US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his subsequent pledge to move the US Embassy there, has ignited worldwide protests from London and Istanbul to Cape Town and Reykjavik. The protests have drawn attention not only to the fact that the move flies in the face of international consensus, but that it also violates international law.
In 1967, Israel occupied and subsequently annexed East Jerusalem, then attempted to legitimise the move by passing the 'Jerusalem, Capital of Israel' bill through the Israeli Knesset in 1980.The International Community acted swiftly to condemn Israel’s actions as illegal; UN Security Council Resolutions 476 and 478 identified the annexation as a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention and resolved that no States should locate their embassies in Jerusalem.
Neither international law nor the legitimate rights and claims of Palestinians matter to Trump. In his speech, he claimed the move was inspired by a simple recognition of reality. What he surely meant was the reality that Israel has established control over Jerusalem through brute force. In this regard, he was correct. But while it is positive that Trump’s speech has united the world in a chorus of condemnation, and a reaffirmation of a commitment to abide by international law, what is missing is a willingness to address the reality that Israel has established on the ground.
Since 1967 Israel has been engaged in a policy described as Judaisation, through which it seeks to entrench a Jewish majority over the whole of Jerusalem, privilege the rights of Jewish citizens and render impossible the establishment of a Palestinian state with a Jerusalem as its capital.
As former mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, explained in 1968: "The object is to ensure that all of Jerusalem remains forever a part of Israel. If this city is to be our capital, then we have to make it an integral part of our country, and we need Jewish inhabitants to do that."
In the last 50 years, Israel has used a series of measures such as massive land grabs, rapid construction of Jewish settlements, and the imposition of a repressive system which is designed to stifle the daily lives of Palestinians and drive them out of the city, altering the demographic makeup of occupied East Jerusalem and entrenching Israel’s control.
A total of 323,700 Palestinians officially reside in Jerusalem, constituting 37% of the population. These Palestinians have the status of permanent residents of Israel but not citizenship rights. Their rights of residency can be revoked, and they are burdened with a specific requirement to prove, at regular intervals, that Jerusalem is the centre of their lives.
For example, if a Palestinian has a home in East Jerusalem but lives for a period of time in the West Bank (still within the Palestinian territories) their Jerusalem residency may be revoked. Jewish residents of Jerusalem are not subject to the same requirement. As of May 2017, Israel had revoked the residency status of 14,595 Palestinian Jerusalemites since 1967.
Whilst removing Palestinians via such policies, Israel has sought, in defiance of international law, to “settle” its own citizens in East Jerusalem. Today, around 280,000 settlers live in 11 settlements that have been built either entirely or partially on private Palestinian property in East Jerusalem, using a British law dating back to 1943, that allows for the confiscation of private land “in the public interest.”
The Planning and Building Law has been used since 1976 as part of a programme of land control which has included the creation of “open green spaces” of restricted housing on more than half of Palestinian East Jerusalem, preventing Palestinians from building on it, despite the fact that unlawful Israel settlements are allowed to be built on this same land.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem require building permits from the municipality to build or extend their homes, however they are almost never granted these permits, forcing them to construct buildings and other essential infrastructure illegally. To date, over 20,000 housing units have been built in East Jerusalem without a permit. All of these are then, under Israeli law, liable for demolition. In 2016, Israeli authorities demolished 59 non-residential buildings and 88 homes in East Jerusalem, leaving 295 people homeless; the largest number of home demolitions for over a decade.
The allocation of municipal budgets also reflects a framework of the privileging of the rights and welfare of Jewish citizens. The Israeli rights organisation Ir Amim reports that only 10.1% of the 2013 municipal budget was allocated to Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, despite these Palestinians accounting for 37% of the population. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) reports that 76% of the residents of East Jerusalem and 83.4% of the children live below the poverty line, while the poverty rate average in Israel is 21.7% and 30% among children.
So whilst the international community is right to reject Trump’s attempts to legitimise the “facts on the ground”, empty words reaffirming international law and expressions of support for a two-state solution change nothing for Palestinians faced with Israel’s continuing policy of colonial settlement expansion, not just in East Jerusalem but across the West Bank, where Israel’s policies reflect those outlined above.
No intention of allowing a two-state solution
That Israel’s entire political mainstream responded to President Trump’s announcement with breathless enthusiasm - when considered alongside the fact that between January and March of this year, Israel had advanced its settlement project at the highest rate since 1992 - makes clear that Israel has no intention of allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Trump’s brazen, one-sided announcement removes the final vestiges of any idea that the US can act as an honest broker in any peace process. What is required now is action by the rest of the international community to hold Israel accountable for its continual violation of international law and of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people. If the international community still believes that the best prospect for peace is a two-state ‘solution’ then it must apply meaningful sanctions on Israel.
If the future holds only a single-state ‘solution’, then we must question the nature of that state. Will we allow Israel to administer an apartheid state that privileges the rights of Jewish citizens above Palestinians, or will we demand a democratic state that respect and protects the equal rights of all people?
Ben Jamal is the Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the largest UK civil society organisation dedicated to securing Palestinian human rights.