The volatile situation on the ground is fuelled by Palestinian hopelessness
Analysts in general agree that the gulf between Washington and the rest of the world widened through events that took place in Jerusalem and on the Israeli-Gaza border on May 14 and 15. Symbolism paved the path that reflected complete disregard for international law and world opinion.
The shifting of the US Embassy to the Occupied City of Jerusalem on May 14 has been an illegal, unilateral act that not only contravened international law including the Fourth Geneva Convention, but was also contrary to all of UN Security Council, General Assembly, and Human Rights Council resolutions, which affirm the status of Al-Quds as an occupied territory under Israel, the occupying power, since 1967.
This unfortunate development was carefully orchestrated to coincide with the anniversary on May 15 of what Palestinians call the “Nakba” or Catastrophe, in memory of the more than 700,000 Palestinians who were either driven from, or had to flee their homes during the Arab-Israeli war that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
The UN Human Rights Council Chief Zeid Raad Al Hussein has in this regard observed that what happened on these two days was totally unacceptable. Israel’s actions, according to him, might, “constitute ‘wilful killings’ -- a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” an international law designed to protect civilians under occupation.
Aviva Raz Shechter, Israel’s ambassador to the council, however, rejected the blame, saying Israel had done everything possible to avoid harming civilians.
The few days leading up to the 15th resulted in the deaths of around 100 Palestinians and injuries to thousands of Palestinian civilians at the hands of Israeli forces. It also affirmed the worst fears about overwhelming negative consequences like inciting of hatred, discrimination, extremism, and violence on a large scale.
The OIC member states as well as many countries in Europe have in this regard also stressed the adverse implications of this move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem on the prospects for a two-state solution, which has been the cornerstone of a possible lasting solution in the Arab-Israel conflict.
Many are also asking why President Trump had to do what he did at this point of time when his administration is already preoccupied with the evolving situation in the Korean Peninsula, and also with regard to the after-effects of the US coming out of the Iran nuclear deal.
One feels that this open shift in policy on Jerusalem has resulted from overt and covert pressure from pro-Israel politicians in Washington.
Vice President Mike Pence and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, are also thought to have pushed hard for the relocation of the embassy and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This decision received the support of, and was popular with, many conservatives and also evangelical Christians who had voted for Trump and Pence.
Trump appears to have acted under a 1995 law that requires the US to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Trump used this as an excuse which has been overlooked by his predecessors -- Clinton, Bush, and Obama through the use of signed waivers. Trump did what he did and has explained that this is because unlike previous presidents, he has “courage.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has since reported that though 86 countries have diplomatic missions in Israel, only some have agreed to follow the US move within the near future. Guatemala and Paraguay have already taken necessary action in this regard.
It may be recalled that in December, 2017, some 128 countries voted in a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution calling on the US to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nine voted against, 35 abstained, and 21 did not cast a vote. It is clear that all those who voted for the resolution received a slap on their faces.
The emerging chasm between the US and the rest of the world, including the EU, was most obvious when eight members of the EU lined up at the UN to call on Israel to restrain itself from using excessive force.
They also called on Hamas to ensure protests in Gaza remain non-violent. They also observed that “while recognizing the right to protect its borders, we expect Israel to respect the fundamental right to peaceful protests and the principle of proportionality in the use of force when defending its legitimate security interest.”
Haley, US permanent representative to the UN, however, struck an entirely different note at an emergency UN meeting of the Security Council. She questioned why the council wasn’t discussing Iranian violence, whether there was any link between the violence and the embassy opening, and said the issue wasn’t worthy of a UN meeting at all.
Haley also used her address to the council as an opportunity to congratulate Israel for marking the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence, but did not mention any Palestinian deaths or injuries in her remarks. She also remarked on May 15 that “moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem was the right thing to do,” and it “reflects the will of the American people,” though a poll released in December last year showed that 63% of Americans opposed the move, including 44% of Republicans.
Some within the US administration have argued that this latest step is a reflection of reality, but the city’s final boundaries can still be determined through negotiations. This is a bit confusing, as President Trump is also known to have remarked that he has taken the issue “off the table.”
He has also failed to say anything about Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem.
Despite claims of an even-handed approach, the international media has also pointed out that the Trump Administration has sided with Israel in its response to the deadly violence on the Gaza border, and unlike European countries, did not call on the Israeli army to exercise restraint.
One thing is clear. It is a volatile situation fuelled by a sense of Palestinian hopelessness that could lead to further escalation with unpredictable results.
It also appears to be true that some key Arab countries seem more willing to sanction a settlement less favourable to the Palestinians than before, because they want Israel as an ally against Iran.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]