The following are my thoughts regarding U.S. President Donald Trump remarks about Jerusalem on December 6, 2017.
My new book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, deals a lot with the issue of Jerusalem – too bad Trump doesn’t read books – this would help him understand the complexities sensitivities and possible solutions.
Netanyahu says today: there is no Israel without Jerusalem. Did I miss something? Did someone take Jerusalem away while I slept last night? Is Jerusalem no longer in Israel? Did someone move the Knesset? What’s going on here? There is nothing more important now than making empty statements about Jerusalem? Is that what is going to bring about global acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy? Will the Palestinian issue end with an announcement from Trump? Are the Palestinians and their demands for freedom and recognition suddenly going to end because President Trump declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Will Jerusalem suddenly become the city of peace? Insanity has taken hold led by the sick man in the White House – a warmonger – so dangerous for us all here in the Middle East.
To remove doubt – of course Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. That is clear – even if it is not recognized yer formally around the world. It is recognized as such defacto. Israel agreed in the Oslo process that Jerusalem is one of the permanent status issues – which means that Israel agreed that the final status of Jerusalem would be determined in negotiations with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have called for East Jerusalem to be the capital of the State of Palestine and West Jerusalem to be the capital of the State of Israel and that Jerusalem remain one open city without physical divisions. This must be determined in negotiations. Unilateral declarations by Trump will not help the process of reaching Israeli Palestinian agreement. The Palestinians know that Tel Aviv is not Israel’s capital but there is a political price to enable Israel’s capital to be recognized by the whole world – and that price is the mutual recognition by both Israel and Palestine that Jerusalem is the capital for two states. One open Jerusalem – two capitals.
One of the main reasons why all of the previous US Presidents since Congress legislated moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem signed the waiver every six months delaying the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem is because US Intelligence services, the US military, and State Department assessed that if the Embassy would be moved to Jerusalem without an Israeli Palestinian peace agreement, American lives would be in harms way – in America, in Israel and Palestine, and around the world. It should not be a surprise that the US State Department today issued a travel warning for American citizens that they should not travel to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and of course to Gaza.
From the PLO’s own “The Palestinian Position on Some Political Issues “IN the framework of a permanent settlement, Jerusalem can be the capital of 2 states, east Jerusalem a capital for Palestine, and west Jerusalem a capital for Israel”. There is no need to divide Jerusalem and the city can remain open for followers of all religions”
The bottom line of Trump’s speech on Jerusalem is less dramatic and less traumatic than imagined. Nothing will really change on the ground. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and always has been. In serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2001, 2008 and 2013 the Israelis and Palestinians discussed and almost agreed to having two capitals in Jerusalem. That is the official PLO position. It is not the official Israeli position but it is the only one that can produce peace.
Trump called on preserving the status quo on religious sites. He specifically mentioned that the Kotel is for Jews and the Haram a-Sharif for Muslims. He spoke about supporting a two-states solution. He said that Jerusalem’s final borders and status would be determined in negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He asked God to bless Israel and the Palestinians.
Now we have to all call to contain the emotions and to prevent violence. Jerusalem is a very sensitive issue and brings out deep emotions. A new round of violence will only end with more senseless deaths and a lot of pain and destruction which is not going to help anyone. The next days are critical and I call for restraint by all on all sides.
The Arab League will protest & issue statements, the Islamic Conference will issue statements and protest. The Israelis & Palestinians will remain in Israel & Palestine & have to figure out how to stop killing each other and live in peace with mutual recognition and respect.
We all know that the US has never been an honest, impartial mediator between Israel and Palestine. The US has always been based towards Israel and has always applied most of the pressure on the Palestinians. I have always preferred direct Israeli Palestinian negotiations without a third party mediator in the room, but that requires political will on both sides – and that does not exist right now.
The empty statements of the US not being in the game any more or dropping the two states solution are virtually meaningless. If by miracle Trump does present a new peace plan, everyone will listen. It probably will not be acceptable, but no one will turn down the opportunity to see if there is something of value there.
The Palestinians can declare that they will now work for a one state solution, but unless they all convert to Judaism and declare their loyalty to the State of Israel, there is no one state solution on the horizon.
The most important thing for us now is to protect human lives and not allow us to slip into a new round of violence that will produce no real positive political results.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.