By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and planning to move the U.S. embassy there, President Donald Trump has rewarded Israel’s illegal annexation of Arab East Jerusalem and the ongoing displacement and dispossession of its Palestinian majority. Abandoning decades of official U.S. policy over objections from U.S. diplomats, allies and the CIA, he has poured gasoline on the flames of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilized the region.
As Josh Ruebner of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights notes, Trump is endorsing a ”separate-and-unequal [regime] between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, which discriminates against Palestinians in municipal planning services, taxation, housing and education, and is designed to demographically engineer a permanent Jewish majority in Jerusalem.” Ruebner further notes that Trump is “legitimizing Israel’s violations in Jerusalem of the Fourth Geneva Convention, including but not limited to its demolition of Palestinian homes, its illegal settlements, and its apartheid wall.”
There was a reason the U.S. never formally accepted Israel’s claims to sovereignty over the entire city — a claim rejected by the rest of the world because international law clearly defines East Jerusalem (along with the West Bank, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights) as illegally occupied territory.
The U.S. strategy was to pose as an “honest broker” in an endless “peace process” that would somehow, someday lead to two states living peacefully side by side, even as Israel gobbled up more and more of the fraction of historic Palestine without which no Palestinian state is viable.
In other words, while the U.S. pretends to orchestrate negotiations about how to divide up the pizza, Israel has been eating the pizza. U.S. taxpayers also graciously underwrote the check.
The Palestinians are not going to surrender to Trump’s decision, which as Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace notes “is reckless, irresponsible and endangers the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.” It is also likely that just as he has done at home, Trump will further embolden the extreme right within Israel to further consolidate its program of racism, xenophobia and authoritarianism.
Ironically, Trump may have done us a favor by stripping the fig leaf from official U.S. policy in the Middle East, and revealing yet again how the U.S. government has been part of the problem and not the solution.
For decades the U.S. has aided and abetted Israel in killing off any possible two-state solution and building a de facto single state ruling over both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians — a state in which one people is given and the other is forcefully denied full political and human rights. This is the very definition of apartheid.
When governments and politicians refuse to act, or make the situation even worse, we have an obligation to take independent action. For more than a decade Palestinian civil society has been asking us to emulate the struggle against South African apartheid by joining the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS aims to force Israel to respect the fundamental human rights of Palestinians whether they live in exile as refugees, under military occupation in the West Bank, imprisoned in Gaza or as third-class citizens within Israel proper.
It is also important to push our politicians, especially Democrats like U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, to stand firm against current efforts to punish, demonize and even criminalize BDS against Israel. Here in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker’s recent executive order and Republican-sponsored bills pending in the state Legislature do exactly that by prohibiting BDS supporters from contracting with the state (and in the case of the bills, with every government entity down to the local level).
Trump’s supporters claim his Jerusalem announcement “just recognizes reality.” But it is an ugly reality of violence, discrimination, instability and hate that is unacceptable and unsustainable and must change. We in the U.S. have a special responsibility to help make that happen.
Michele Bahl is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace-Madison. Samir El-Omari is a member of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.
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