In the first week of December 2017, US President Donald Trump’s pledge to move US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem caused controversy across the world. The US tried to get its decision passed through the United Nations (UN), created pressure in the form of threatening of economic sanctions and withdrawing from financial support to the UN, but failed to get- through it.
In fact, the US is the only country to cast its veto over a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Trump position by a vote of 14 to 1. In the emergency meeting of UN General Assembly, 128 countries supported the resolution denying US move, 9 against and 35 abstained. One can rightly say that US may have might, but it may not always be right.
Why is the embassy move controversial? i) It would mean that the US effectively recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; ii) Denying the creation of independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its Capital, if at all feasible in this Bantustan like fragmentation of Palestine; iii) It will create unrest as more than 15 Palestinians have been killed, 2908 were wounded and more than 600 were arrested since the US declaration of embassy move on 6 December 2017; and iv) All three monotheistic religions- Islam, Christianity and Judaism have their claim in Jerusalem, so better to maintain status-quo, at least to avoid conflict.
Historically, the United Nations partition plan of 1947 artificially created the state of Israel in May 1948, denied by the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab countries. It envisaged Jerusalem as a separate “international city” (UN Special Committee on Palestine Report, 1947). But during the first Arab Israel war of 1948, the Jerusalem city got divided. When the war ended in 1949 through the armistice agreements between Israel and its four neighbouring Arab states, created temporary border – often called the Green Line because it was drawn in green ink – saw Israel in control of the western half, and Jordan in control of the eastern half of Jerusalem city, which included the famous Old City.
During the 1967 June War, in mere six days, Israel occupied Syrian Golan Heights, Sinai Peninsula, West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Since then, the entire Jerusalem city has been under Israel’s authority. But Palestinians, and many in the international community, continue to see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
In July 1980, Israel passed a law that declared Jerusalem the united capital of Israel. The UN Security Council responded with a resolution condemning Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and declared it a violation of international law. By that time, Netherlands and 12 Latin American countries, in total 13 countries had their embassies in Jerusalem and they had all been there before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 (Flicker 2002-03: 115-17). Gradually all the countries moved away from Jerusalem. In 2006, Costa Rica and El Salvador were the last to move their embassies out of Jerusalem, joining the rest of the world in locating their embassies in Tel Aviv. As of now, there is no embassy of any country in Jerusalem.
The attempt to move the embassy to Jerusalem is not new. In 1979, Canada during her election campaign declared to shift its embassy to Jerusalem, but had withdrawn due to its consideration of economic interest and domestic compulsion. Many argued that Arab oil embargo had also influenced to reverse its embassy shift policy. Regarding the recent controversy, the US has never had its embassy in Jerusalem. It has always been in Tel Aviv.
In 1989, Israel began leasing to the US a plot of land in Jerusalem for a new embassy. The 99-year lease cost $1 per year. To this day, the plot has not been developed, and it remains an empty field. In 1995, the US Congress passed a law requiring America to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So why hasn’t the embassy moved yet? Every president since 1995 – Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama – has declined to move the embassy, citing national security interests. Every six months, the President has used the presidential waiver to circumvent the embassy move (Oren Liebermann and Caroline Kenny, CNN, December 6, 2017).
As mentioned, on 6 December 2017, US President Donald Trump pledged to move US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. 15-Member UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the move, but only the US vetoed the resolution. An emergency UN General Assembly special meeting was called upon and here too overwhelmingly the Assembly passed the draft resolution, despite the US economic threat, condemned the US pledge to move US embassy to Jerusalem. The immediate neighbours of US, both Mexico and Canada, were among the 35 countries that abstained from the rare emergency UN General Assembly vote on 21 December 2017 that delivered a resounding rebuke to Donald Trump over his decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The vote in UN General Assembly placed Canada in a difficult situation because Trump had threatened to retaliate against countries that supported the resolution. It came as Canada is in the midst of a tough renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Trump administration that has threatened to tear up the deal.
“We are disappointed that this resolution is one sided and does not advance prospects for peace to which we aspire, which is why we have abstained on today’s vote,” Marc-Andre Blanchard, Canada’s UN ambassador told the General Assembly. It is worth mentioning that Canada played an independent role and did not toe the US line this time, but Blanchard spoke in the line of Israel’s foreign minister who said one sided anti Israel resolutions had been pushing the Middle East peace process back for years.
It is argued that Canada represented a delicate balance between not irritating the Americans while NAFTA negotiations are ongoing and also not alienating the roughly 50 Arab states with the power to cast votes in a powerful bloc against Canada’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. Former prime minister Stephen Harper made a point of solidifying Canadian support for Israel at the United Nations, voting in concert with the U.S. and Israel at several major votes over the years, and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not significantly strayed from that path, often sticking with the decision to cast matching votes (Amanda Connolly, Global News, December 21, 2017)
Bessma Momani, a senior fellow and Middle East expert with the Centre for International Governance and Innovation said the threat of retaliation shouldn’t influence how Canada votes in UN General Assembly on the Jerusalem resolution. “Canada may find itself in a tough position as we try to renegotiate a NAFTA deal, but we should stand with the international community and wider expert opinion that the U.S. move is unnecessary, counterproductive, and toxic,” she said. “Moreover, there’s power in a collective response against Trump and we should take comfort in that.” (Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press, 21 December 2017). Mexico’s representative said he had also abstained, while emphasizing that convening an emergency session was a disproportionate response. The United States must become part of the solution, not a stumbling block that would hamper progress.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, described the recent US decision as a violation of international law and an “outrageous assault” on universal values. He recalled that the 13 December Summit of Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) had unanimously rejected that decision and declared East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine. Since Jerusalem was the holy city of three monotheistic religions, it was the responsibility of all to preserve its historic status. Syria condemned the decision to transfer the United States embassy to the occupied city of Al Quds and to recognize it as Israel’s capital, said it constituted a flagrant violation of the city’s special status and yet another demonstration of colonial crimes committed against Palestine.
Calling upon the United States to respect all resolutions of the Assembly and the Security Council on the matter, he said that country’s arrogance had now risen to the level of directly threatening Member States, declaring: “This is a superpower which views the United Nations as a national institution”, adding that it treated other Member States like school children (General Assembly Plenary, Tenth Emergency Special Session, 37th Meeting (AM), GA/11995, 21 December 2017).
India faced diplomatic dilemma in this situation. India has historically supported the Palestinian cause, and its statements have always referred to East Jerusalem as being the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
But since 1992, New Delhi’s ties with Tel Aviv have been steadily warming and this year in July 2017, PM Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. To mention, he had visited Israel in 2006 as chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. However, his July 2017 trip to Israel was the final step in fully normalizing ties between India and Israel. He departed from the earlier tradition by not visiting Ramallah. This is an act that seemingly established India’s growing tendency to de-hyphenate Israel and Palestine as far as foreign relations are concerned.
Earlier this year, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed on India’s support for an independent Palestinian state in a joint statement but did not mention East Jerusalem. In the last two years, in votes on anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council, India has abstained (David Rosenberg, 05 July 2017).
But in this recent controversy India voted in support of UN General Assembly draft resolution condemning US plan of moving embassy to Jerusalem. ”India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country,” said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar (MEA, 7 December 2017). Perhaps, India’s attitude in this context can be analysed that India is willing and able to pursue independent relationships with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and do not want to see this issue through the prism of Arab Israel conflict (Ronak D. Desai, 18 July 2017).
Who loses or who gains in this embassy shift game? Its impact is devastating. More than 15 Palestinians were killed, including a lower-limb amputee, in violence in Gaza and the West Bank since Donald Trump announced the US embassy move to Jerusalem (http://www.aljazeera.com/news, 24 December 2017). Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) reports 2,908 injuries, Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) reports 500 arrest and Israeli forces have detained over 600 Palestinians, including 170 minors, 12 women and three injured detainees, since Trump’s announcement. Attacks on the PRCS teams and ambulances continue by the Israeli occupation Forces. During the reporting period (07.12.2017 – 20.12.2017), 15 attacks were documented against the PRCS in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (https://www.maannews.com, 26 December 2017).
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (http://pchrgaza.org/en, 26 December 2017), in their Weekly Report On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (07 – 13 & 14 – 20 December 2017), documented that Israeli forces escalated the excessive use of force against protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As per their estimate, 702 civilians; including 100 children, one woman and 17 journalists, were wounded in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli warplanes carried out several airstrikes at different targets in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces conducted 147 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank and 9 similar incursions in Jerusalem and 3 limited incursions into the Gaza Strip. 280 civilians, including 67 children and 3 women, were arrested in incursions and protests. 82 of them, including 30 children and 2 women, were arrested in Jerusalem and its suburbs.
Israeli warplanes launched 15 missiles in 4 airstrikes at different targets in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces turned the West Bank into cantons and continued to impose the illegal closure on the Gaza Strip. A Palestinian civilian was forced to self-demolish his house in Ras al-‘Amoud neighbourhood, otherwise he had to face high Israeli demolition charges. Israeli authorities continue to create a Jewish Majority in occupied East Jerusalem. Dozens of temporary checkpoints were established in the West Bank and others were re-established to obstruct the movement of Palestinian civilians.
Putting the whole issue, it is not only the issue of Embassy move to Jerusalem, but the real issue lies in the fact that the plight of the Palestinians is being ignored. A 16 year old girl Ahed Tamimi has been arrested and is facing charges at the Israeli military court following a viral video showing her taking on Israeli soldiers in occupied West Bank, which has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance. Her anger is nothing but the expression of the Palestinians anguish as a whole against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. To recap, US pledge to move the embassy did nothing but test the world opinion and further ignite the violence, far away from playing the mediator role for peace. The fact remains that unless the plights of the Palestinians and their issues are resolved, peace is elusive.
About the author:
*Dr. Kamaran M K Mondal
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Chandidas Mahavidyalaya,
The University of Burdwan, West Bengal, India.
M.Phil&Ph.D in Canadian Studies, SIS, JNU, New Delhi.
Email: [email protected]
Blanchfield, Mike, The Canadian Press, 21 December 2017 http://www.macleans.ca/news/ canada -to-abstain-from-un-vote-on-u-s-decision-to-move-embassy-to-jerusalem/.
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Desai, Ronak D., 18 July 2017, Why Prime Minister Modi’s Israel Visit Really Matters, https://www.forbes.com/sites, 18 July 2017.
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