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Trump, Jerusalem, escalation and eschatology


Palestinian activists burned pictures of Donald Trump in Bethlehem in response to his Dec. 6 announcement that his administration will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He stated with typical bluster: "While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering." But this time the braggadocio was wedded to a nearly hallucinatory chutzpah: "I've judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians." (Palestine News NetworkThe Guardian) Of course precisely the opposite is true.

On the campaign trail, Trump inevitably promised in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to "move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem." (TownHall) AIPAC may be pleased, but the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights accuses Trump of "legitimizing Israel's violations in Jerusalem of the Fourth Geneva Convention, including but not limited to its demolition of Palestinian homes, its illegal settlements, and its apartheid wall."

And on Dec. 2, just days before Trump's announcement, young Palestinian protesters managed to bring down an iron gate that was set up as part of Israel's illegal "separation wall" in the outlying East Jerusalem village of Anata. (Ma'an)

Trump also called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to confirm his intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. US presidents must sign a "national security waiver" every six months to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, a technical violation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. (The waiver actually just suspends the financial penalty for failure to move the embassy that is officially imposed by the 1995 law, a freezing of half the appropriated funds for "acquisition and maintenance" of State Department buildings abroad.) Trump signed the waiver in June, putting off the decision.

Perversely, in making the announcement, Trump also said that the US would support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—if agreed upon by both sides. A critical caveat, which basically means green-lighting Israeli annexationism. "We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders," he said with the utmost cynicism. "Those questions are up to the parties involved."

Israel officially made (West) Jerusalem its capital in 1950, although Tel Aviv has remained the de facto capital; the Knesset, Supreme Court and prime minister's residence were moved to (West) Jerusalem, but most government ministries remain in Tel Aviv. Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 (13 years after occupying it in the Six-Day War). This move was of course bitterly protested by the Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem as their future capital, and universally rejected by the international community. So nearly all the foreign embassies remain in Tel Aviv. Every presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter has pledged to move the embassy to Jerusalem. None have.

This is because such a move would be seen to constitute recognition of Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, even if the embassy was located in the West (as it presumably would be). Israeli official rhetoric has always emphasized that the capital is a "unified" Jerusalem—not just the West. (NYTWaPoHaaretzMa'an972)

This point was certainly made by Amnesty International in its reaction to Trump's announcement. Raed Jarrar, Amnesty International USA's Middle East advocacy director, said: “This is a reckless and provocative decision by the Trump administration that further undermines the human rights of the Palestinian people and is likely to inflame tensions across the region. By recognizing unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announcing the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv, President Trump has shown yet again his blatant disregard for international law. There is international consensus, including UN Security Council resolutions, on the illegality of Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem. With this move, the United States is violating its own international legal obligations not to recognize or assist an illegal situation and to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions."

So even if US presidential hopefuls each had to go through the ritual of telling AIPAC what it wanted to hear, they realized the destabilizing effect that actual recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital would have, and thought better of it—at least once in power. Until now.

And if Trump is seeking to appease the Christian fundamentalist element of his base with this move, this should hardly be comforting to Jews. The evangelical fundis are consciously salivating for the Final Conflict, and see Jewish control of Jerusalem only as fulfillment of Bible prophecies portending the End Times. Which in their view will see Christians ascending in the Rapture, while the Jews are cast into the Devil's pit. What makes this wackiness dangerous is that with nuclear weapons, the human race now has the capacity to bring aboutthe foreseen rain of fire and brimstone. 

Such a scenario would assuredly not be good for the Jews, whatever the illusions of the pro-Israel crowd. It would not even be good for the Christian fundis, whatever their even more bizarre illusions. It wouldn't be good for anyone. Needless to say.

As Haaretz emphasizes, it did not, perhaps, have to be this way.  Early Zionist leaders, many of them avowedly secular, were ambivalent about Jerusalem. Theodor Herzl himself envisioned the capital of his Jewish state on Mount Carmel, in the north. In his 1989 book Jerusalem: City of Mirrors, Israeli historian Amos Elon described how Herzl, as well as the young David Ben-Gurion and "cultural-Zionist" leader Ahad Ha'am, were all discomfited by the passionate connection to Jerusalem on the part of some Jewish pioneers in Palestine.

A final point. The UN General Assembly resolution of Nov. 29, 1947 that called for dividing Palestine into two states actually left Jerusalem (then with a large Jewish majority) out of the equation. Under the UN partition plan, Jerusalem and its surroundings (including Bethlehem) were to become a separate territory under international administration—a corpus separatum. The Zionists accepted the plan, and Ben-Gurion called the loss of Jerusalem as part of the Jewish state the "price we have to pay" for creation of that state.

In the ensuing war, Jerusalem was divided, with Israel seizing the west and Jordan the east. Jordan also declared East Jerusalem a second capital, although as Haaretz notes,  "it remained a very neglected second capital up until the Six-Day War." Since 1967, Israel has been engaging in a "Judaization" of place names in Jerusalem, in an effort to erase the Arab cultural legacy in the city.  

Perhaps it is time to revisit the idea of an internationally administrated Jerusalem—and viewing it not as either an Israeli or Palestinian capital, not either divided or annexed, but as a model for Israeli-Palestinian co-existence. A model to be eventually emulated in the rest of historic Palestine under a one-state solution. And not a one-state "solution" of Israeli annexationism and Jewish supremacy, but a single, secular state with equal rights for all.

But first... it is time for progressive Jews everywhere to repudiate Trump's move, and pressure the White House to keep its embassy in Tel Aviv. Before the maelstrom is unleashed.