The United States’ Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and the Challenge to the International Consensus
On December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that the US was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would be moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv in fulfillment of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act (henceforth Embassy Act). In one fell swoop, the US has seriously challenged 70 years of international consensus enshrined in international law as regards the status of the city, and put the potential for a two-state solution into a tail-spin. What are the consequences of this major policy change?
The White House announcement distinguishes between recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and establishing an embassy there and recognizing “the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.” In other words, the Trump administration, like all those before it, seeks to avoid acknowledging how Israel, in defiance of UN resolutions, has altered the demographic and geographic realities of the city.
Among the numerous ideological affinities and governing styles shared by President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a commitment to the rhetoric of “fake news.” In the last year, Netanyahu has increasingly borrowed this Trumpian formulation in an attempt to quell dissent and undercut critical Israeli and international media scrutiny. Netanyahu is not unique in this regard. Over the course of the last year, authoritarian regimes across the globe—including Syria, Russia and Malaysia—have adopted the fake news script to silence detractors and critics, frequently in response to the charge of human rights violations.
In January 2011, hundreds and sometimes thousands of Jordanians began protesting like clockwork on Friday afternoons; they continued to do so for nearly two years. The crowds were small compared to those in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain, but the turnout was sustained and marked a significant uptick for Jordan, where peaceful protest had not been uncommon. But by 2013 the demonstrations declined in both size and frequency. The regime weathered the main storm of the Arab uprisings, and without having resorted to violent repression. Many in the regime credited top-down reforms, including a revised constitution and amended laws on parties, public gatherings and elections. The political elite, including King ‘Abdallah II, spoke in terms of a reformist democratic march, through which Jordan would show the region a third way between the stark alternatives of revanchist authoritarianism, on the one hand, and upheaval and civil war, on the other. Jordan’s “Arab spring” would be about evolution, not revolution.
The present era of counter-terrorism wars has severely damaged what, in hindsight, looked like a solid international consensus about which forms and levels of violence are “legal” in war and what “humanitarian” limits are imposed on such violence. The counter-terrorism paradigm of “with us or against us” in which the latter—and all that is proximate to it—is regarded as targetable upends the important distinction in international humanitarian law (IHL) between civilians and combatants and inflates the norm of proportionality to justify indiscriminate violence. This paradigm is the dominant strategic approach in the US “war on terror” and Israel’s “war model” approach in the Occupied Territories, as well as among regimes like Syria and Saudi Arabia.
The colonization of Palestine began in the late nineteenth century with the First Aliyah, or Zionist immigration, and the establishment of plantations worked by Palestinians under the management of Jewish settler-owners. A generation later, the “socialist” or “labor settlement” wing of the Zionist movement began its ascendance to hegemony via the “conquest of labor,” with the demand that Jewish-owned farms employ the Jewish proletarians who were streaming into the country in the wake of World War I. The battle ended with a commitment of the central Zionist institutions to the financing of land purchases for communal and collective farms (kibbutzim and moshavim, respectively), which would provide a prestigious if not luxurious livelihood for these European worker-pioneers. The new communities prided themselves on their commitment to labor qualified as “Hebrew”—that is, exclusive of Palestinians—and “self-”—that is, rejecting of “exploitative” wage relations.
Dear Sen. Sanders,
I’m a contributor to your campaign and enthusiastically support your bold, relentless critique of the billionaire class that is undermining democracy and making a decent life impossible for millions of people. I’d like you to speak more about how big money has been a destructive force in shaping our foreign policy as much, if not more, than our domestic policies. Perhaps no issue exemplifies this problem like Israel-Palestine.
The decision to outlaw the northern wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel was announced by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on November 17, 2015, days after attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, left 130 dead in Paris. Although the ban had been long in the making, the timing was patently opportunistic, with Netanyahu even comparing Israel’s Islamic Movement to ISIS. It is still unclear how the Israeli intelligence services and police will enforce the ban, given that the group has thousands of paid-up members among Israel’s large Palestinian minority, and ties to welfare associations and charities in Palestinian communities across Israel.
Two quiet but revealing developments related to Middle East water were announced in the spring and summer of 2015. On February 26, Israeli and Jordanian officials signed an agreement to begin implementation of the long-awaited and controversial Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project. And, on June 9, a civil society-based coalition led by EcoPeace, a regional environmental NGO, released the first ever Regional Master Plan for Sustainable Development in the Jordan Valley. The two schemes represent very different approaches to solving water problems in the region—the first is an old-school engineering fix requiring massive new infrastructure, while the second is a river restoration project rooted in sustainable development principles.
For 51 days in July and August 2014, Israel conducted a military operation in Gaza known as Protective Edge. It was the third major Gaza operation by the Israeli armed forces in seven years, and by far the most lethal and destructive. Some 2,205 Palestinians, including 722 militants and over 500 children, and 70 Israelis (64 of whom were soldiers) were killed. Thousands of Palestinians were wounded; over 18,000 of their homes were destroyed; some 470,000 were displaced; and large areas of Gaza were essentially razed.
Last week, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum and Mayor Talal Al-Krenawi of the Negev Bedouin city Rahat issued a joint statement offering the absorption of 1,000 refugees from Syria, who would be supported by employment at the new SodaStream factory in nearby Idan haNegev.
A grassroots movement has been growing in Jordan, aimed at putting a stop to a major gas deal between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom. In the wake of the Israeli elections, which returned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power, this movement can be expected to get larger still.
It’s tax season again. How about a little accounting?
Every year, Washington sends $3.1 billion of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to Israel. It’s only fair to ask what Americans are getting in return.
That seems especially appropriate now.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is busy badmouthing the tentative nuclear deal with Iran, a major diplomatic achievement for the United States. And a few weeks ago, he declared his opposition to a Palestinian state, a long-standing US priority.
MERIP contributing editor Joel Beinin came to Cleveland in early March to discuss the popular struggle against Israeli occupation in the West Bank as well as what was at stake in yesterday’s Israeli elections. His host was the Northeast Ohio Consortium on Middle East Studies (NOCMES). Beinin’s visit included an hour-long interview on “The Sound of Ideas” on WCPN, the local NPR affiliate in Cleveland, and lectures at Case Western Reserve and Kent State Universities.