Today could mark an important step in the Middle East peace process. EU Foreign Ministers are to meet to consider a statement on East Jerusalem and a future Palestinian state.
As the Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon reports, there has been heavy lobbying: “Israel is pushing for a text much shorter than the three-to-four-page Swedish draft, and one that would commend Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s housing-start moratorium in the settlements and urge the Palestinians back to the negotiation table. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, is trying to convince the 27 EU nations to support the Swedish draft resolution on the Middle East that for the first time refers to ‘Palestine’ [is this true? see below … ] and calls for a resumption of negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state with ‘East Jerusalem’ as its capital. The draft resolution only ‘takes note’ of Netanyahu’s housing-start moratorium, and says the EU hopes ‘it will become a step towards resuming meaningful negotiations’. Such a resolution, were it to pass, would be the first time the EU has called formally for recognition of east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state … The proposal by Sweden, which this month is winding down its tenure as rotating president of the EU, is also reportedly backed by Ireland, Belgium, Britain and Malta, while Italy, Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland and Slovenia have come out against the wording of the text. France has also opposed the draft on the grounds that more support should be given to Netanyahu for the settlement moratorium, and also because of a feeling that while France supported Jerusalem becoming the capital of two states in a future solution, the modalities of how this would be done should be left to the negotiations”. This JPost article can be read in full here.
The American position on Jerusalem is not totally clear. Officials tell us that the U.S. position has not changed — but what is that position? As I wrote in the latest issue (number 39, August 2009) of Jerusalem Quarterly that officials of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama “have had to press Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyanu, newly-installed after February general elections for (1) a recommitment to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and (2) for a complete end to its settlement activities. European policy, however, continues to emphasize the role of international law and United Nations resolutions, while American policy may have not yet fully recovered from the view that some of that is ‘ancient history’ – and important American policy decisions still hang in the balance. Europe for several decades worked to have an independent policy … There were persistent reports that Obama’s special envoy George Mitchell had, after months of talks, only succeeded in extracting Israeli agreement to a qualified and limited settlement freeze that Israeli officials insisted would not, in any case, be permanent. One Israeli media report even stated that American officials privately told their Israeli counterparts that they would not require a full settlement freeze if the Palestinians did not insist … Netanyahu asserted in mid-2009 that ‘Jerusalem is not a settlement’ — and he made the immediately contested claimed that Jews and Arabs have equal rights to live and build in Jerusalem. In response, a U.S. State Department spokesman, pressed by journalists, explained that, ‘we believe that Israel has an obligation to cease all settlement activity in East Jerusalem or the West Bank or wherever it may be over the 1967 border’. A few days earlier, US Presidential Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, that in Obama’s view, Israeli plans to approve additional settlement construction are ‘inconsistent with Israel’s commitment under the Roadmap’ … The U.S.-European convergence of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may well now be the closest since Europe fell out of favor following its June 1980 Venice Declaration in which it intended to prepare a ‘special role’ for itself in the Middle East, and that it believed the Palestine Liberation Organization should be associated with a new peace initiative that Europe would propose. The nine Western European states who were members of the European Community at the time were apparently persuaded that the Camp David negotiations between Israel and Egypt that started in September 1978 with the sponsorship and strong backing of U.S. President Jimmy Carter might have led to a bilateral peace treaty but had otherwise only exacerbated regional tensions. According to this 1980 Venice Declaration, ‘the time has come to promote the recognition and implementation of the two principles universally accepted by the international community: the right to existence and to security of all States in the region, including Israel, and justice for all the peoples, which implies the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people … A just solution must finally be found to the Palestinian problem, which is not simply one of refugees. The Palestinian people, which is conscious of existing as such, must be placed in a position, by an appropriate process defined within the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement, to exercise fully its right to self-determination … These principles are binding on all the parties concerned, and thus on the Palestinian people, and on the PLO, which will have to be associated with the negotiations‘ … European leaders did, indeed, stress in the Venice Declaration ‘the need for Israel to put an end to the territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict of 1967, as it has done for part of Sinai. They are deeply convinced that the Israeli settlements constitute a serious obstacle to the peace process in the Middle East. The Nine consider that these settlements, as well as modifications in population and property in the occupied Arab territories, are illegal under international law‘. The Venice Declaration also recognized ‘the special importance of the role played by the question of Jerusalem for all the parties concerned. The Nine stressed that they would not accept any unilateral initiative designed to change the status of Jerusalem and that any agreement on the city’s status should guarantee freedom of access for everyone to the Holy Places’. The European position on these two issues still stands to this day – and is now being echoed in statements made by the Obama Administration. What has not been published is the follow-up document approved in December 1980, by the Nine Western European leaders at a summit meeting in Luxembourg, after six months of intensive work to flesh out the European proposal for a new peace initiative. Shortly afterwards, it was suddenly put on hold, apparently out of consideration for the one-term Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, who took office after his inauguration in January 1981. [In the Luxembourg Document] The Nine said they could assert the interest of the Christian world in the holy places in Jerusalem. The Luxembourg document said that withdrawal, as mentioned in UN Security Council resolution 242, means also from East Jerusalem, but that the future of Jerusalem as a whole must be determined in negotiations. The document stated that the situation of Jerusalem in international law is not yet precisely defined, but the Nine did state that they do not recognize either the partition between Israel and Jordan (established in the cease-fire accord of 30 November 1948 and the armistice accord of 3 April 194;, or the Israeli Knesset’s proclamation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (23 June 1950); or the de facto annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967; or the fundamental law passed by the Knesset on 30 July 1980, proclaiming Jerusalem as the united and reunified capital of Israel. The Luxembourg document contains several different proposals concerning Jerusalem:
1) Internationalization of the entire city; 2) A new plan of partition which would give juridical value to the situation that existed between 1948 and 1967; 3) A “condominium” between Israel and the Arabs [this was the word used at the time, not “Palestinians”, though that may be what it meant, or it may have wished to be ambiguous] which would involve joint sovereignty; 4) A formula which would include common administration without physical divisions (either keeping de facto unity, without specifying respective sovereignty, or dividing sovereignty without any actual physical division of the city on the ground). In these cases, Jerusalem would be ruled by a municipal authority composed of elected Israelis and Palestinians [similar to a proposal made when the British mandate was still in place, but never implemented]. Religious places would be under the exclusive administration of religious authorities; 5) Internationalization of the Old City – i.e., everything within the city walls, where most of the holy places are. “This would give the Old City the character of the Vatican”, the Luxembourg document said. The Old City would then be administered by a special representative named by the Security Council for a determined number of years. This would require the parties to renounce their sovereignty over the Old City – and this last proposal could be combined and made compatible with most of the earlier options outlined above, the Luxembourg document said … The American chilly and distant reaction to the Venice Declaration and the Luxembourg Documents, caused a European retreat – or a sidelining — that lasted for several decades. The immediate problem, in 1980, was that the American administration of President Jimmy Carter was defensively protecting its heavy political and diplomatic investment in the Camp David strategy it had launched with Israel and Egypt. Carter’s singular focus on the importance of maintaining the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations was apparently responsible for compromising the publicly-stated U.S. position on Jerusalem in 1980 – which, if it did not actually change, at least to become so closely-held that it appeared less critical of Israeli actions concerning Jerusalem. On Carter’s orders, the U.S. abstained from a series of more than half a dozen UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s “Basic Law” of proclaiming united Jerusalem as its eternal capital. The U.S. delegation did not restate the previously-declared American position on Jerusalem [see footnote 1 below] — and just kept quiet … The American silence, or obfuscation, about its position on Jerusalem, adopted for Carter’s political advantage in negotiations, and in an election year, also perfectly suited the worldview of the neo-conservatives who joined Ronald Reagan’s team, and who used this lack of clarity to suggest a much more pro-Israeli policy on Jerusalem … But did Jimmy Carter, who as U.S. president was so protective of the Camp David process that he had invested so much in, when he more recently visited the Hanoun and Ghawi families [evicted from their homes and replaced by Jewish national-religious settlers, see our other posts here] living on the sidewalks in front of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah on 27 August, as part of a delegation of The Elders – a group of former statesmen and women – and brought them a ‘gift of food’, did he remember that in 1980, he instructed officials in his administration just before he faced re-election in what became the final year of his presidency, to be ‘noticeably quiet’ on the subject of Jerusalem? [Footnote 1: On 14 July 1967 (after Israel extended its law and administration over East Jerusalem) U.S. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg (representing President Lyndon Johnson) stated in a UN General Assembly vote that “this Assembly should have dealt with the problem by declaring itself against any unilateral change in the status of Jerusalem … [O]n July 3, I said that the safeguarding of the Holy Places and freedom of access to them for all should be internationally guaranteed and the status of Jerusalem in relation to them should be decided not unilaterally but in consultation with all concerned. These statements represent the considered and continuing policy of the United States … We insist that the measures taken cannot be considered other than interim and provisional, and not prejudging the final and permanent status of Jerusalem”. In his speech before the UN Security Council, Goldberg also read excerpts from two statement issued on 28 June 1967: (1) the first from the White House, which stated that in the President’s view, “there must be adequate recognition of the special interests of three great religions in the holy places of Jerusalem. On this principle he assumes that before any unilateral action is taken on the status of Jerusalem there will be appropriate consultations with religious leaders and others who are deeply concerned … The world must find an answer that is fair and recognized to be fair”; and (2) the second from the State Department, saying that “The hasty administrative action taken today cannot be regarded as determining the future of the Holy Places or the status of Jerusalem in relation to them. The United States has never recognized such unilateral actions by any of the states in the area as governing the international status of Jerusalem”. And, on 1 July 1969, U.S. Ambassador Charles Yost (representing President Richard Nixon) told the UN Security Council that “the United States has always considered that Jerusalem enjoys a unique international standing and that no action should be taken there without full regard to Jerusalem’s special history and special place in the world community … The United States considers that the part of Jerusalem that came under the control of Israel in the June war, like other areas occupied by Israel, is occupied territory and hence subject to the provisions of international law governing the rights and obligations of an occupying power … The pattern of behavior authorized under the Geneva Convention and international law is clear: the occupier must maintain the occupied area as intact and unaltered as possible, without interfering with the customary life of the area, and any changes must be necessitated by immediate needs of the occupation. I regret to say that the actions of Israel in the occupied portion of Jerusalem present a different picture, one which gives rise to understandable concerns that the eventual disposition of East Jerusalem may be prejudiced and the rights and activities of the population are already being affected and altered … We have consistently refused to recognize these measures as having anything but a provisional character and do not accept them as affecting the ultimate status of Jerusalem”. This article can be read in full here.
Meanwhile, with fine irony, Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar writes today: “Who would have believed that Benjamin Netanyahu would get the settler minister Avigdor Lieberman to agree to a settlement freeze? Ever since Netanyahu replaced Ehud Olmert as prime minister, there has been a significant decrease in the number of roadblocks in the West Bank. Peace Now reports that Housing and Construction Ministry tenders for housing beyond the Green Line are at a low. So why are the Europeans now plotting to divide Jerusalem (even though they never recognized its unification)? Why have the Russians vetoed the Quartet proposal to issue a statement of support for the freeze Israel has imposed? What do they want from Bibi? The answer lies in statements Netanyahu made Thursday to settler leaders protesting the temporary settlement freeze. ‘This move makes it clear to key players around the world that Israel is serious in its intentions to achieve peace, while the Palestinians refuse to enter negotiations for peace’, the prime minister told the anxious guests. And to remove all doubt, he added: ‘There is a side that wants [to talk] and another that does not. This move has made clear who is refusing peace’. In other words, we want to get out of the occupied territory, but the Palestinians insist that we stay. Netanyahu has in essentially confirmed that he knew in advance that a limited settlement freeze wouldn’t bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. He could have bet that Abbas wouldn’t accept less than what the road map gave the Palestinians more than six years ago: a total freeze that includes natural growth and the immediate dismantling of all outposts established since March 2001. You don’t have to be the head of Military Intelligence to expect that no Arab leader would take part in a move that recognizes, or even implies, Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem” … This Akiva Eldar piece can be viewed here.
Separately, Amos Harel notes in in Haaretz today that “U.S. President Barack Obama has united the settlers. At the moment, the struggle against the freeze is being waged on both sides of the separation fence … America’s demand for a comprehensive freeze has created, for the first time in a while, common ground between Beit Aryeh, Yitzhar and Migron. Settlers of all stripes have signed the High Court petition against the freeze … Foundations have been laid. The past few months, in which the government delayed responding to pressure from Washington, gave the settlers time to organize. Because the date for the freeze was set in late November, great efforts were made to lay hundreds of housing units as facts on the ground. The missions seem to have worked – building continues in many such settlements, viewed as legitimate by the government and exempted from the freeze … The recurring complaint last week, heard among regional council heads across the West Bank, was that the freeze was halting plans about to be carried out, plans supposedly already authorized. It’s a surprising claim, as for years the settlers have complained of being ‘dried out’ by the government, which they claimed wouldn’t allow them to so much as enclose their balconies. If indeed all of the recent administrations, from Sharon to Olmert, ‘dried them out’, then when exactly did these construction projects Netanyahu is trying to undermine actually spring up?” This is posted here.
And, Zvi Bar’el writes, also in Haaretz, that “In 10 months, when the bubble bursts, the High Holidays will be around the corner and the Palestinian Authority will or will not have Abbas and perhaps a united government with Hamas. Netanyahu and the Yesha government will be able to ridicule and celebrate. No one will be able to demand further ‘concessions’, because such a ‘trauma’ must not happen again. Therefore this pseudo-trauma must be magnified. As Rabbi Moshe Levinger shouted to the settlers who were to be evacuated from the Sebastia train station in the mid-1970s, ‘Rend your clothing’ – as Jewish mourners do. The moratorium on construction must be presented immediately as no less than a national disaster, a real holocaust, so that 10 months from now no one will ever consider demanding that the freeze continue. Should, heaven forfend, a peace process begin, this way the State of Israel will know that it is facing off against the entire settler state. The show this time has to be bigger than the one for the disengagement from Gaza. After all, that disengagement was to have assured that there would be no more withdrawals. And suddenly – treachery. Although life this time is easier, because the settlers are not going up against Ariel Sharon or Menachem Begin; it is just Netanyahu, the ball that was meant to be pushed around. But his logic is not that of the settlers. All he wants is to show, particularly to the Americans and generally to the world, that Israel is the one that made the sacrifice. The settlers, in contrast, see every day of the freeze as a national defeat. Their war is not against the Americans or the Palestinians. It’s a matter of them or the government of Israel. It is a struggle for the national consciousness, as they wrote in a document of principles of ‘the renewed Yesha [the council of settlers and settlements]’ (as opposed to the old Yesha, which ‘lost’ Gaza). No more chances must be taken in such a struggle, and the settlers are taking none. This state has 300,000 citizens, and those who want a peace process will have to negotiate with its leaders, not with the Palestinians or Americans”. Zvi Bar’el’s analysis can be viewed in full here.