Will the Jerusalem cri­sis bring clar­ity or chaos for Pales­tine?

The dra­matic US policy shift on con­tested Jerusalem is seen by the West­ern-backed Pales­tinian lead­er­ship as a dan­ger­ous be­trayal and game-changer that is bound to pro­pel them into a risky con­fronta­tion with the US and Is­rael on the global stage. Pales­tini

Western Mail - - WM2 -

Why Jerusalem mat­ters US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s recog­ni­tion of Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal con­tra­dicts long­stand­ing in­ter­na­tional as­sur­ances to the Pales­tini­ans that the fate of the holy city will be de­ter­mined in ne­go­ti­a­tions. With Mr Trump’s sharp pivot, the US is seen as sid­ing with Is­rael, which claims all of Jerusalem, in­clud­ing the Is­raeli-an­nexed east­ern sec­tor the Pales­tini­ans seek as a fu­ture cap­i­tal.

The dis­pute over Jerusalem forms the core of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, but tran­scends a mere real es­tate ar­gu­ment. The city, home to Ju­daism’s holi­est site, is also sa­cred to bil­lions of Muslims and Chris­tians world­wide, and per­ceived slights to their claims have triggered ma­jor protests or vi­o­lence in the past. Ab­bas’ re­sponse so far Mr Ab­bas has been try­ing to rally in­ter­na­tional sup­port, reach­ing out to lead­ers from Pope Fran­cis to the EU for­eign policy chief and Arab lead­ers. He warned Mr Trump in a phone call that the US shift will rock the re­gion and threaten Washington’s plans for a Mid­dle East peace deal.

In a speech af­ter Mr Trump’s an­nounce­ment, Mr Ab­bas said the US has ef­fec­tively re­moved it­self from any role as a Mid­dle East bro­ker, but he did not say what im­me­di­ate steps, if any, the Pales­tini­ans plan to take.

Mr Ab­bas is to hold in­ter­nal con­sul­ta­tions with of­fi­cials from the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion and his Fatah party, and plans to meet his clos­est Arab ally, King Ab­dul­lah II of Jor­dan. A moment of truth? The cri­sis over Jerusalem may push Mr Ab­bas, the most stead­fast Pales­tinian cham­pion of seek­ing state­hood through ne­go­ti­a­tions, to a point he has avoided for so long – ac­knowl­edge­ment that the “peace process” is not work­ing, at least in its cur­rent for­mat.

Crit­ics have ar­gued that end­less ne­go­ti­a­tions mainly serve Is­rael by pro­vid­ing diplo­matic cover for its ex­pan­sion of set­tle­ments on war-won lands. Mr Ab­bas also de­rived some po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy from the process, po­si­tion­ing him­self as the only leader with a shot at de­liv­er­ing state­hood.

Mr Trump says he re­mains com­mit­ted to bro­ker­ing a Mid­dle East deal, de­spite the Jerusalem pivot. How­ever, those close to Mr Ab­bas say it is time to look for al­ter­na­tives. Any talks with US of­fi­cials are now “su­per­flu­ous and ir­rel­e­vant”, said Hanan Ashrawi, a se­nior PLO of­fi­cial. “The peace process is fin­ished.” Mr Ab­bas has warned in the past that a failure to achieve a so-called two-state so­lu­tion could prompt Pales­tini­ans to pur­sue a sin­gle state for two peo­ples, a prospect most Is­raelis re­ject. The Pales­tinian leader may be re­luc­tant to break away from his long­stand­ing poli­cies or lack the po­lit­i­cal courage to do so, but not shift­ing mov­ing the US em­bassy in Is­rael from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, said se­nior Fatah of­fi­cial Nasser al-Kidwa.

The Pales­tini­ans could also try to press pros­e­cu­tors at the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC) to charge Is­raeli lead­ers with war crimes, in­clud­ing over set­tle­ment build­ing, oth­ers said.

Mr Ab­bas has re­frained from such a step un­til now, un­der ap­par­ent US pres­sure.

The ICC pros­e­cu­tor is cur­rently con­duct­ing a pre­lim­i­nary ex­am­i­na­tion of the sit­u­a­tion in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries, but this is a more open-ended re­view and could take years. The probe was triggered by “Pales­tine” be­com­ing a mem­ber state of the court. The sta­tus change, in turn, was made pos­si­ble by the 2012 UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly recog­ni­tion of a state of Pales­tine in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the lands Is­rael cap­tured in 1967. Help from Europe? The Pales­tini­ans are in­creas­ingly look­ing to Europe for help, en­cour­aged by the harsh crit­i­cism of Mr Trump’s Jerusalem policy by Euro­pean lead­ers.

Euro­pean states in the past were rel­e­gated by Washington to the role of pay­mas­ter, send­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in aid to sup­port the Pales­tinian self-rule gov­ern­ment and help man­age the long-run­ning con­flict.

Euro­pean states of­ten take a more crit­i­cal view of Is­raeli poli­cies than the US, es­pe­cially on set­tle­ments, but have failed to chal­lenge Washington’s monopoly as me­di­a­tor.

Pales­tini­ans now hope the grow­ing rift be­tween Euro­pean lead­ers and the US over Jerusalem will earn them diplo­matic points. An im­me­di­ate goal is to per­suade in­flu­en­tial West­ern Euro­pean coun­tries to recog­nise a state of Pales­tine. Risk or op­por­tu­nity? For Pales­tini­ans, Mr Trump’s policy shift of­fers both risk and op­por­tu­nity.

Jerusalem has re­peat­edly been a flash­point for vi­o­lence, and Pales­tinian protest marches planned later this week could lead to clashes with Is­raeli troops.

Such con­fronta­tions can spin out of con­trol, as they did more than a decade ago when they es­ca­lated into an armed up­ris­ing. Mr Ab­bas staunchly op­poses vi­o­lence as counter-pro­duc­tive, but he may not be able to contain wide­spread pub­lic anger.

Some say Mr Trump’s policy shift may cre­ate a moment of clar­ity and help end years of paral­y­sis – by mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to per­pet­u­ate the idea that state­hood is pos­si­ble un­der the old par­a­digm.

“That op­tion is now off the ta­ble and that’s a good thing,” said Diana Buttu, a former le­gal ad­viser of the Pales­tinian self-rule gov­ern­ment. “This had re­ally held us up for so many years.”

> A view of Jerusalem’s old city. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, in­set, has recog­nised Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal, de­spite in­tense Arab, Mus­lim and Euro­pean op­po­si­tion

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