The U.S. Veto and Jerusalem’s Legal Status, the Occupied Capital of Palestine!

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Nikki Haley visiting Israel in June 2017

The U.S. vetoed yet another U.N. Security Council to shield Israel from any consequences for the continued occupation and annexation of Jerusalem and wholesale violations of international law. Trump’s recent recognition and decision to transfer the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is undertaken to force an acceptance of Israel’s vision of itself and the city, a unified capital city for the state, but this mocks the existing body of international law and the 4th Geneva Convention. The veto from Trump’s administration was in a stark departure from the last action at the Security Council, which had the U.S. permitting the passing of Resolution 2334, which was very critical of the settlements.

In the aftermath of the 1967 conquest of East Jerusalem, the Israeli government began to take steps to alter the “legal status” of the city and to move towards an actual annexation, which culminated in a 1980 Knesset bill that cemented the decision and declared Jerusalem the capital of the state of Israel. Immediately and in response to this unilateral action, the United Nation Security Council met and issued resolution 476 that declared Israel’s action to be illegal and contravening existing international law governing the status of Jerusalem.

In this context, the “legal status” is not used without serious contestation, since the basic legal framework for Jerusalem is directly connected to the British issuing of the Balfour Declaration and subsequently the end of the Ottoman rule in Palestine on December 10-12, 1917. The British began the process of transforming Jerusalem from a Palestinian Arab city (with Muslim and Christian communities and a small Palestinian Jewish one with limited European Zionist presence) into a colonially administered municipality favoring the European settler community and constructing the illusion of an international and open city. Here, the internationalization of Jerusalem was set against the background of stripping the local indigenous population of its rights to define and develop its own vision of the city, which was always open and religiously inclusive.

The British “legal” transformation was the first step in a long process intended to give the newly arriving Zionist settlers a foothold in the administration of the city on equal, if not superior, footing than the indigenous Palestinians. The Mandate period witnessed this colonial legalism, a process to privilege the colonizer at the expense of the colonized indigenous population, which was sanctioned internationally by the League of Nations, thus creating the international city figment of the colonial imagination. The Palestinians had to contend with the British Mandate that forced Zionism down their throats and granted the settlers a protective legal status and the “right” to envision a future that is at best hostile to the indigenous population and at worst genocidal by adopting a transfer and expulsion plan as early as Theodor Herzl’s founding of the movement. The word “legal” in the context of Palestine should not be confused with being just, right, ethical or moral. It rather merely represents the enforceable set of rules adopted by the governing power, the British colonial power with a junior partner – the newly incubated and minted Zionist settler-colonial enterprise.

The transformation of Jerusalem into an internationally administered or envisioned city was given further “legal” legs by the United Nations adoption of Resolution 181 in 1947. Indeed, this resolution effectively severs Jerusalem from Palestinian politics, history and society by creating a separately administered city that will be managed under an international regime to be developed and instituted through the supervision from the U.N. We are often treated with the “Jerusalem for all” slogan, which is uttered by many, including some Palestinians who are seeking to counter the pernicious Israeli settler colonialism but fail to recognize the basic fact that the framing is distinctively British and colonial at the same time, which was intended to disrupt the Palestinian sovereignty over the political, cultural, economic and religious center of their society.

Post 1947-48 Nakba, Jerusalem was divided into Western and Eastern sections governed by Israel and Jordan respectively. Western Jerusalem had the Jewish Quarter and, during the war, the Christian and Muslim Palestinians were expelled and their substantial property holdings got confiscated and given to newly arriving Zionist Jewish population. For accuracy purposes, it needs to be mentioned that the limited Zionist Jewish population that lived in the Eastern section of the city also got evicted or escaped and their properties ended being confiscated by the Jordanian government after the Nakba. However, Palestinians were subjected to a program of ethnic cleansing and followed by massive properties confiscation during the Nakba period that the perception of equal or identical circumstanced befalling the two communities must be challenged without undermining the impacts felt on an individual or family basis by Jews and Muslims alike. Indeed, the Palestinians faced a settler-colonial project that was intended to dispossess and transfer the population as a constitutive and productive ideological part, if not the primary impetus in arriving at the creation of the Zionist state, which was not the case for the Palestinians. This is not intended to excuse or reduce the impact, but to contextualize what took place in the 1947-48 period.

Since the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba, East Jerusalem and the West Bank have been annexed to Jordan and have become part of the Kingdom’s responsibility. Certainly, the Palestinians objected to this development and actually, before the annexation to Jordan, a gathering took place in Gaza and on September 23rd, 1948 declared independence. This important declaration was subverted in a short period by a gathering of handpicked Palestinian elites, sponsored and organized by Jordan, that called for and endorsed the unification with Jordan. From 1948 until 1967, the status of East Jerusalem was contingent on this unification decision, which granted Jordan the authority to rule over the city and to grant Palestinians full Jordanian citizenship.

The Six-Day War ended the Jordanian rule over the West Bank, and Jerusalem and Israel took control of the territories while placing the area under a direct military rule. Immediately after the 1967 War, the UN issued resolution 242 which called on Israel to withdraw from the territories it had occupied in the last conflict and return to the status quo for Jerusalem. Legally speaking and in relation to Jerusalem, Israel stands in direct violation of Resolutions 181 and 242, since both of them addressed the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory through war. The Israeli claims of rights in Jerusalem are made of Teflon despite all the propaganda and political posturing that had been undertaken across the globe by Israeli spokespeople and allies, which includes the most recent statements from President Trump on the status of the city.

In 1980, the Israeli government attempted a similar stunt by declaring the annexation of Jerusalem and moving the Capital to the occupied city. Israel’s move backfired and the country was officially rebuked for it by the U.N. Security Council in three separate resolutions, S/RES. 465, S/RES. 476 and S/RES. 478. President Trump’s statement on Jerusalem is attempting to forge a new reality in the face of overwhelming international legal consensus on Jerusalem and its status as an occupied city. The U.N. Security Council’s resolution vetoed by Trump’s administration will not alter the status of the city and will result in bringing more attention to the issues at hand. No amount of public relations campaign will change the basic fact that Jerusalem is the occupied capital of Palestinian and at the core is a Palestinian Arab city, pure and simple!