In Jerusalem, the old American-led order has ended
LONDON - Daniel Seidemann is the founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an NGO that tracks Israeli policies and settlement growth in the city. He has spent more than 20 years monitoring and mapping Jerusalem, which Israel claims in its totality and the Palestinians seek the eastern part of for their future capital.
Terrestrial Jerusalem monitors and tracks Israeli settlement activity in and around the Old City area and examines its effect in geopolitical contexts and on potential future agreements. It has been focusing on the US Embassy’s move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the potential for violence.
A US-born lawyer who moved to Israel in 1973, Seidemann is considered an authority on Jerusalem. In 2013, Newsweek magazine described him as “a one-man, early warning system for any changes that will undermine a two-state solution.”
However, the situation may have gone beyond the point of a two-state solution. The Arab Weekly (TAW) spoke to Seidemann via Skype to discuss what might happen next.
TAW: “Do you see any hope for peace in the current situation?”
Seidemann: “No. We will be in the trenches for years. The Americans are gone [as a broker for peace], they are not coming back anytime soon. There is no immediate replacement. The optimum we can talk about is life support, holding the line, knowing full well that whatever steps are available are inadequate and the forces conspiring against anything decent are huge. The sooner we understand that, the better we’ll be.”
TAW: “How do you view the significance of the US Embassy move to Jerusalem?”
Seidemann: “I would connect the developments as follows: The message sent by the move of the embassy is that the United States is buying into [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s strategy and Netanyahu’s strategy was never de jure annexation [of land]. He believes de jure annexation will jeopardise the fact of annexation. [Netanyahu in effect says] give me time, the world will acquiesce and the Palestinians will submit.
“After Trump’s election, we’re seeing a doubling down on occupation in ways that we have not seen in the past — more aggressive, less apologetic. This is becoming more emphasised as Netanyahu’s legal woes increase [because of corruption investigations]. So you have this diplomatic, geopolitical level of the world acquiescing and then you have the doubling down of occupation, which very much dovetail together.
“The other two messages that have been sent to the Palestinians by this [US Embassy] move are: Number one, you don’t count; and number two, there is a significant risk of East Jerusalem being lost to the Palestinians and the Arab world. It’s a variation of Dante: Abandon all hope.
“It is not generally the geopolitical issues, settlements or even home demolitions that trigger or detonate violence in Jerusalem. It’s almost invariably sacred spaces. In the 19th century, it was over the Holy Sepulchre [church], in the 20th century over the Temple Mount [Haram al-Sharif].
“I tend to think there will not be convulsive violence [in Jerusalem] but, on the other hand, were you to come to me and say things in Jerusalem are too calm, the flames are dying down, what can we possibly do to cause an eruption, I would say have you considered opening the US Embassy on Nakba day, which is also the beginning of Ramadan, when you have violence boiling over in Gaza, that might just do it. I am more concerned than I have been in the past.
“You have this confluence of the broader diplomatic constellation and despair on the ground. The move of the embassy is a very destabilising move but it’s not the destabilisation that’s measured in days and weeks, it’s the destabilisation that’s measured in months and years, namely caused by there is no prospect of our lives getting better and that is seeping in.”
TAW: “Is Israel increasing the pace of settlements?”
Seidemann: “It’s hard to say. You have seen an uptick in announcements and a decline in building starts but that’s cyclical because Netanyahu froze announcements in the last two years not to piss off the [UN] Security Council. We are definitely seeing an increase in settler-related activities in settlement enclaves in and around the Old City, including things like cable cars 150 metres from al-Aqsa [mosque]. And a very significant uptick in evictions and displacement, of legal proceedings for evictions, so that is definitely happening.
“Netanyahu has all but erased the Green Line to legitimise settlements and occupation. Increasing numbers in the international community are saying that, since Netanyahu has erased the line, it is no longer sufficient to challenge the settlements. It is necessary to engage all those actively complicit in settlement expansion and occupation, in pre-1967 Israel and abroad.”
TAW: “What can the Palestinian Authority (PA) do?”
Seidemann: “They have very few assets to put in play. It’s very easy to condemn them. I’ve been having discussions with the French, the British [and] the Germans and they don’t know what to do. They don’t know what to do because the old order of American stewardship of the political process is over and the new order is not in place and there are other things happening in the world.
“Everybody is asking the same questions. We are approaching the end of the Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] era, Palestinian unity is further away than ever, and succession is going to be a mess so if things were not messy enough, just add that to the mix.”
TAW: “Will the Trump administration present its promised plan to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict?”
Seidemann: “Nobody knows. Maybe four people know and that’s stretching it because it’s questionable whether Trump is capable of knowing. Some of the people I met with know a little bit but they’re not going to tell me if it’s going to be published or when it’s going to be published. One said there’s only a 5% chance there would be a plan altogether and another said it’s about 50%.
“I think the chance of them coming up with something that will give us something to work with is the equivalent of the infinite monkey where if you put a monkey in a front of a typewriter, then ultimately it will type the full works of Shakespeare.”