Moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Fundamental questions
UN general assembly on the question of acknowledging Jerusalem as capital of Israel gave a sharp rap on the knuckles to US with 128 of the members voting in favour of the international consensus that recognises that only a peace deal between Palestinians and Israel can bring about a settlement. Only nine states votes against the resolution inclusive of Israel and US. These were Nauru, Palau, Micronesia, Honduras, Guatemala, Togo and Marshall Islands. 21 countries did not show up for the vote. Another 35 abstained. Among them were Croatia, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Mexico, Argentina, Romania, Australia, Canada, Poland, Philippines, Ukraine and Hungary.

Trump’s statement that, “They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us,” would put any decent American to shame. The US has a history of sending help to nations in need ranging from funds to assistance in kind, particularly in national calamities. However, his comment implies that the help is extended in part to be reciprocated by going along with the desires of his policies. It trivialises the very values that US has always stood for; of reaching out to nations in need. Unfortunately, President Trump is not guided by ideology. Interests for him outstrip values and both are mutually exclusive. His ultimate belief is in the supremacy and strength of “transaction.” It also completely disregards the right of every nation to make a determination based on their national and regional interests.

Nikki Haley’s tweet reflected the same approach as that of Trump. “At the UN we’re always asked to do more and give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American people, about where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thurs there’ll be a vote criticising our choice. The US will be taking names.” (The Sydney Morning Herald December 21 2017)

“Trump specifically cited the Jerusalem Embassy Act as the basis of his decision, which refers to the “undivided” Jerusalem that Israel considers to be under its sovereignty. In justifying his decision, he mentioned locations not just within West Jerusalem (the parliament, Supreme Court, and prime minister’s residence) but also within the occupied Old City, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, without stating that he was or was not recognising Israeli sovereignty in the East.”(Crisis Group)

Although there is no legal value attached to the vote but the diplomatic blow and loss of face will continue to sting for a long time. In the wake of the vote, The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, stated that he would “no longer accept” any peace plan proposed by the United States

Although there is no legal value attached to the vote but the diplomatic blow and loss of face will continue to sting for a long time. In the wake of the vote, The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, stated that he would “no longer accept” any peace plan proposed by the United States, calling US a “dishonest mediator” asking instead Europe and France to take a leading role to bring about peace between Palestinians and Israel.

Trump, by breaking away from the US policy followed till now in what can only be viewed as a huge policy shift, was delivering on his promise to his voters. It was one of the steps promised in his presidential campaign.

Making the formal announcement, Trump had said, “This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process.” How can negating one party’s right to land before even starting (in Trump tenure) a peace effort in favour of another party lead to peace? The broker has, by so saying, effectively become a party to the deal diplomatically, losing his chair of The Broker in the process. The peace deal on this issue is not likely to take place anytime soon. It needs leaders of great stature, statesmen that the world lacks.

If one may ask Trump and his team: exactly how does this measure further American policy and long term goals? How does this support US national interests? Has it helped US in being looked upon by the comity of nations as a country led by sagacious, capable leadership? Has it not reflected upon lack of well thought out decision at the highest level? Alienating partners that take decades to develop has been an unfortunate outcome of this step by Trump Administration.

To quote two examples only: Canada and India. The former walked away from the UN on this one. “The government’s decision to abstain was the result of a painstaking two-week analysis that tried to balance two competing interests — Canada’s support of the US’s sovereign right to decide on the location of its embassy versus Ottawa’s view that the status of Jerusalem has to be decided as part of a broader peace agreement.” ( Dec. 21, 2017)

US new found ally India is obviously unlike Pakistan that US has used as a lackey and a scapegoat and did not even abstain from voting. It voted in favour of the resolution by the UN. It is obvious that India is not going to follow US through on Trump’s whims at the cost of her relationships with other countries or to be seen as replacing one lackey for the other. “A day after Trump threatened to stop American aid to countries opposing the US move; India had categorically stated that New Delhi’s Palestine position was independent and consistent.” (India Today December 22, 2017) India has favoured settlement of the dispute between Israel and Palestinians by mutual consent. If India was to reverse her position, she would be in no position to protest if by a similar unilateral decision a nation decides to set up their embassy for Pakistan in OIK instead of Islamabad.

Both Israel and US are taking this personally excluding the legal stance as well as national interests of different nations. “Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, called for Israel to cut its ties with the UN and expel the organisation from its Jerusalem offices.” (Guardian, December 21, 2017) According to the same newspaper the US posture has been threatening and “denounced as both counter-productive and “bullying.”

The question is not as Nikki Haley states of US desire where to base the US embassy. The question is more fundamental in nature that needs to be addressed first.

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