The most controversial news which took the global media by storm in recent times has undoubtedly been US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Not only did the declaration create a furore in the Muslim world, it also led to widespread condemnation from the EU.
So what makes the US president’s decision so devoid of practicality? The matter on which Trump has casually passed his verdict is exactly the kind of matter which required research and sensitivity, not the kind of callousness we saw.
The Palestinian lands have been revered by the Muslim world for centuries. The Palestinian territory was placed under the British Mandate system until 1948 and it was in that year that things started to fall apart. The Jewish community which had suffered from widespread anti-Semitism in the early 20th century and had suffered the worst kind of inhumanity in the Holocaust had always aimed for a Jewish state. Therefore, when Nazism was brought to an end with the victory of the Allied forces in 1945, a lot of the Jewish population started settling in the Palestinian lands which gradually matured into a complete control of those territories.
Conflict was bound to occur – not only because of claims to the lands themselves but also because Jerusalem is revered by both the Jewish and the Muslim communities for religious reasons. After the six-day war, a UN-supervised ‘Green Line’ was agreed between Israel and other neighbouring Arab countries which meant that East Jerusalem (consisting of Masjid Al-Aqsa), West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights were to be treated as Palestinian territory.
However, in 1967, Israel breached the Green Line and established settlements in Palestinian lands. The violation continues to date, leading to violent clashes between both communities. While there have been serious violations of human rights committed at the hands of the Israeli armed forces, Israel has justified its violence against Palestinian civilians under the pretext of pre-emptive self-defence from those involved in Palestinian liberation movements.
Given this backdrop, it is apparent that the matter is not as simple as the US president would like to believe. International law prohibits the use of force under the UN Charter, and in Resolution 2625 of 1970 the UN General Assembly defined use of force, and prohibited acts of aggression as including a threat to the territorial integrity of a state. The Resolution also enjoins the world community to “...refrain from the threat or use of force to violate international lines of demarcation’. It is interesting to note than in an advisory opinion, the ICJ has categorically stated that Israel’s act of building a wall which cuts through Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem is in violation of international law. No compliance from Israel has been forthcoming.
Just when Palestine has been stepping towards statehood, Trump’s declaration comes across as completely out of sync with political reality. Palestine has been granted membership by Unesco and it has been able to cast votes within the General Assembly too. In addition, Palestine has also joined the International Criminal Court as part of which it has brought the ICC’s attention towards the atrocities committed by the Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip about three years ago.
It comes as no surprise that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has recently signified his intent to enter Palestine into UN membership and Turkish President Erdogan has declared that Trump’s declaration amounts to a provocative red line for Muslims. Trump’s announcement is ill thought of and badly timed for the simple reason that by shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem he has made the whole of Jerusalem a de-facto part of Israel, turning a blind eye to Palestine’s claims which are endorsed by international law itself.
The writer is an advocate of the high court.