In the midst of the demonstration in Ramallah yesterday, on December 7, 2017, young men and women were chanting in Arabic and calling for an end to both the occupation and complicity of the international community’s role in the occupation. Participating in this event with other supporters stirred up emotions about going to the Yasser Arafat Museum.
I had avoided visiting it ever since its grand opening in November 2016 because I did not feel ready to visit the place that depicted the life and death of my first president. To me, this museum symbolises the memory of a lost leader who gave me the hope for independence and self-determination. Yet, the feelings of loss, anger, and frustration fuelled by President Trump’s declaration pushed me to set foot in the building for the first time.
In his declaration, Trump, unilaterally and effectively “recognised” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in fulfilment of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, passed by the US Congress in 1995. Trump cited the best interest of the United States and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians as pretexts in the speech. He elaborated that the declaration is a de facto “recognition” of the reality and that it was the right thing to do as Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government, parliament and supreme court, as well as the official residence of the Prime Minister and the President.
Strong voices of ‘condemnation,’ ‘concern’ and ‘disagreement’ from the European Union, Germany, France, Britain, Pakistan, India, Russia and China, as well as a number of Arab countries to name a few, followed Trump’s declaration. The vast majority of these condemnations cited this declaration as detrimental to the peace process and two state solution, and went on to present their vision on the future status of Jerusalem. There were a range of proposals from suggesting that East Jerusalem become the capital of the State of Palestine and West Jerusalem the capital of Israel to ones recommending that a unified and undivided Jerusalem would serve as a joint capital of both states.
In denouncing Trump’s declaration, the international community based their standings on a sole/single aspect of international law. The acquisition of territory through the use of force is inadmissible, in line with Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. Consequently, the annexation of East Jerusalem following the occupation of the rest of the land of historical Palestine in 1967 is thereby inadmissible and illegal, as expressed repeatedly by the international community in numerous resolutions of international legitimacy, such as Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 478. Simply because the seat of the government, legislature, judiciary and residencies of the Premier and President are located in Jerusalem does not in any manner extend or justify Israeli sovereignty over it.
Notwithstanding, the importance of delegitimising Trump’s declaration within this framework, a significant issue must be addressed. The aforementioned resolutions, which were later broadened to underpin the so-called peace process, were issued without the consultation of the Palestinian people and without due consideration to whether they fulfil their aspirations of self-determination. Under this framework, Trump’s declaration lacks legitimacy, as Palestinians must be regarded as the only truly legitimate actor in determining the status of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the status of Jerusalem and the wider Palestine question is one of the best examples that highlights the tension and clash between international law and global politics.
The absence of enforcement mechanisms of international law and the lack of political will by the majority of the nations of the international community have rendered it possible to overlook the historic concessions the Palestinian people made in 1993, when the Palestinian Liberation Organisation “recognised” the right of Israel to exist on over 78% of the land of historical Palestine. Trump does not understand that the ‘ultimate peace deal’ would have been possible in 1993 had it not been for the weakness of the international community.
The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley ironically claimed that the Jerusalem should be recognised as the capital of Israel since “…we haven’t seen a peace process; maybe if we do something different, we will now start to see something move forward.” Nonetheless, I agree that alternative approaches should be taken. This includes: recognising that Palestinians have been enduring 70 years of ethnic cleansing, military occupation and apartheid and that it is high time to muster the political will to put an end to this and hold Israeli officials accountable to international crimes committed against Palestinians, including aggression, settlement expansion, forced displacement, apartheid and destruction of property. However, that is not an exhaustive list.
Ultimately, the American government has given iron clad proof of its bias and partiality towards Israel in the so-called peace process with this move. By recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which is illegal and unlawful, no one can claim that that Trump and his American officials, like previous American administrations, can serve as neutral and impartial peace brokers and mediators in any peace talks.
Therefore, it is crucial now, more than ever, that the Palestinian leadership announce that it will not accept or partake in any so-called peace initiative put forward or brokered by the United States of America. Anything less would be an acceptance of compromising on the realisation of Palestinian inalienable rights. At this time, Palestinians need to proceed once and for all in solidifying national unity and identifying clear parameters and lines for national action. Hope for the realisation of the two-state solution is no longer a reasonable idea.
I call upon the people of the free world to immediately protest this declaration by partaking in demonstrations that are already being organised. After Trump’s declaration, the world has witnessed mass demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian people, including but not limited to in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, India, England, and various cities in the USA. Strategically, I ask the people of the free world to recognise that this long overdue battle for justice in Palestine will be lengthy and tedious and will require the application of a comprehensive set of strategies.
One effective and peaceful strategy that everyone can be actively involved in is the BDS movement. This civil-society led movement uses boycott, divestment and sanctions strategies against Israeli and international companies. It does so with the view of achieving three goals: ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, ending discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and ensuring the right of return of Palestinian refugees. All of these goals are in line with international law and relevant resolutions of international legitimacy. Furthermore, they also happen to serve as the least common denominator as to what would constitute fairness and justice in the eyes of the Palestinian people, and thus their realisation would be a direct expression of the Palestinian right to self-determination.