As President Donald Trump assumes power in Washington D.C., many in occupied Palestine are deeply alarmed about what the future holds for them. They fear for the two-state solution that for decades has been the internationally accepted framework for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and an end to Israel’s military occupation of our lands, which is now in its 50th year.
Initially, during his presidential campaign, Trump declined to assign blame for the conflict or to pledge to move the U.S. embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, declaring the need for “neutrality” in peacemaking. He then quickly reversed all these positions, embracing the most hardline, intransigent elements in Israel. He even publicly urged Israel to build more settlements on occupied Palestinian land. They are a flagrant violation of international law, serious obstacle to the two-state solution, and a departure from five decades of U.S. policy. And now Trump administration officials are suggesting he will move the embassy to Jerusalem soon.
Theramifications of such a movewould be disastrous. It would be seen by many as evidence of U.S. involvement in an Israeli-defined religious war that risks turning the conflict into one between Jews on one side and Christians and Muslims on the other. It would constitute an American acceptance of Israel’s illegal annexation of occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem and the ring of settlements it has built in and around it. And it would further inflame tensions in an already unstable region, while undermining U.S. standing and interests.Some of Trump’s top advisors, including Jared Kushner, who has been named point person for Middle East peace, and David Friedman, his nominee for ambassador to Israel, have close ties to Israel’s settler movement and army, and have provided them with financial assistance. In effect, they have been aiding and abetting Israeli war crimes. In this context, repeated declarations that Trump will in fact move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, reversing nearly 70 years of American policy, are seen as an extreme act of provocation and aggression.
The most extreme, racist, and anti-peace elements in Israel would be emboldened even further to pursue their dangerous plans of superimposing “Greater Israel” on all of historic Palestine. In fact, all of Jerusalem should be negotiated based on international law, which does not recognize Israel’s annexation of either part of the city.
Palestinian Muslims perform the morning Eid al-Fitr prayer near the Dome of Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third most holy site, in the old city of Jerusalem, July 6, 2016.AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY
Indeed, Trump should heed the warnings of General James Mattis, his nominee for defense secretary. In 2013, shortly after leaving his post as head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, Mattis explained that he “paid a military security price every day” in the Middle East because of America’s support for Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians. Mattis also observed that if Israel continued to rule over millions of Palestinians without granting them the vote and equal rights it would be an apartheid state, something that has been noted by many others, including Secretary of State John Kerry and at least four former Israeli prime ministers. In reality, Israel already is an apartheid state, and has been for a very long time.
Today, generations of Palestinians in the occupied territories have lived their entire lives under Israeli military rule. They have known nothing but checkpoints, walls, home demolitions, heavily armed settlers—many of them Americans—stealing their land, foreign soldiers raiding their homes in the middle the night to take away their loved ones, and the daily, grinding violence and humiliation of occupation. And Palestinians in exile, including those languishing in refugee camps for decades, are denied the right to return to homes and lands they were expelled from by Israel. In spite of all this, Palestinians remain committed to a peaceful solution to the occupation.
The same reactionary currents that propelled populist, misogynist, xenophobic, and racist leaders into power in the West have been ascendant for more than a decade in Israel. Each of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalitions has been more extremist, right-wing and dominated by settler interests than the last. Members of the current Israeli government see in Trump a partner for their oppressive, expansionist policies, believing he will provide additional impunity and cover for their lawlessness and criminality.
When the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized Israel’s right to exist in 1988 and again in 1993, it did so on 78 percent of our historical homeland in exchange for a Palestinian state on just the remaining 22 percent, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel’s demand that the U.S. move its embassy is intended to legitimize Israeli control over all of Jerusalem, precluding the possibility of East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a Palestinian state.
The moment of truth is quickly approaching in Israel and Palestine. The current dynamic threatens to plunge the whole region into an abyss of violence and despair. Actions like moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem will only make the situation more dangerous. Courageous forces of hope and humanity are needed to intervene instead of those that seek to consolidate injustice and occupation.
The U.S. and the world must decide where they stand. They can move immediately towards the two-state solution based on relevant U.N. resolutions and international law by applying pressure to bring Israel into compliance, including in regards to Jerusalem.
Alternately, they can acknowledge that Israel is determined to perpetuate its occupation forever, in which case they should press Israel to grant equal rights for all the peoples who live under its control, including the right to citizenship, regardless of their religion or race. It is a test of the international community’s integrity and commitment to peace and justice.
Hanan Ashrawi is a Palestinian lawmaker and a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.