Israel Pulse

Why US must also open East Jerusalem embassy

Article Summary
Opening a US Embassy in Jerusalem could actually advance peace, if it is accompanied by the opening of a US Embassy to Palestine in East Jerusalem.

Before taking off for Israel to inaugurate the new US Embassy building in Jerusalem scheduled for May 14, Ivanka Trump, the daughter of US President Donald Trump, would do well to study the Talmudic adage that roughly translated means, “The pot calling the kettle black.” The saying will help her explain to her father that no one who violates international law can expect others — Iran, for instance — to adhere to it. A leader who expects his rival, such as North Korean President Kim Jong Un, to abide by United Nations resolutions should serve as a shining example of adherence to those resolutions.

In case the president does not understand what his daughter is getting at, her husband, Jared Kushner — Trump's special envoy to the Middle East — could probably whip out UN Resolution 478 of August 1980. The Security Council’s resolution determines that Israel’s Basic Law, stating “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel,” enacted by the Knesset three weeks earlier contravenes international law. The council expressed “deep concern” about what it described as the change in the character and status of the city, “with its implications for peace and security.”

The resolution, adopted by a 14-0 vote and a US abstention, declared that all measures adopted by Israel altering the “holy city” of Jerusalem are null and void. It even called on countries that maintain diplomatic missions in the city to withdraw them.

Until Israel took over the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it, almost 40% of the 54 foreign diplomatic missions in Israel, most of them from Latin America and Africa, were located in the city. Within less than a month after this UN resolution, 13 countries shut down their missions and moved out. Turkey closed its consulate general in the city. The United States did not implement its veto power to quash Resolution 478, arguing that the issue of Jerusalem must be resolved in peace negotiations rather than a unilateral declaration by one side.

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On Dec. 6, 2017, with negotiations between the sides moribund, Trump decided the time was right for a unilateral move regarding the status of Jerusalem. Following his declaration recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the UN Security Council once again affirmed, “Any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void, and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council.”

Several days later, on Dec. 21, 2017, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) voted overwhelmingly in favor of the resolution by a 128 majority, calling on member states to avoid moving their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem. The UNGA reiterated the longstanding position of the international community, led by the United States, according to which the status of Jerusalem should only be determined in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Other than the United States and Israel, only seven member states, hardly major powers, voted nay: Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo.

The world’s top cop was not only unmoved by the UN resolutions, Trump ordered the opening of the new Jerusalem embassy moved up to May 2018 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not content with just having the US flag fly in Jerusalem. In recent months, he has been working hard to tempt other countries, especially those ruled by right-wing governments, to follow in the steps of the United States and trample the resolutions of the UN. At a reception for foreign diplomats marking Israel’s Independence Day, celebrated this year on April 19, Netanyahu addressed the ambassadors like a seasoned sales representative in vernacular reminiscent of reality TV shows, saying, “There’s a simple principle, you’re familiar with it: First come, first served. I’ve decided that the first 10 embassies to come here will get preferential treatment. We’ll help you! All of you should do that.”

Netanyahu also shared with his listeners the news that at least six other countries were “seriously discussing with us, moving the embassy to Jerusalem.” Netanyahu found a surprising advocate for his call in — of all places — the left wing of Israeli society. In an interview on Germany’s Deutsche Welle television, Amos Oz, Israel’s iconoclastic author and one of its preeminent advocates for peace, called on all countries of the world to follow Trump and move their embassies to Jerusalem.

However, there was a caveat to the initiative he presented in the interview marking Israel’s Independence Day and publication of the German-language edition of his book "Dear Zealots. Letters from a Divided Land.” The Jerusalem-born writer suggested that countries moving their embassies to the western part of Jerusalem should, at the same time, open embassies in the city’s eastern section as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Indeed, there is precedent for such an arrangement. For years, many countries maintained two embassies in Berlin, one in the western part of town and one in the Communist east. Since the division of the Korean Peninsula, the same flags have been flying in Seoul and Pyongyang. According to former US President Bill Clinton's peace plan of 2000 and other plans formulated by Israeli-Palestinian teams and research institutes, Jerusalem is supposed to serve as the capital of two states without the need for a dividing cement wall and barbed wire.

Last December, leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation convening in Istanbul called for recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. One can infer from this declaration that the Islamic nations, including the Arab states, are willing to recognize the western part of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel along with parallel recognition of the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow recently announced that Russia recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the east should be the capital of the future Palestinian state. The European Union high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, said in response to Trump’s Jerusalem declaration that the city should serve as both the capital of Israel and of Palestine. The Arab League and the EU declared in February that Jerusalem should be the joint capital of Israel and of the future Palestinian state.

With the opening of its embassy in West Jerusalem, the United States will be severing the umbilical cord linking the status of Jerusalem under international law and UN resolutions to the terms of a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. What’s more, Trump has already made clear that recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv do not constitute an American position on a final Israeli-Palestinian agreement, including the boundaries of Jerusalem. If the embassy opening is a symbolic move intended to advance a two-state solution, all countries supporting such a resolution to the conflict should be called upon to move their embassies to the city. At the same time, they should move their missions from the city of Ramallah — the West Bank seat of the Palestinian Authority — to Jerusalem. Trump should serve as an example. That would provide him with gravitas when he tries to keep Iran and North Korea in line.

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Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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