In the run-up to President Trump’s visit, there was a public altercation between Israel and State Department officials regarding the President’s visit to the Western Wall. The American officials refused to arrange for Prime Minister Netanyahu to accompany the president, asserting that the Western Wall is not in Israeli territory. Israel expressed righteous indignation, and tempers flared.
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The position expressed by the State Department was not new, and not only expresses the longstanding policy of the United States since 1967, but a broad international consensus: East Jerusalem is not part of the “indivisible capital of Israel”, but is territory occupied by Israel. But the uncertain status of Jerusalem is not limited to East Jerusalem, but extends to the West of the city as well.
While it widely accepted by the international community that West Jerusalem is undeniably part of Israel, and not occupied territory, there is also a consensus that its status as the self-declared capital of Israel is “to be determined” – i.e. in the framework of a permanent status agreement. That is why no country on earth recognizes the legitimacy of the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, and there is not one embassy in the city, East or West.
The timing of Trump’s visit coincides with the commemoration of 50 years of Israeli rule over East Jerusalem, and the dissonance between Israel and the almost all of the rest of the world has been deafening. While official Israel is celebrating 50 years of “reunification”, even Israel’s closest allies see the event as another benchmark in the 50 years of occupation – the longest occupation in modern history.
Whatever one’s principled position may be, there is one basic distinction between the view of official Israel and that of the international community. “Undivided Jerusalem” is a fantasy that simply does not exist, while the occupation of East Jerusalem manifests itself in every facet of Israeli rule over East Jerusalem. The adherence of official Israel to “undivided Jerusalem” is an article of faith that is impervious to empirical evidence. Nowhere on the planet is there a Prime Minister and a mayor so utterly detached from the realities of what they deem to be their nation’s capital.
Fifty years on, Jerusalem is more binational, more contested and more divided that at any point since 1967.
There are two national collectives in Jerusalem, one endowed with political rights and the other permanently disenfranchised and disempowered. In 1967, Israel annexed the land, but not the population. Palestinian East Jerusalemites are not citizens of Israel, nor may they vote in national elections. You will be told they were offered citizenship, or entitled to receive it. False. They may apply, and we may say no. They don’t apply – and we generally say no.
For protracted periods of time, the occupation of East Jerusalem was a disease in remission. No longer. Collective punishment – part of Israel’s policies in East Jerusalem since 1967 – was in the past episodic, and is now becoming systemic. Occupation is metastasizing, and the international community sees with crystal clarity that to which official Israel is blind: a house divided against itself - half occupied and half free - cannot stand.
For almost three years, East Jerusalem has been in the throes of a popular uprising unlike anything witnessed since 1967. During this period, Israel has arrested almost 10% of Palestinians boys between the ages of 12-18 in East Jerusalem in clashes with the police. Since 1967, Israelis rarely venture into East Jerusalem, but the few that do refrain from doing so unless escorted by a Palestinian colleague. Never has the chasm between Israeli Jerusalem and Palestinian Jerusalem been deeper and wider.
Israel decided to pick a fight with the State Department over longstanding policies - and lost. Trump went unaccompanied to the Western Wall, and senior administration officials, such as Secretary of State Tillerson, would only go so far as stating that the Western Wall is “part of Jerusalem”.
And this is not the only spat that Israel has elected to initiate with its friends over Jerusalem. On May 3, UNESCO approved yet another Jerusalem resolution. While the text resolution remains an inflammatory and polemical manifesto, Israel went on the attack over things that simply did not appear in the resolution. “It denies the Jewish ties to Jerusalem” – no, it does not. On the two occasions when religious ties were cited, those of Jews, Christians and Muslims were mentioned. “It denies Israeli sovereignty, and Jerusalem is the capital of Israel” – the issue of sovereignty and the status of capital simply doesn’t appear in the text. “It calls East Jerusalem ‘occupied’” – true, but Israeli is virtually the only one that doesn’t.
Feigning rage over things attributed to the resolution (but that don’t appear in it), Israel conducted a well-choreographed campaign. Culture Minister Miri Regev called to close the UNESCO offices in Jerusalem – even though no such offices exist. Israel castigated Germany for its behind the scenes role in the framing of the resolution (instead of thanking them for having promoted the removal of its most toxic elements). The Swedish Ambassador was summoned for a reprimand for voting in favor of the resolution (so did Russia and China, who were not reprimanded – authoritarian regimes apparently get a pass).
These are no mere random spats, but instead are part of the systematic pattern in which Netanyahu’s Israel is addressing the occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
No longer satisfied with simply turning a blind eye to the unpleasant truths of occupation, Netanyahu’s Israel is on the offensive against any who acknowledge the existence of occupation and the threats that it poses.
Netanyahu seeks to address occupation by silencing, vilifying and pursuing any who expose it and seek to end it, by picking gratuitous fights with our closest allies, and by orchestrating an assault on the very foundations of Israeli democracy: the courts, the press, the Arab minority, and civil society. All of these add up to a coherent effort to bully both Israelis and Israel’s allies into a parallel universe in which “occupation denial” reigns supreme.
Trump has come and gone, and Jerusalem remains as it was. And for all the sweetness and light he displayed towards Israel, he did not deviate one bit from the longstanding U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem.
The recognition of Israeli Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would, indeed, be the crowning achievement of Zionism, embodying the universal recognition of Israel’s legitimacy and rightful place among the family of nations.
That goal can be achieved in one way alone. Israeli Yerushalayim will be recognized as Israel’s capital only when Al Quds will be recognized as the capital of Palestine. Embassies will flock to Israeli Jerusalem the day after Israel opens its embassy in Palestinian Jerusalem, and Palestine does the same in our Jerusalem. Not one day before.
No amount of denial, however sophisticated, will spare Israel from the dire perils of occupation, and no combination of bullying, bluster and hasbara will bring Israeli Jerusalem the recognition it deserves.
Daniel Seidemann is an Israeli attorney specializing in the geopolitics of contemporary Jerusalem. Follow him on Twitter: @DanielSeidemann