An edited version of this article appeared in the Herald Sun – 20 December 2017
What a lot of hoo-ha has greeted US President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem – the city which has been Israel’s capital since 1949.
At the conclusion of the war started by the Arab countries to prevent Israel’s creation in 1948, Jerusalem was divided.
Jordanian forces occupied the eastern half where the holy sites are, totally expelling Jews from the Old City and destroying dozens of synagogues.
In recognition of the city’s centrality for Jews, Israel proclaimed west Jerusalem, which has always been regarded as sovereign Israeli territory, as its capital.
Because of an old UN resolution, which has been a dead letter for six decades, calling for Jerusalem to temporarily become an “international city”, the international community decided not to accept the decision. Instead, despite the machinery of government being in Jerusalem, embassies have been based in Tel Aviv. So Israel became the only country in the world not allowed to pick its own capital.
Note that, contrary to many commentators, this stance had absolutely nothing to with claims of Israel “illegally occupying Palestinian land”. The controversy over “occupied” east Jerusalem began in 1967 – but most states have been refusing to recognise even the western part of the city as Israel’s capital since 1950.
Despite this pretence, visiting world leaders visit their Israeli counterpart at the Prime Minister’s residence or Israel’s Parliament in Jerusalem.
Trump has now merely recognised reality and upheld US law.
In 1995, then US President Bill Clinton signed into law a Congress bill recognising Jerusalem as the capital and calling for the US embassy to be moved there – but with a caveat allowing Presidents to temporarily postpone its implementation.
Since then, every US presidential candidate has paid lip service to implementing the law but deferred acting once in office. That is until now.
Predictably, the Palestinians and their backers have cried blue murder, warning of violence and an end to the peace process. This is repugnant blackmail and ridiculous hyperbole.
The primary impediment to peace has been the Palestinian refusal to accept any of the three generous Israeli offers of a state made over the last 17 years – all of which have included sharing Jerusalem as the capital of both countries.
The Palestinian Authority modus operandi has been to play the victim by decrying Palestinian statelessness. Yet this is the case only because it keeps refusing offers of a state.
Therefore, since Israel has already offered to share the city, even Blind Freddy can see that claims recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will destroy peace prospects are a red herring. Indeed, the Russians have already done so, in April 2017, yet the sky didn’t fall.
President Trump’s announcement explicitly left open the possibility of the city being shared by Israelis and Palestinians. He said, “we are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.”
Since Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas unilaterally ended peace talks in 2014, he has pursued indignant outrage and diplomatic grandstanding at the United Nations – but scrupulously avoided actual negotiations.
The contours for peace have long been known, it is just that Abbas and before him Yasser Arafat have always baulked at the price tag – a treaty that ends all claims and accepts Israel’s existence.
Jerusalem is actually a perfect example of the difference between democratic Israel and the Palestinian leaders when it comes to coexistence and respecting the religious rights of others. After the 1967 war, management of the Temple Mount (where the Islamic holy sites are) was immediately returned to the Wakf (the Islamic Trust). Moreover, unlike when the city was ruled by the Muslims and Crusaders, since 1967 Israel has ensured the city’s holy sites have been accessible to Jews, Christians and Muslims, with each site controlled by their religious leaders.
In contrast, the official Palestinian attitude to peaceful coexistence is epitomised by Arafat’s claim at Camp David in 2000 to a shocked US President Bill Clinton that there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Since then, the Palestinians have repeatedly tried to pass resolutions at the UN rewriting history and insisting the city is holy only to Muslims and Christians, and reading Jewish rights out of the equation entirely.
What Trump has done is to push back a bit on the deluded expectations that telling falsehoods and rejecting compromise will create a Palestinian state.
The Palestinians alone can end the occupation and call Jerusalem their capital too – but not through terrorism and hissy fits. Only through negotiations.
If the promise of Jerusalem, literally the “City of Peace” in Hebrew, is ever to become a reality, the time has come for the world, including Canberra, to consider following Trump’s lead.
Allon Lee is a policy analyst with the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.