Last week, no longer able to resist the torment of the genie’s whispers, the president of the United States unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As can be expected when bold actions on Jerusalem are taken on the backs of its residents, pundits take to betting on the coming of the third intifada while less clickable stories about Israeli developments on the ground that are literally rewriting the status quo – and the story of Palestinians’ civil resistance to them – stay unwritten.
The lasting danger Donald Trump’s proclamation poses for the city and the 800,000+ Israelis and Palestinians – nearly 40 percent of the population – living there is not the violent protests foreshadowed in the State Department’s hastily issued travel warnings.
The real threat is that he has emboldened Israeli policymakers, already bent on making their own one-sided moves, to lethally prejudice any future negotiations. Their legislative bills and municipal plans are transparently designed to unilaterally and decisively redraw the borders of the city and shove the city’s demographic balance back in the direction of the 70:30 ratio - that is 70% Jewish, 30% Palestinian - that has driven Israeli policymaking in Jerusalem since 1967.
At issue is no less than the first practical move since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 to implement the de facto annexation of areas in the West Bank to Israel, while at the same time conducting a massive transfer of Palestinians – permanent residents of the city – from Jerusalem.
Israel cannot autocratically reinvent Palestinians’ identities as 'non-Jerusalemites' and sever them from their historical, religious, national and cultural center of life. And the suggestion that they’ll be 'better off' as a majority in their own municipality – while still under Israeli control – is specious at best, given their current state of wholesale neglect.
The government has already wrought a near non-negotiable situation for the Palestinians by settling some 600,000 Israelis on land that should form the foundation of a future Palestinian state. Now the aim is to accelerate the transfer of Palestinians from their ancestral home while absorbing West Bank settlers and, by extension, control over the land they’ve occupied.
Trump took pains to clarify that the U.S. would take no formal position on borders or other final status issues. In fact, any pretext of neutrality was rendered invalid as soon as he recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Fueled by his declaration, Israeli lawmakers immediately acted to expedite a bill aiming to reshape the boundaries of the city to the floor of the Knesset for final readings. Trump effectively provided the tailwind for the bill to advance.
"Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel" was passed against the backdrop of negotiations with Egypt, to limit future territorial compromises on the city. The amendment now being pushed by cabinet ministers Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) and Zeev Elkin (Likud) seeks to blur the bill’s language to pave the way for the de facto annexation of the Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev blocs (some 140,000 settlers).
At the same time, it would enable Israel to excise the eight Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem it left outside the Separation Barrier from the municipality without having to formally waive Israeli sovereignty over them. Legislation could result in the transfer of approximately 120,000 Palestinians – one-third of Jerusalem's Palestinian population – from the city.
Although further Knesset action on the amendment was then delayed until after the vice-president of the U.S. completes his visit here (a visit that itself has now been postponed), the plans – and the transparent intentions of their promoters – won’t be grounded for long.
Of his Greater Jerusalem (or daughter sub-municipalities) bill, ultimately intended to allow Israelis in the settlement blocs to vote in Jerusalem elections, Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) said he aimed "to strengthen Jerusalem by adding thousands of Jewish residents to the city, while simultaneously weakening the Arab hold on the capital."
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Zeev Elkin bemoans the "demographic challenge" presented by the East Jerusalemites Israel left on the other side of the Barrier. Likud MK Anat Berko would like to remove Israeli responsibility for "a long list of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the vast majority of which were not within the jurisdiction of the city at any point in its history," as if we can simply rectify the illegal annexation of 28 Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem by unilaterally casting them off.
And while the increasingly-challenging-to-differentiate center-left can be expected to vote against both of the major bills in process, plans such as the one proposed by Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson share the goal of separating Palestinian neighborhoods from the city.
Trump’s Jerusalem moment served not only to distract from the tightening noose of Mueller’s investigation, but also to steal the spotlight from Israel’s best work to finish off the two-state solution. By turning up the flame on Jerusalem, the U.S. president has enabled the continued obfuscation and normalization of the real violence here: the violence of the occupation itself.
What we should fear, as an aftershock of his reckless overturning of standing U.S. policy on Jerusalem, is a further tightening of the chokehold on the Palestinian population through midnight raids, demolitions and child arrests; the Israeli government support of radical settlers evicting Palestinians from their homes; continued settlement building; and the fast tracking of plans to simply dispose of one third of the city’s Palestinians in one legislative stroke.
For Israel's right wing, one key subtext of the president’s statement was that all of Jerusalem belongs to us, and no one – not even the presumptive mediator and honest broker – is going to stop us.
Betty Herschman is Ir Amim's Director of International Relations & Advocacyand is an expert on Jerusalem in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She a graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and holds a master's degree from Boston University. Twitter: @IrAmimAlerts
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