Don’t Mess with Jerusalem

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by James J. Zogby

In just a matter of days, President-elect Donald Trump will have to decide on whether or not to make good on his promise to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As we approach Inauguration Day, liberal and conservative commentators, alike, have offered a number of ideas as to how he can proceed. Ranging from “too cute by half” to just plain dumb, they should all be rejected. More to the point, all of the proposals I have seen focus exclusively on Israeli concerns, ignoring or giving short shrift to Palestinian and broader Arab or Muslim concerns and sensitivities. 

On the one side, there are proposals from hardliners who advise Trump to just go ahead and make the move. They argue that in fulfilling his campaign promise he will appease his base and gain international respect for being a strong and decisive leader. They dismiss Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim opinions, relying on the false assumptions that there is diminished concern across the Arab World for the Palestinian issue or making the racist case that Arabs respect strength and will ultimately become reconciled to a US move.

Then there are a number of “clever” proposals that assume that the “move” can be finessed in ways that will, in effect, fool both Israelis and Palestinians. One has the new US ambassador living and working in Jerusalem, while keeping the “official” US Embassy in Tel Aviv. Another suggests that the US can couple moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem with opening a US liaison office in Ramallah, while promising to study opening a Embassy for a future Palestinian state in East Jerusalem.

No one should be fooled. None of these proposals will work. Those who think that Arabs and Muslims will simply bow down before a Trumpian display of decisive strength are playing with fire. It’s true that the region is divided and distracted by the unraveling consequences of the “Arab Spring”, but messing with Jerusalem would be the catalyst for a focused and unified Arab and Muslim response. There would be massive unrest across the region and demands for a response. Should governments fail to act, it would be provide revolutionary Iran and extremist Sunni groups the opening they want to discredit those governments and further destabilize the region.

Palestine may have dropped off the radar for a time, but it remains “the open wound in the heart, that never heals.” Violating Jerusalem and unrest in the occupied Palestinian lands would rip the scab off that wound reminding Arabs of their vulnerability and their inability to control their history in the face of betrayal by the West. Ignore this passion and there will be consequences.

The same goes for the “cute” proposals. They will fool no one. Israeli hardliners will not accept a clever finesse. And should the US then push back by protesting that the “move” is real—the Arab side will be as infuriated as if it were real. The lesson is “don’t play with fire if you’re not ready to get burned.” Jerusalem is not to be messed with.

The problem with discussions about Jerusalem in the US is that the issue is largely viewed only through the Israeli/Jewish lens. The Israeli claim to the city and their historical narrative is the accepted framework through which the issue is understood. After the recent UN Security Council vote, US press reports quoted the Israeli outrage that the resolution was anti-Semitic because it acted as if East Jerusalem were occupied territory and not “Israel’s eternal capital.” This claim was presented repeatedly in the press and by Members of Congress without rebuttal.

For Palestinians and Arabs the issue of Jerusalem is complex, deeply personal, and completely ignored in the US. To be sure, the city is sacred. It is the third holiest site in Islam and it is home of the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Sepulcher.

But Jerusalem is also the home of hundreds of thousands of captive Palestinians who are economically strangled and denied fundamental human rights. What Israel calls East Jerusalem is actually a substantial swatch of land extending miles into the West Bank in which 22 Palestinian villages have been engulfed. Their lands have been confiscated to make way for Jewish only colonies (now euphemistically termed “neighborhoods”). These ancient Arab villages are now surrounded by Jewish-only settlements and are literally being choked to death.

More than this, it is important to recall that Jerusalem was also the heart of the West Bank. It was the metropole, housing major institutions that provided education, health care, cultural events, and social services for the entire Palestinian community. When Israel closed off Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank (and then built the wall further isolating the people from their hub) the consequences were devastating. Palestinians outside the Wall lost access to basic services and employment. Palestinians inside were also cut off, becoming increasingly impoverished. I have suggested that to understand the impact, imagine if the State of Maryland were to claim Washington and all the area with the Beltway as its own and then deny access to the city to millions of Virginians who had previously worked, shopped, or received services in Washington.

Because Palestinians have seen how Israel has dealt with Bethlehem and Hebron, they can see the same pattern playing out producing the same future for Jerusalem—a heavy-handed occupier, steadily dispossessing them of their land and rights, establishing “facts on the ground”, and ultimately taking full control and irreversibly transforming the city.

As a result, Palestinians are on edge. Moving the embassy or even pretending to do so would push them over—igniting a spark that would set the region aflame. My advice to the new administration—forget your promises and ignore both the “cute” and dumb proposals you have received and don’t mess with Jerusalem.

James J. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute.

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19 Comments

  1. Anyone checking out the situation knows that this “promise” has been agreed to for decades but the POTUS up to now have been responsible and sensitive enough not to go ahead. With Trump, ignorant and changeable as he is, and with the interference he has already made in the Obama Administration plus the Zionist fanatics on his team, anything is possible.
    The one hope many of us had when the Trump was elected was avoidance of nuclear war. Trump now seems to find no conflict that he will not exacerbate.

  2. The Arabs have been widely criticized in the USA for their violence and fanaticism. Almost all of the opposition to a Palestinian state is premised on the belief that such a state would be dysfunctional and violent, like Gaza or Hezbollah mini-state in Lebanon, or Syria, or Iraq, etc.

    Mr. Zogby’s argument concedes we are correct. His people will become even more violent or go beszerk if their bogus claim to Jerusalem is challenged in any way. Jerusalem has been associated with the Jewish people for 3000 years. It is not part of Islam or mentioned in the Koran. Muslim pride of conquest is what is at stake here.

    The biggest obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians has been the Arab’s refusal to accept that they lost and their delusional belief that the Jews do not have the right to sovereignty over their ancestral homeland.

    The USA policy has tried very hard to feed this delusion over the past few decades, but it still has not created peace because the Arabs cannot be satisfied while they retain hope of eventual victory. The Palestinians are not yet a beaten people like the Germans and Japanese after WW2 so they do not accept peace as anything but a tactic.

    Moving the embassy to Jerusalem is the first step to ending the conflict by getting the Palestinians to face reality. The Arabs have 99.9% of the land in the middle east, they are going to have to live with the Jews controlling the rest.

  3. “… Jerusalem was also the heart of the West Bank. It was the metropole, housing major institutions that provided education, health care, cultural events, and social services for the entire Palestinian community. When Israel closed off Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank (and then built the wall further isolating the people from their hub) the consequences were devastating.”

    Anyone who’s even briefly glanced over the definition of genocide as enshrined in UN documents and International Law knows that this is it. Crush a nation’s culture and you wipe out its identity. The reason this is key in the definition of genocide is that without an identity, a nation is especially vulnerable to physical erasure, such as soldiers using its children for target practise; forcing its women to give birth in ditches at checkpoints by denying them access to maternity facilities; performing targeted nighttime killings that kill not only the target but his entire family; killing or incarcerating anyone who demonstrates leadership qualities.

    And as in Gaza, holding the population under siege for years and regularly bombing their hospitals, schools, mosques, churches and committing other war crimes that destroy cultural institutions and thus identity; denying them delivery of sufficient foodstuffs; destroying their water purification facility and thus contaminating their water supply with sewage; destroying their fleet of fishing boats thus denying them one last access to protein; destroying their dwellings and other infrastructure and refusing them materials for rebuilding, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

    All of the above together slashes the reproductive capacity of the nation; it shortens the lifespan of the nation’s members; it causes malnutrition (currently rife in Gaza) and threatens the entire nation with disease.

    Gas chambers were only one way to do it.

  4. Sorry, genocide always involves mass killing based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc. The Palestinians and Arabs generally chose the path of war after 1948. They could have signed a peace treaty and moved on. They did not. The Arabs are solely responsible for refusing to accept the outcome of 1948 which led to losing even more land in 1967. Yet, Israel offered to withdraw from all occupied territories immediately after 1967 and the Arab Khartoum resolution response was NO.

    Meanwhile Arab population in the West Bank and Gaza have burgeoned completely discrediting your argument not to mention the fatties in Gaza and the millionaires.

    Frankly, the Arabs have received BETTER treatment than they deserved. Any other people, Russians or Americans, would have driven all the Arabs out of Israel or exterminated them. Just look at World History. Oh you can say Americans would not do that today, but they don’t have to do it today.

    I’m not going to pick apart Delia’s many lies, but overall she misses the point. If you choose war, then expect to suffer casualties…military and civilian. This thing may never end short until the victor imposes peace on the vanquished as happened to Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.

  5. JW: “Sorry, genocide always involves mass killing based on race, religion, ethnicity,”

    Demonstrably untrue. The crime of genocide is defined in the Rome Statute of the ICC as this…..

    “For the purpose of this Statute, “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with
    intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
    (a) Killing members of the group;
    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about
    its physical destruction in whole or in part;
    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    Part (c) is “genocide”, Jeffrey, and it is also an accurate description of Israeli policy in the West Bank.

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