such warnings may well emanate from viewpoints and opinions held by various administration officials based on past U.S. policies and positions over the years. However, since such policies never achieved progress in the peace process, they can no longer be considered relevant, useful, or effective.

In fact, they represent a misreading of the present political and legal situation, as well as being at odds with Congressional directives and legislation.

Above all, they are the result of a distinct policy of intimidation aimed at preventing any anticipated change or innovation in the handling of the peace process, as well as preventing the realization of assurances voiced by the President on this matter.

The contrary viewpoint has no less, and even more, merit.

As long as the Administration allows itself to be intimidated by threats, it cannot expect to be considered credible regarding this or any other issue that may come up in the political negotiating process.

The effectiveness of such intimidation in limiting the actions of the Administration will, of necessity, be viewed by the Palestinian leadership and Arab states as American weakness and a green light for maximalist demands. It will serve as a precedent for any other controversial issue and is tantamount to allowing external elements to dictate to the U.S. president.

Substantively, the fact that Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel is an accepted, legal, historical, and political fact. Continued reticence and hesitation by the U.S. Administration are indicative of a continuing American reservation to that fact, something that is clearly incompatible with the positive relationship between the two countries.

The agreed issue to be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations is that of the status of the eastern part of Jerusalem. Both the Palestinians and Israel have agreed, in the Oslo Accords, to which the U.S. President is a signatory, to negotiate this issue.

Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would in no way prejudice this negotiation on Jerusalem, and in any event, the diplomatic and consular jurisdiction of the embassy vis-à-vis the eastern part of Jerusalem would be subject to the outcome of such negotiation.

Accordingly, the above-noted threat is an empty one intended to intimidate the United States and to stunt the U.S. sovereign prerogative to locate its embassy wherever it wishes. Not only will it not harm the peace progress, but it will serve as a boost to invigorate and encourage progress in that peace process.

Palestinian Willingness to Make Concessions

Several sources, including World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder, have opined that the Palestinian leader Abbas is prepared to make concessions and to reach a peace deal with Israel.3

In his statement after meeting President Trump, Abbas stated: “Our strategic option, our strategic choice is to bring about peace based on the vision of two states, a Palestinian state, with its capital of east Jerusalem that lives in peace and stability with the state of Israel based on the borders of 1967.” 4

So far so good, but Lauder’s view would appear to be overly naïve, to the extent of “wishful thinking,” and both misleading and dishonest on the part of Abbas.

The Palestinian leadership is far from moderate, by any standard. Even without Hamas incitement, it engages in an officially-sanctioned policy of “de-normalization” vis-à-vis Israel. The leadership, including Abbas, officially supports acts of violence, and praises, memorializes, and encourages Palestinian terrorists. It finances the families of mega-terrorists serving prison sentences, thereby further encouraging and rewarding acts of terror.

Just days ago, on May 15, 2017, President Abbas declared in India, “”Our people will not leave behind the issue of the Nakba until all their legitimate national rights are recognized, without exception – and first and foremost the right of return and the right to self-determination and establishing an independent, fully sovereign state in the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”5 [Emphasis added.]

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (kremlin.ru)

Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have consistently refused to resume negotiations, nor to meet or to enter into any dialogue with Israel’s leaders. They insist on the “right of return” which is tantamount to the destruction of Israel. They block contacts between Palestinians and Israelis at the diplomatic, professional, and people-to-people levels. This policy runs counter to Palestinian commitments in the Oslo Accords to encourage the development of cooperation and “people-to-people dialogues” at all levels.

The Palestinian leadership initiates and openly supports boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) aimed at the delegitimization of Israel in international and regional organizations, international tribunals, and the UN and its specialized agencies. The leadership has initiated criminal charges against Israel’s leaders in the International Criminal Court.

In the context of discussions concerning “two states for two peoples,” the Palestinian leadership has consistently refused to accept the concept of Israel as the democratic nation state of the Jewish People.

Israeli Settlements and the Peace Process

In a recent statement, White House sources declared that “new Israeli settlements in Palestinian-occupied territories may not be helpful in resolving the decades-old conflict.”6

According to the Oslo Accords, the issue of Israel’s settlements is an open, agreed-upon negotiating issue between the Palestinians and Israel. Pending attainment of a negotiated settlement, the Oslo Accords place no freeze or restriction on either Israel or the Palestinians to engage in planning, zoning, and construction in areas under their respective control.

Accordingly, arbitrary and unilateral predetermination as to the legitimacy of settlements, and any call for their removal prior to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians are inconsistent with the agreements and constitute prejudgment of a negotiating issue.

The claim that the settlements are the source of the conflict holds no logic. The Arab-Israel conflict existed long before the establishment of any settlement, with efforts by the Arab states in 1948 to prevent the establishment of the state of Israel and their ongoing efforts since then to bring about its demise.

Conclusion

It is hoped that President Trump and his close advisers are conversant with the above points and will not allow themselves to be confused or deceived by empty threats and unrealistic and irresponsible statements.

* * *

Notes

About Amb. Alan Baker

Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.

This entry was posted in International Law, Jerusalem, Palestinians, Settlements, The Middle East, U.S. Policy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.