Jerusalem: Two Capitals

A guest post from Prof. Boaz Atzili:

Let’s talk about Jerusalem.

The most import fact to remember is that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel does not mean recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the eastern part of the city, and it does not mean that Jerusalem cannot be the capital of the Palestinian people as well.

1) Is Jerusalem the capital of Israel? Israelis know it is, and West Jerusalem is the seat of the government and the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. In practice and as a matter of fact, this has been the situation for almost 70 years, since 1948.

Legally, the only base to claim that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel is the UN Partition Plan of November 1947. In that UN resolution, Jerusalem was supposed to be an international enclave, neither Israeli nor Palestinian. The Palestinians and Arab states utterly rejected that plan in 1947 and instead chose to fight against what they saw, perhaps justifiably so, as an unfair and biased resolution.

After the War of Independence (for Israelis) or the Nakba (for Palestinians) ended in 1949, nobody seriously considered the Partition Resolution as a viable plan for the future of the land. The majority of UN members recognized Israel in its post-war boundaries, as was the custom of the day, but left the status of Jerusalem open for future negotiations. All the Arab states, who rejected these factual borders, instead insisted that Israel as a whole is illegal, not that it should return to the Partition borders.

In all previous rounds of peace negotiation, no party demanded that West Jerusalem become an international enclave. It is clear to anybody with some sense of appreciation of reality that this is an irreversible fact, like many forceful territorial changes of centuries past. West Jerusalem hence is and should be the capital of Israel.

2) But is also a fact that East Jerusalem’s status is different. It was conquered by Israel in the 1967 war, at the time when international norms about legitimate conquest had already changed dramatically since the late 1940s. By 1967 it was no longer an acceptable practice to change state borders by force. It’s important to note that this was the case not only in international law, but in practice. Hence the occupation of East Jerusalem (like other Arab territories) was not, and is still not, recognized by the international community.

Moreover, despite the massive Israeli building in East Jerusalem and despite the constant rhetoric about “the eternally unified Jerusalem,” the city is not unified. For 50 years, Israel failed to create a city that functions as one whole; the government of the city discriminates against some of its residents based on nationality or religion. And Palestinians feel as strongly attached to East Jerusalem as their capital as Israel feels to theirs. Jerusalem is not a united city, and anybody who lived there can attest to that reality as well.

3) So whatever the US President declares on Wednesday, those twin facts, that West Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and the East Jerusalem will be the Palestinian capital, will not change. Arguing that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel, or that the city is eternally united (presumably under Israeli authority) are both wishful thinking. And in the Middle East, often wishful thinking results in violence.

All of the above does not mean that the US should not be sensitive to the potential violent consequences of a declaration of recognition, or that it should not consider the right timing. Ideally, such a declaration should be done in conjunction with a significant advance in the peace process. But let’s be serious: Jerusalem— united or divided— is and should be the capital of Israel and a Palestinian state.

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Trump, Obama, and Israel

So much has happened in the last days of the Obama presidency regarding Israel-Palestine, much of it including Donald Trump, that it’s sometimes feels hard to keep up. I’ve had a few pieces out trying to analyze different elements of what this process of transition from Obama to Trump means for American Jews and for Israel. I’ve put excerpts of them below.

Monkey Cage:

Here I lay out why Jerusalem’s status is so difficult to resolve, and therefore why Trump’s claim that he’ll move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is problematic.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has resisted resolution for decades. But Trump has insisted that “a deal is a deal” and that because he is “a negotiator,” he will be successful where others were not. In this case, presumably Trump plans to offer the Palestinians compensation to accept Israel’s claims to Jerusalem.

But it is not that simple.

The “let’s make a deal” approach assumes that each negotiating party has a series of material things that can be traded off. In this approach, both sides understand they will be better off with more than they currently have.

But that doesn’t apply to a place like Jerusalem.

Follow the link for more.

Texas Jewish Post:

Here I argue that Donald Trump, his team’s, and the American Jewish right’s ideas regarding Israel should worry American Jews. This is because they are trying to define what constitutes being Jewish as being all about Israel. Because this is a rightwing version, criticisms of Israel and dissent from its government’s policies are cast as heretical and anti-Israel. It also means domestic concerns that matter to US Jews, particularly social policies, are pushed aside in favor of a focus on Israel. But being Jewish in the diaspora is about much more than Israel.

The National Interest:

Ilan Goldenberg and I argue that Barack Obama’s abstention from UN Security Council resolution 2334 and John Kerry’s last speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were both quite reasonable, and should not be considered a betrayal of Israel. We conclude:

Contrary to claims that President Obama has, in his final days in office, engaged in an unprecedented betrayal, the United States has voted for or abstained on Security Council resolutions critical of Israel under every administration since 1967. The 2016 abstention represented a reasonable approach to one obstacle to peace while the Obama administration’s other policies over the past eight years – captured and updated in the Kerry speech – reflect a deep commitment to Israel’s security and reaffirmed Israel’s and Palestine’s right to exist together side-by-side in peace and security.

Read our full explanation.

Haaretz:

Finally, here I set out what I think is an over-looked element of the American-Israeli relationship: There’s nothing automatic or inherent about its closeness. Indeed, the relationship has grown closer over time due to domestic changes in both countries and shifts in international politics. That means, though, that as these conditions change again, the relationship can grow more distant. I think that’s what is happening now. I think it will remain strong, certainly for the near future, and there is no way to predict what it will look like in 10 or 20 years. But I do think we are witnessing a shift at this moment.

The Israeli government’s commitments to the settlement enterprise – discussed also in the National Interest piece – are a big part of this:

What has changed is that the international community now firmly opposes the settlement enterprise, and is willing to push Israel hard on them. UN Resolution 2334, for example, explicitly calls on the world to “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

Any Israeli government that promotes settlements will find itself increasingly isolated on this issue in world opinion and in international institutions. Israel’s domestic politics reinforce that type of government. The country’s electorate has shifted to the right. It’s not a permanent move. But the lack of a viable leftwing alternative to the political right and to Mr. Netanyahu specifically has facilitated the dominance of the nationalist right. That segment of the political class is committed to expanding settlements. Any international effort to push Israel to end that enterprise is a threat to both the right’s political position and to its deeply held beliefs.

Here is the full piece.