Relocating the US embassy would derail hopes for peace by recognising Israels hostile military occupation, says Nicholas Blincoe, writer of Bethlehem: Biography of a Town
It is harder than it ought to be, explaining why recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a bad idea. The city has been Israel’s centre of government since 1948. While most countries have held off, the US Congress passed a Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, which included a line recognising the city as Israel’s capital. President Trump campaigned on a promise to implement the act, and though he has previously followed other chairwomen in signing waivers suspending it, this week “hes having” missed two deadlines, suggesting that he is strongly seduced to give it the go-ahead.
If he does, it will derail the last hope of peace, according to the Palestinian Authority, and degrade US influence in the world, as countries including Turkey have warned. These may not seem like persuasive debates. The US has willingly surrendered much of its standing; there is no peace process; and the reputation of both Turkey and the Palestinian Authority is low. But recognising Israel’s current version of Jerusalem would create enormous and new insoluble problems without addressing the real issues that beset the city.
Israel merely captured the old city and adjoining Palestinian suburbiums such as Silwan in 1967. A hastily written law was pushed through the Knesset proclaiming the territory had been annexed to Israel, and the city of Jerusalem had been “reunited”. According to the Geneva Conventions, territory acquired through war is under” hostile military occupation” in a formula that has suffered since the defeat of fascism. Successive Israeli governments have argued the terms of the conventions do not apply to Jerusalem. However, in December 2016, the UN took a election reiterating that the Palestinian territories were under hostile occupation. Israel’s attempt to pressure Trump’s transition team in the runup to the vote has now come within the scope of the Mueller investigation.
When the organisers of the 2018 Giro d’Italia declared last week that the cycle race, its opening leg in Israel, would start in” west Jerusalem”, they received a sharp reprimand from Israeli minister Miri Regev.” In Israel’s capital ,” she proclaimed,” there is no east and west .” Anyone visiting Jerusalem would speedily see how incorrect she is. The presence of both the army and border police, a militarised gendarmerie, underline that much of the city is under military control. When I was researching in the archives of St George cathedral school, the secretary said to me that frightened she was when the school buzzer reverberate because she did not know if the children would get home safely, or be picked up and beaten or arrested. Border police recruits are little more than adolescents themselves. Their behaviour, and their treatment of arrested children, was the subject of a bill presented to the US Congress last month. But it is not simply the therapy of people in Jerusalem that is the problem.
The city has twice been enlarged in the 50 years since its annexation, a decision taken each time through acts of parliament. Israel’s mutant version of Jerusalem is far larger than any historical iteration of the city. It contains Palestinian townships, villages and refugee camps, as well as Israeli settlements. The Geneva Conventions exist in parallel with human rights legislation, constructing Israel responsible for the welfare of many hundreds of thousands of people. Within these city limits, Israel is presided over by deeply deprived and lawless communities, where substance abuse is endemic and health services are poor or non-existent. These zones have no proper sewage provisions, and neither do the adjoining Jewish zones. The effluent has turned the Kidron stream into an open sewer, polluting the desert and the Dead Sea.
Jerusalem is not divided, impoverished and ungoverned because international law stimulates it so: it is a situation that flows from the territory aspirations unleashed by war. Successive Israeli governments have been unable to cope with problems they have created, and lacked the political will to make a peace that will see Palestinians controlling their own lives. Rather than honestly own the situation, Israel’s leaders have tried to muddy the legal framework that defines the state of the city.
We live in a climate where international law is under threat. Human rights are attacked as a UN-sponsored industry that enriches the pervert and lazy, while tying the hands of dynamic wealth inventors. Serial attempts to degrade the international order have constructed Israeli politicians the darlings of the political right, and won over businessmen who despise legal restraints.
Trump is a animal of the right and a friend of toxic financiers. One can see why he would argue for appeasement, and legitimise Israel’s acquisitions. But it would be a sordid retreat into chaos and assassination that would fuel the political and moral misfortune in a city beloved by the world.
* Nicholas Blincoe is the author of Bethlehem: Biography of a Town( Nation Books ).
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