The Jerusalem factor and Palestinians’ distress

Benign neglect, retaliatory measures and hasty disengagement will not provide a solution.
Sunday 20/05/2018
Palestinians carry an injured protester during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with Gaza, on May 18. (AFP)
Palestinians carry an injured protester during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with Gaza, on May 18. (AFP)

The stark contrast between the ceremonial opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and images of Palestinians killed and wounded by Israeli troops last week was deeply shocking.

On May 14, while US and Israeli senior officials exchanged congratulatory words on the US embassy’s transfer from Tel Aviv, at least 60 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. More than 100 Palestinian civilians have been killed and thousands wounded by live fire during seven weeks of protests.

But the sharp contrasts go beyond the bloodshed in Gaza and the bombast in Jerusalem. There was, predictably enough, an inflammable juxtaposition – between Israeli celebration of the Jewish state’s creation in 1948 and the mourning over the same event by stateless Palestinians. To the latter, it is the catastrophe, or Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of them were driven from their homeland.

In the seven decades since then, all efforts aimed at bridging the gap between the two peoples have failed. Opportunities were wasted by both sides but mostly torpedoed by Israel’s arrogance of power. Now, it even looks as if the concept of the two-state solution itself is doomed.

Gazan youth continued to approach the border fence with Israel despite Israeli soldiers’ willingness to use disproportionate force. This reflects the degree of despair among young Palestinians, caught for 11 years between Hamas’s inept repressive rule and the blockade imposed by Israeli occupiers.

The Jerusalem factor has thrown another combustible element into an already explosive mix. In December, US President Donald Trump unilaterally rejected the international consensus that the status of Jerusalem must be left to the final stage of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. The international consensus recognised a basic fact: Jerusalem is sacred to three faiths – Islam, Christianity and Judaism. But Trump has, in his words, “taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table.” It is, he has indicated, an opening gambit in his promised “Deal of the Century.”

The promised deal, of course, has remained no more than a pledge and it is not clear if and when it will materialise. At the Jerusalem embassy opening, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner declared Washington “is prepared to support a peace agreement in every way we can.” Kushner has been tasked by Trump with preparing a peace plan but its timeline too is vague. “The peace plan will be brought forward at the appropriate time. It can be evaluated on its merits,” a White House spokesman has said, which doesn’t really tell us anything at all.

Experts are sceptical both about the delivery of any such deal as well as its chances of success given the dramatic atrophy of US credibility as an honest broker. The new US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has yet to present any ideas for resurrecting the process of negotiations over the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Benign neglect, retaliatory measures and hasty disengagement will not provide a solution.

As long as it remains unresolved, the plight of the Palestinians will be a source of regional instability and an issue that can be exploited by extremists. For all that the Arab world is consumed by a multitude of other concerns today, the Palestinians seem determined to remind the world they must not be forgotten.

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