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Closure of US consulate in East Jerusalem is another swipe at Palestinians

  • Kamel Hawwash
  • 6 Mar 2019

Not only will the closure lead to a bureaucratic nightmare for Palestinians, but it is also a strong indication of how Palestinians will continue to be marginalised as their fates are contemplated by the US and Israel.

US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump, left, and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin unveil an inauguration plaque during the opening ceremony of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, Monday, May 14, 2018. ( AP )

Palestinians are entitled to question the motivation of the Trump Administration and policies towards them. Is it motivated by a desire to bring them justice, and to bring peace to Israel and Palestine, or is it something else? I hope to illustrate that it certainly has nothing to do with justice.

The recent step taken by the Americans to close the US Consulate in East Jerusalem (Palestine) and to ‘merge it’ with the Embassy in West Jerusalem (Israel), which was opened in May last year was not about peace or justice. It followed Trump’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017. He did not recognise West Jerusalem as capital, but the whole of Jerusalem.

Yes, there were caveats about the borders not having been determined, but he could have been more explicit that the intention was to signal that Jerusalem would be the shared capital for two states.

The reality is that Donald Trump has wiped away a 175-year relationship with the Palestinian people when it closed its consulate on Monday this week. The Palestinians can add this anniversary to a number of painful milestones in their sorry history. They see it as a declaration by the US that there is only one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea: Israel.

A statement by the US Embassy in Israel called the step a ‘merger’ and that “there will be complete continuity of US diplomatic activity and consular services during and after the merger.”

The claim by the spokesperson that this decision was driven by US “global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations” is rather weak.

The two-state solution, if implemented fairly, would have recognised East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The implication of the merger is that this is unlikely to happen under this administration.

It is worth remembering that previous administrations were supportive of a two-state solution, regarded settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegitimate and did not recognise Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. The Americans have been supportive of the Oslo Accords and the Arab Peace Initiative.

US-led talks between Palestinians and Israel failed in 2014 and were closely followed by a 50-day devastating attack by Israel on Gaza.

The Obama Administration’s swan song was abstaining at the UN Security Council on resolution 2334, which related to the illegal settlements and also to a distinguished between Israel proper and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel was furious at the Americans’ allowing the resolution to pass. Importantly though, so was President-elect Donald Trump.

He tweeted before the resolution was passed “This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis,” when in fact 2334 was reiterating the position of the international community and international law.

In the initial days of his presidency, Trump met both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and promised to develop a deal that would end the conflict.

Trump surprised both sides by implying that previous US policy was a constraint and not sacrosanct, suggesting that he was flexible about the solution to the conflict. He contemplated both one state and two states and said that he liked what the two sides “liked”. To him, international law and UN Security Council resolutions would not get in his way in trying to broker ‘a deal’. However, he never talked about a just deal.

To assist him in developing the deal, he appointed three ardent Zionists. All three are unequivocal supporters of Israel, do not consider illegal settlements as illegal and even question whether there is an occupation at all.

The two advisers are Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner and one of Trump’s many lawyers Jason Greenblatt. Netanyahu is such a close friend of the Kushner family that he's even spent a night in Kushner's childhood bedroom when he visited their New Jersey home.

The third member of the team is David Friedman, who was appointed despite concerns voiced by Congress. Friedman’s appointment as ambassador was controversial. His nomination was supported by 52 and opposed by 46 votes.

The arguments behind opposing Friedman's appointment are telling.

Senator Dianne Feinstein said “Mr Friedman takes extreme positions that will move the two parties further from peace,” adding that Friedman was “far too divisive to serve in one of our nation’s most sensitive diplomatic positions.”

She was not alone. Senator Mark Warner said, “The current administration has expressed multiple viewpoints on the future, inviting concern that there may be a departure from decades of bipartisan U.S. support for a two-state solution, 

The nomination of Friedman to serve as ambassador to Israel adds to this concern,” he added.

Since his appointment, Friedman has been in a race against time to deliver as many wins as he can for Israel. Not only was he instrumental in moving Trump to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but worked round the clock to move the embassy in record time.

The timing of the opening, on Israel’s ‘Independence Day’, which coincides with the Palestinians’ commemoration of their Nakba was not an accident. This was a deliberate act of humiliation, which Palestinians suspect had Friedman’s fingerprints all over it.

Friedman also had a hand in convincing the State Department to remove reference to the ‘occupation’ in its annual Human Rights report. He went further and claimed that if there was an ‘alleged’ occupation and that it was only a handful of percent occupied.

The two other members of the team have also been acting to undermine legitimate Palestinian claims. Kushner and Greenblatt moved to take the issue of refugees off the table by claiming that only those 1948 refugees still alive should be considered for any return or compensation.

They pressured Jordan’s King Abdullah to naturalise almost 2 million Palestinian refugees in his country - which he refused. The attack then turned onto the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinians refugees, UNRWA, which the US stopped funding entirely, bringing its very existence under threat.

In an effort to force Palestinians into accepting a deal they have not been a party to, the US administration even ended aid to East Jerusalem hospitals. Funding of the Palestinian Authority was then cut, though money to ensure continued security coordination between Israel and the PA appears to have been protected.

It is clear that far from bringing peace in the holy land closer to realisation as Trump claimed the Jerusalem Embassy move would, the very opposite has occurred, with hope for a settlement that would bring justice and peace receding.

The Americans may outline their deal after the Israeli elections. However, the direction so far has been about implementing a vision not made in the White House, but Netanyahu’s office. This will fail. Only a just peace will bring a long-awaited end to the conflict.

This has significant ramifications for Palestinians as both individuals requiring access to US consular services and for the Palestinian Authority awaiting the publication of the 'Deal of the Century'.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

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