US does Israel-Palestine peace a bad turn

| | in Oped

In a reckless move straying from the consistent US policy on Israel-Palestine peace process, the Donald Trump administration recently defied all international concerns and  recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s new capital, asserting that it would move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied city. This move triggered debates surrounding the protracted Arab-Israel conflict which has been lingering on since 1948. However, the Trump administration decision came as no surprise as the US President has extended an unprecedented support to a powerful Jewish lobby in the corridors of power in the US. After facing global outrage and isolation, White House defended President Trump’s decision, asserting that it was a reflection of “ground realities” as they “want to continue to push forward in those conversations and those discussions”.

The issue of Jerusalem is so delicate that US’ staunchest allies — EU, NATO countries — and even its “poodle” Britain are desisting to follow the suit and give leverage to the international public opinion and sensitivity of the issue. Even Trump’s predecessors had earlier deferred to implement the Congressional law of 1995 called Jerusalem Embassy Act which calls for recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The US’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital violates UN Security Council Resolution 478 and lends credence to 1980 Israel’s “Basic law” which declared entire Jerusalem ‘complete and united’ as the capital of Israel. Fundamentally it is an issue of final status settlement between the Arabs and the Israelis and to dodging it  may have a major political, legal and moral implications for the region.

The contested city

The genesis of the recent crisis lies in the 1917 Balfour Declaration in a form of a letter in which British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour promised to carve out a Jewish homeland in the wake of rising anti-Jewish feelings in Europe. Since then the colonial western powers’ vested interests made the region bad to worst. Jerusalem or Al-Quds is a city which houses holy places of all the Abrahamic religions — Judaism Christianity and Islam in historical order — and is claimed by both Palestinians and Israelis. This remains a bone of contention between the warring parties as it was given an international status or corpus separatum (separate entity) in the resolution 181 of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 1947 despite the total rejection of Palestinians and the larger Arab world. In the UN-imposed Partition Plan, the land of Palestine was divided into three entities i.e. Israel, West Bank & Gaza, and Jerusalem (under international observation). After the withdrawal of Mandatory British forces, Israel flouted this resolution and annexed West Jerusalem and war broke out in 1948, following the Naqba ‘the Catastrophe’ in which Zionist militias forcibly evicted around 7 lakh Palestinians from their land. In 1967 Six Day War, Israel again annexed the East Jerusalem area where predominantly Arabs, including Muslims and Christians, coexist without citizenship rights under the Israeli occupation.

Jerusalem is the focal point of reference for both the Palestinians and Israelis of their respected narratives. But the importance of this city in engraved in the collective memory of whole Palestinian community. Palestinians consider it as a future capital of the State of Palestine. Any effort without amicable settlement of range of issues particularly the Jerusalem city is like a pipe dream. So, this US-Israeli measure is a serious obstruction to achieve a comprehensive, just and enduring peace in West Asia.

Bizarre move

Trump wants to send out a message that he is a tough decision maker and can act unilaterally to bring peace in the West Asian region. The bizarre Jerusalem move is overt support for sheer perversity for ‘Eretz Israel’ (Greater Israel) and intends to legitimise the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Trump’s decision bears testimony to the power the Jewish advocacy groups, like American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and American Jewish Committee (AJC), are enjoying in the corridors of power in Washington DC. It also questions the morality of the US and its role as non-partisan peace negotiator in the Arab-Israeli peace process. It has also made mockery of human rights and principles of justice for Palestinians.

The Trump’s decision has set off a new controversy, making the Palestinian territory susceptible to fresh violent clashes as Hamas has called for third intifada to take on the Zionist occupation. Further aggravating tension in the region, Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) emergency summit in Istanbul declared East Jerusalem as the capital of State of Palestine. Iraq’s Sadrist movement Shia Islamist leader Syed Muqtada al-Sadr announced the mobilisation of volunteers to free Al-Quds on the pattern al-Hashad al-Shabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces). The powerful Hezbollah in Lebanon, which beaming with confidence after hard fought battle with the fringe groups in Syria, too may to join forces against Israel. Showing its uprightness, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reaffirmed at the OIC Summit that it is ready to cooperate without any “preconditions” and “reservations” for the liberation of Palestine. In the given scenario, the enduring peace is evasive in near future.

Cruel deception

It is pity that Gulf monarchical demagogues are engaged in containing the imaginary Iranian clout and so-called “Shia Crescent” in the region. They have established cordial relations with Israel at the expense of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The Trump administration knows the spinelessness of some Muslim nations, especially the Gulf littoral sheikhdoms, that is why he had spoken to Saudi Arabia’s beleaguered monarch before taking this step. Notably, Saudi Arabia’s fickleness about the  Palestinian cause has played a role in the Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

India’s lukewarm response

Keeping in mind the thriving India-Israel relationship and at the same time the growing unrest in the world against the Trump decision, India had to walk a difficult tightrope at the UN. In fact, it was pragmatic to vote against the Trump’s  move.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country.” India has been a staunch backer of the Palestinian cause from its very inception and always expressed solidarity with the cause. There is a long history of India’s opposition to Israel’s occupation and its apartheid policy towards Palestinians. India was among the first non-Arab countries to recognise Yasser Arafat-led Palestine Liberation Organisation as sole representative of the Palestinian people.

However, realising its own domestic obligations, India has tilted towards Israel in recent years, mostly because of defence ties and agricultural technological cooperation. These “interests” have led to a paradigm shift in India’s policy towards Palestinian cause, and  it was visible as India avoided condemning the Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. Despite having voted in favour of Palestine at the UN, the Modi Government is trying to set a precedent in its policy towards the Israel-Palestine issue as Israel’s contribution to India’s civil and defence requirement is tremendous.

(The writer is a doctoral candidate at Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) 

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