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Changing contours of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on Jerusalem

By Munshi Zubaer Haque

In a first among the permanent members of UN Security Council, US President Donald J. Trump gave his recognition of Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the holy city of Jerusalem recently on a speech that sparked global outrage across national governments and triggered mass protests among peoples. While President Trump claimed to be fulfilling popular demands among members of his electorate and putting into effect the long unimplemented Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, the Palestinian President called this declaration by President Trump “an act of war against the Palestinian people.” Relations between the Palestinian Authority and Trump administration had already been worsening prior to this declaration in anticipation of this upcoming decision on Jerusalem by the Trump Administration, when the US State Department threatened to shut down the office of the PLO General Delegation to the US, for various reasons, including but not limited to the Palestinian Authority’s longstanding threat of pursuing a diplomatic strategy to hold Israel legally accountable for its actions at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although the US President did not specify the final borders of the contested holy city of Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority (PA) took serious cognizance of the unilateral US declaration as marked obliteration of longstanding international consensus on the status of the holy city with regards to the future Palestinian sovereignty.

The valued strategic alliance and “unbreakable bond” of the US-Israel relationship has traditionally driven the US to preferentially accommodate concerns of Israeli leadership during any past peace negotiations with the Palestinians, even the failed 2014 peace talks – considered by many as the last chance to turn the vision of ‘Two-State’ Solution into a reality – were not an exception in this regard to diplomatic persuasions of Israel when it concerned anything regarding Israel. The Palestinian Authority President lashed out at the US following the Jerusalem declaration and rejected the role of the US as a future peace broker on the grounds of neutrality in peace negotiations. Palestinian Authority has refused to pursue any negotiations with Israel after the failed peace talks in 2014, citing Israeli intransigence on illegal settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, and claiming such actions destroyed any prospects of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state. Subsequent intervention in terms of peace initiatives by other foreign powers, Russia and France, were categorically rejected by Israel despite Palestinian insistence and approval of the same. The refusal of Palestinians to negotiate with Israel is essentially a political dilemma for them, because, without consensus between them and Israel to pursue negotiations, no legitimate claim to future Palestinian sovereignty in Occupied East Jerusalem with consequent control of Muslim and Christian holy sites shall ever be realized. Prominent Middle Eastern leaders, including Lebanese President Michel Aoun, have accused Israel of Judaizing East Jerusalem and the international community, including the UN, have criticized Israel for its policy on house demolitions of Palestinians and rampant settlement building. Given this political impasse on peace negotiations and Israel’s potential annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem along with other adjacent settlements in the West Bank under the disguise of the newly introduced ‘Greater Jerusalem Bill’, the sustainability of Palestinian and Arab identity of East Jerusalem for future is dubious at its best. The Jerusalem issue involves sensitivities of followers of the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the freedom to access to various sacred religious sites for worship has long seen contested among three religious communities and their respective clergies.

Palestinian Authority viewed the Jerusalem declaration by US President was perceived as a fatal assault on the future of the ‘Two-State Solution’. Former Palestinian President Arafat passed the PLO Declaration of Independence in Algiers in 1988, and this declaration was the fundamental foundation of ‘Two State Solution’ proposed by President Arafat. His ideas resonated for the past three decades among Palestinians, Israelis and the international community while facts on the ground were fast relegating the suitability of the Two-State Solution. The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 led to the subsequent creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel received its official recognition on the 1967 borders from the PLO in 1994. The recognition of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders has not been reciprocated by Israel yet and there is a growing consensus among Palestinians on the viability of a binational One-State Solution as a permanent solution to the conflict. The PLO has recently suspended its official recognition of Israel and the US has also announced a $65 million aid cut for UNRWA, an UN agency that is exclusively dedicated to Palestinian refugees. There are increasing unconfirmed reports of Saudi, Egyptian and other Arab states’ connivance with Israel on the Jerusalem declaration under US patronage, such remarkable policy shifts of traditional allies of Palestinians are gradually forcing Palestinians towards a compromise on the ‘Two State Solution’. Only in the passage of time, it can be assessed whether Palestinians will be finally left with a Statelet or State Minus in non-contiguous Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with no future sovereignty over Israeli occupied East Jerusalem – but with a conciliatory official capital at Abu Dis in the West Bank.

Munshi Zubaer Haque is an Intern at Beirut Centre for Middle East Studies

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