The government of PM Binyamin Netanyahu has no convincing reason of substance to be upset about the Swedish request that the Council of the European Union endorse a Palestinian state with "East Jerusalem as its capital". Of course the wording of the resolution could and should be less hostile to Israel, e.g., by explicitly recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel's capital and doing more than merely "taking note" of Netanyahu's settlement freeze. But what can Netanyahu expect? Basically, the proposal reiterates known European and international positions. And Israel's recent behavior in Jerusalem--the disastrous house expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah, excavations at Silwan/City of David and expansion into disputed territory at Gilo--essentially invites a reprimand.
Whether and in what form the EU Council ultimately deals with the Swedish proposal, there is little likelihood of real EU pressure on Israel. The EU has limited clout as a diplomatic player in the Arab-Israel conflict. Conceivably, that situation may soon change, with the advent of an EU president and foreign minister. But for the moment, we simply don't know to what extent this new system will enable the union of 27 European states to better formulate and implement a foreign policy. Meanwhile, we recall that last July outgoing EU foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana proposed that the United Nations plan unilaterally to create and recognize a Palestinian state--seemingly a much more far-reaching initiative--without generating more than an international yawn.
Sweden's initiative represents the dying gasp of the old EU system under which the rotating state president can take all kinds of bizarre and ultimately pointless diplomatic initiatives. Last January, the Czech Republic held the presidency during Israel's incursion into Gaza: due to inexperience and a heavy pro-Israel tilt it managed to neutralize EU influence almost completely. Then there was French President Nicolas Sarkozy's "Mediterranean Union". In Sweden's case, a government that has demonstrated a clear pro-Palestinian tilt is trying at the eleventh hour to influence future EU policy with proposals that, however logical, are guaranteed not to find favor in either Jerusalem or Washington.
We have already noted Jerusalem's response. As for Washington, this resolution will certainly not render easier the efforts of Obama administration peace emissary George Mitchell to restart negotiations based on what Netanyahu has--rather than what he has not--done regarding settlements and Jerusalem. The PLO places exaggerated faith in European support and, accordingly, will now stiffen its refusal to negotiate. In this regard, the Swedish initiative represents the near total absence in recent months of close US-EU coordination regarding efforts to resolve the conflict. Remember the Quartet? It represented President George W. Bush's relatively successful effort to maintain such coordination, even as the Bush administration did far too little on the diplomatic front. Now the Obama administration has tried harder diplomatically yet accomplished equally little, and without effective coordination with the Europeans to boot. In this regard President Barack Obama, too, "deserves" this Swedish initiative.
Finally, if Netanyahu takes umbrage at the Swedish attempt to create a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, this cannot but return us to a fundamental dilemma regarding the extent of our prime minister's "conversion" from Greater Land of Israel Revisionist to champion of the two-state solution.
Surely Netanyahu by now understands that a genuine solution will require the ceding of Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods to a Palestinian state. In this context, he seemingly says and does the right thing--the Bar Ilan speech, removing checkpoints, the settlement freeze, confrontations with the settlers. Yet in parallel he leads us, through innuendo and body language, to understand that all this is being undertaken for very different reasons--to make the Americans happy so they'll keep their eye on the Iranian threat, "prove" the Palestinians don't want peace and keep Labor in the coalition--rather than to extricate Israel from a demographic disaster that threatens its future integrity as a Jewish state. So the settlers get reassurances and concessions and the creeping and utterly counter-productive Judaization of East Jerusalem continues.
Thus the Swedish initiative can be seen as metaphor for many things. Yet, however understandable the frustrations it reflects, I doubt the initiative will be seen in the long term as a positive step toward peace.- Published 7/12/2009 © bitterlemons.org
The council of European foreign ministers is currently debating a draft resolution drawn up by Sweden, holder of the rotating EU presidency, which is supposed to specify EU positions on different aspects of the Middle East conflict.
The draft posits positions, including on the issue of Jerusalem, that have caused fierce debate in European policy-making circles. Such debate indicates that there is a growing feeling among Europeans in general as well as their governments that Israeli actions in Jerusalem are exceeding all acceptable limits and are in clear violation of international law.
This was substantiated by a recent internal EU report prepared by representatives of some European countries in Jerusalem about Israeli policies toward Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. The report, which was leaked to the Israeli media together with the Swedish draft resolution, points out that the Israeli policy of evicting Palestinian Jerusalemites from East Jerusalem increased significantly in 2008. This increase came with similar increases in the number of Palestinian houses demolished, Palestinians evicted from their homes and similar violations of international law and standards.
The leak of the draft resolution would seem to have been done deliberately in order to afford Israel an opportunity to attack the resolution and pressure Europe to water down its language. Israel has three main concerns with the resolution as expressed by some officials. First, Israel will want to ensure that the final document does not make a reference to Jerusalem as the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine.
Secondly, Israel will want also to dilute a reference to European willingness to recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. Finally, Israel will also seek to insert a positive recognition by Europe of the settlement "freeze" the Israeli government announced last week.
Should Israel be successful in pressuring Europe to water down the resolution it will mark yet another victory for Israel's extreme right wing. This right wing has all along argued that Israel will not face international censure for its activities in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, no matter what they are.
It is about time that Europe reminded Israel that Jerusalem is part of the territories occupied in 1967 and that, sooner or later, East Jerusalem will have to be included in the territories from which Israel must withdraw in order to allow for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Indeed, there will be no agreement without East Jerusalem. This is not only unacceptable to Palestinians, it is not acceptable to the Arab and wider Muslim world.
It must here be noted that ending the occupation of East Jerusalem and allowing the city to become the capital of two states does not necessarily mean dividing the city. The city, in fact, is divided at the moment, mainly due to the discriminatory policies of Israel toward Jerusalem's Palestinian population. Nevertheless, Jerusalem can be an open city and at the same time the capital of two states, a home to both Palestinians and Israelis and with free access between east and west.
In such a case, Jerusalem, now one of the main causes of friction and violence between Palestinians and Israelis, could instead become a prime example of reconciliation, peace and coexistence.- Published 7/12/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Neither revolutionary nor trivial
by Daniel Seidemann
The current episode in the never-ending saga of Jerusalem-related controversies relates to a leaked draft resolution implying that the Council of the European Union expects East Jerusalem to become the capital of a future Palestinian state. Banner headlines highlighted Israel's shock and dismay over this diplomatic "outrage". At this writing, PM Binyamin Netanyahu is pulling out all the diplomatic stops to convince the Europeans to retract the offending words; it is still not known if he will succeed.
There is, of course, nothing revolutionary in the proposed EU statement. Since the failed Camp David summit in 2000, the political division of Jerusalem has become the sine qua non of any final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. It has been a common denominator of every credible plan to resolve the conflict, from Taba to the Geneva accords and beyond, and every Israeli leader who engaged in earnest in final status negotiations--including veteran Revisionist Ehud Olmert--has been compelled to embrace this position.
So one can almost chuckle over the reservations expressed by the French government last week regarding the draft EU proposal, bearing in mind that in June 2008 President Nicolas Sarkozy declared before the Israeli Knesset: "There cannot be peace without recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of two states...."
But while a sense of irony is in order, this skirmishing over a draft EU declaration discloses some important underlying trends relating to Jerusalem.
Firstly, as the two-state solution has taken root even among Likudniks like Netanyahu, with cognitive convergence taking place regarding the borders between Israel and Palestine (to be located somewhere between the route of the barrier and the green line), Jerusalem is becoming the central arena of Israeli-Palestinian skirmishing.
Indeed, Jerusalem has emerged as the arena of choice for all those who oppose a political resolution of the conflict. Fear of impending negotiations has reenergized the efforts of the extreme northern faction of Israel's Islamic movement, while the messianic settlers, bolstered by outside help from the likes of US presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, are having a field day in Jerusalem. On two recent occasions--the Shepherds Hotel settlement and the Gilo expansion plan--Netanyahu chose Jerusalem as the place to publicly challenge US President Barack Obama. And while there is some merit to Netanyahu's claim that he has exhibited more restraint regarding settlement activities in Jerusalem than his predecessors, settler-related activities in the city--displacement, demolitions, tunneling, archeology, etc.--are of late unprecedented in their scope and intensity.
Under these circumstances, Jerusalem has become a significant stumbling block to resumed negotiations. Neither the Palestinians, the Egyptians nor the Jordanians, much less the other Arab states, can accept negotiations that make them appear complicit with the loss of East Jerusalem to the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Secondly, despite the stalled prospects for credible political talks, altered expectations and accumulated frustrations have changed the calculus regarding Jerusalem. In the zero-sum, neo-con world of the Bush administration, Israel could have expanded Gilo with impunity. Today, the chorus of criticisms over Gilo (and over demolitions, displacements, etc.) has made clear that Israel is estranging its closest allies with its actions in Jerusalem.
Thirdly, even if the Obama administration chooses not to lead on the radioactive issue of Jerusalem, Israel is not immune. The void will be filled by the EU, both anticipating latent American positions and expressing frustration at the US failure to exercise leadership on this issue.
So the trends disclosed by the EU draft resolution are far from trivial. Just as the two-state solution has become a commonplace, we are now witnessing the crystallizing of a clear consensus that (a) any future agreement will entail the political division of Jerusalem; (b) getting events in Jerusalem under control is critical in kick-starting the political process; and (c) if Israel does not act responsibly in East Jerusalem--particularly in and around the Old City--it will be on a collision course with even its closest allies in the international community.
How Israel deals with this challenge will be critical. By conceding the inevitability of a politically-divided Jerusalem, Israel could pave the way for the legitimacy and recognition it seeks for itself and its capital. (Few have noted that the EU draft proposal entails EU recognition of Israeli Jerusalem as the nation's capital.) Alternatively, continued adherence to the mantra of the "eternally undivided capital" will inexorably lead Israel toward increasing and unprecedented isolation.
Israel may well "succeed" in watering down the EU's Jerusalem language. If so, this will be a Pyrrhic victory. It will only force the world to continue speaking in code about Jerusalem, while Israel tries to avoid dealing with--and preparing its public for--the hard choices coming down the pike. Such an approach is hardly in Israel's interests.
Lest those who support the emerging Jerusalem consensus be tempted to bask in this "victory", they would do well to curb their enthusiasm. In the streets of Sheikh Jarrah, in the tunnels under Silwan and down the road in the settlements on Jerusalem's periphery, another drama is unfolding in the form of steady developments on the ground. Left unchecked, these developments may well ensure that by the time the changing Jerusalem perceptions crystallize into political action, the geography and demography will be so balkanized that the two-state solution will be lost.- Published 7/12/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Daniel Seidemann is an Israeli attorney specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem, and the founder of Ir Amim, an NGO that furthers Jewish-Arab coexistence in Jerusalem.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A timely wake-up call
an interview with Mahdi Abdul Hadi
bitterlemons: What do you make of the reported Swedish draft resolution on Jerusalem?
Abdul Hadi: There are several elements to this issue. First of all, in presenting this resolution to European countries, Sweden is merely stating what Europe's position has always been, whether in public or private, which is within the framework of United Nations resolutions.
bitterlemons: So there is nothing new in the resolution?
Abdul Hadi: It is a wake-up call from Sweden to the rest of the European community about the status of Jerusalem today. Europe cannot simply leave determining the fate of Jerusalem to final status negotiations because Israel is Judaizing the city every day, making it more and more Israeli. The city is daily losing its character and identity, its history and culture to become an exclusively Jewish city. This is all happening in transgression of international law and in contradiction to what Europeans believe in.
bitterlemons: Why the need for a wake-up call?
Abdul Hadi: Nobody is protecting Palestinians in the face of the onslaught they are facing in Jerusalem and that will only worsen under this right wing Israeli government. At PASSIA, we regularly document the house demolitions, the revocations of Palestinian residency rights, the evictions and the many other hardships Palestinians face in Jerusalem, whether in their daily lives or in trying to reach and defend their holy sites. Palestinians are being uprooted on a daily basis without anyone defending them or even portraying their suffering in international fora.
bitterlemons: Why has Sweden taken on this role on Jerusalem?
Abdul Hadi: It is Sweden's responsibility as the head of the European Union. Out of that responsibility, that duty, Sweden has tackled one of the top priorities on Europe's foreign policy agenda. The resolution is about portraying the situation as it is in Jerusalem, what international law says, where the international community is and what Europe can and should do?
bitterlemons: Will it result in any practical consequences?
Abdul Hadi: It should force Europeans to face their responsibilities in Jerusalem. Europe needs to decide on how to deal with Israel over occupied East Jerusalem and Israeli institutions in East Jerusalem, and return again to dealing with Palestinian representatives from the city and focus more on Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem. Europe has to start dealing with East Jerusalem as it deals with other parts of occupied territory; as it deals with the West Bank.
bitterlemons: But this is how you feel Europe should deal with East Jerusalem. Will Europe do this?
Abdul Hadi: If you go back to the speeches by European leaders at the Israeli parliament for Nakba day, they all in their own ways, whether Nikolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown or Angela Merkel, explicitly called for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital of two countries. This draft resolution is merely confirming what these leaders said and within the framework of international law.
The new thing now is the right-wing Israeli government, with its greater brutality and even lower respect for international law. Israel is accelerating its actions in Jerusalem and the challenge now is facing down this right-wing government.
bitterlemons: So is this a very timely resolution?
Abdul Hadi: It's similar to the Goldstone report. The Goldstone report was a wake-up call about Israeli atrocities in Gaza. What is happening in Jerusalem is a war crime against Palestinians. Moreover, there is the issue of control of the holy sites. Jerusalem is a capital of the Christian and Muslim faiths as well as the Jewish faith. It cannot be an exclusively Jewish city.
bitterlemons: If Israel succeeds in watering down the resolution what does that mean?
Abdul Hadi: It is not important how the resolution comes out; it's already in the public arena. The exact wording of the resolution will not matter much as long as the wake-up call is heard and shakes things up in Israel as well as in the Arab world. It is a Palestinian, Arab and Muslim responsibility to realize that if European countries can come out with a wake-up call then they too have a responsibility to begin to act.
It has already achieved something positive, but it needs follow-up. I predict that we are about to witness a new chapter of Palestinian-Israeli confrontations in Jerusalem, because this Israeli government is aiming to close more Palestinian institutions and hound out more Palestinian citizens.- Published 7/12/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Mahdi Abdul Hadi heads the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) in Jerusalem.
To be unsubscribed from the mailing list, simply click on the link:
Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.
Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.