Trump’s half-baked Jerusalem embassy plan puts two-state solution in danger

Trump's plan for a Jerusalem embassy would be hugely inflammatory

A man cycles past a giant banner bearing a message of congratulations (Mazeltov) for incoming US President Donald Trump, covering a building under construction in central Jerusalem on January 20, 2017.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Donald Trump is perceived as a dangerous phenomenon by many across the world – and this perception has only increased due to his well-documented travel ban. But the threat he poses is felt particularly strongly by those that care about Palestine.

His desire to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and belief that this would advance peace makes sense only in a Trumpian world where facts and reality can be conveniently ignored. This proposed move shows flagrant disregard for international law, Palestinian rights and international opinion. This can only serve to inflame tensions across the Middle East.

Why is this? Well he historic background and some inconvenient facts interrupt Trump’s half-formed ideas.

Israel passed the ‘Jerusalem Law‘ in 1980, claiming the whole of the city as the undivided capital of Israel. The UN Security Council (UNSC) responded by passing resolution 478 condemning Israel’s attempts to effectively annex East Jerusalem, already populated by 300,000 Palestinians. It also called upon all nations to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions or embassies in Jerusalem. The resolution described Israel’s actions as constituting a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.

The international consensus is that no party should take unilateral actions that disrupt peace, and that the status of Jerusalem should be resolved in final negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It acknowledges that it is not possible to conceive of a Palestinian state that doesn’t have Jerusalem as its capital given the importance of the ancient city to the Palestinian people culturally, spiritually, politically and economically.

The proposed embassy move also flies in the face of the surprise UNSC resolution 2334 passed last December. Unanimously passed (with the abstention of the United States), the message was clear – the world is taking notice of the deteriorating situation on the ground, and it does not approve. This resolution sets the rest of the international community on a collision course (at least in theory) with the United States and Israel in how they deal with Palestine.

These are not the only disturbing messages from the Trump administration. He has appointed David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel, a man who has donated money to Israeli settlements deemed illegal by the UN and publicly opposed the idea of a Palestinian state. Friedman has even described Jewish critics of Israel as worse than kapos, - the Jews forced in concentration camps to collaborate with the Nazis.  

Trump has also secured  an important advisory role in the Middle East for his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a man whose ’Family Foundation’ has donated funding to the Israeli settlements These moves have been interpreted by members of the Israeli government and wider political establishment as giving a green light to increasing colonisation of Palestinian land effectively enforcing a claim to sovereignty over all of historic Palestine.

 In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor stated “The rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump’s arrival as president. We no longer have our hands tied as in the time of Barack Obama. Now we can finally build.”  Days  after Trump’s inauguration Israel announced plans for nearly 600 new settlement units to be built in East Jerusalem, in direct defiance of UNSC resolution 2334, and a further 2,500 in the West Bank.

These settlements  are more than just bricks and mortar. Palestinians watch their homes demolished to make way for new builds and new occupants. Olive groves in areas surrounding settlements are vandalised, burnt, uprooted, destroying livelihoods. Water is diverted to Israeli settlements, which consume about three times as much water per person per day (250 litres) as West Bank residents (84 litres) do. Roads are built to link settlements to the Israeli state that only allow Israeli cars on them – in effect, an apartheid regime for Palestinian motorists in the West Bank.

Back in Britain last week, Israel’s deputy foreign minister appeared on the Today Programme. When challenged to defend these actions, she stated that there was no occupation as “this is Jewish land forever”. This is the vision of Israel that Trump appears to be supporting- an ever-expanding Israel with no prospect of self-determination or equal rights for the Palestinian people.

Theresa May has stated that she will not be afraid to challenge President Trump if he says or does anything unacceptable. Presuming she regards advocating the violation of international law to be unacceptable, that principle must now be tested.

If the UK was serious when it signed UNSC resolution 2334, then it must now react to Israel’s blatant disregard for its terms. The upcoming debate on settlements in parliament will provide the British Government with the perfect opportunity to announce that it will no longer provide financial support for settlement expansion. At a minimum the Government should announce a review of all of the UK’s financial relationships with Israeli settlements and ban the importation of settlement produce to the UK.

Trump might not be prepared to hold Israeli settlements to account – but we in the UK can.

Ben Jamal is the Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the largest UK civil society organisation dedicated to securing Palestinian human rights.