Strong consensus against the movements of the Jerusalem embassy
With just a few weeks left before the Americans cast their ballots to decide, among other things, who will occupy the White House for the next four years, the Trump administration has decided that raising Israel’s diplomatic position in the world is a winner of votes. Undoubtedly, Donald Trump is doing it with considerable success. Following the announcement of the watershed of normalized relations between the UAE and Israel, there was another unexpected announcement from the White House: That Serbia and Kosovo had agreed to normalize economic ties with Israel, including Belgrade moving its embassy in Jerusalem and mutual recognition between Israel and Kosovo. Bahrain later became the last Gulf country to normalize its relations with Israel.
For both Belgrade and Pristina, their deals with Israel were a mere display of US-mediated economic normalization with each other, which was agreed this month. The Israeli deals were a concession to a thirsty Trump, who is overly exaggerated with his “I am Israel’s most friendly American president” move, as well as an attempt to hide the fact that the relocation of the US Embassy in Jerusalem in 2018 does not exactly opened the flood gates for others to relocate from Tel Aviv.
It was back in March 1999 that US-led NATO forces carried out massive airstrikes against Yugoslav military infrastructure at that stage mainly in Serbia which eventually resulted in Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. Kosovo is recognized by only 98 UN member states, and Belgrade has only shamelessly acknowledged its independent status as de facto. So establishing economic ties between Serbia and Kosovo, even if forced by Washington, is not an average achievement, as ill feelings between the two countries and the generally entrenched animosity between neighbors in the Western Balkans are still strong. However, it begs the question: Why confuse the essential need to reduce tensions in the former Yugoslavia with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, worse, in the process deepen feelings of resentment and isolation among Palestinians?
For Trump, pressure on other countries to relocate their embassies to Jerusalem is far from the simple issue of helping Israel realize its dream of universal recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. It also helps alleviate the embarrassment his administration has experienced as U.S. Embassies move from Tel Aviv to its international isolation on the issue, as it has on many others during his presidency. In the two years since moving to Jerusalem, only Guatemala has followed suit. The other 150 plus countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Israel choose to stay closer to the Mediterranean. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on the US Embassy move as one of his prime minister’s greatest achievements, the reluctance of almost all other nations to follow Trump’s example has highlighted the strong international consensus against him.
Most countries do not want to relocate their missions to Jerusalem not because they oppose Israel itself, or even the idea that Jerusalem will eventually become its internationally recognized capital. The reason is that they refuse to recognize any unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of the country without a just and just solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, based on a two-state solution that recognizes the city as the capital of Israel and an independent State. Palestinian.
Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at this point in time has legal and political consequences. The 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem to Israel is illegal under international law and recognizing the city as the capital of Israel while part of it is still under occupation means recognizing the legitimacy of the occupation. From a practical point of view, this would be another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution and would further alienate the Palestinians and destroy any diminished support for peace between them.
Day by day, the Palestinians are looking at their chances to end the Israeli occupation and fulfill their aspirations for an independent state to evaporate into thin air. Meanwhile, they are witnessing an entrenched occupation, with hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers living on occupied land and enjoying a prosperity that most Palestinians can only dream of, while their civil and human rights continue to be brutally violated, weeks after week.
It may be that, at present, most Palestinians have more urgent matters to deal with the future of Jerusalem, especially in these times of a deadly pandemic, but the city is still one of the most important symbols of the Palestinian national movement. It can hardly be predicted how this endless conflict with Israel could be resolved without recognizing parts of Jerusalem also as the capital of Palestine. The relocation of embassies in Jerusalem at this stage not only weakens those who support peace based on a two-state solution, an option that most people believe no longer exists, but also incites anger and empowers Palestinians who refuse to compromise with Israel. Not that there is a possibility of a government in Israel that would be even remotely interested in such a compromise.
In the two years since the relocation of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, only Guatemala has followed suit.
It does not take more than a quick glance at US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s press release to become very skeptical of how much Serbian and Kosovar free will was involved in their agreements with Israel. Their actions have been hotly debated with the EU, whose position vis-ale-vis Jerusalem is in stark contrast, and it is not surprising that officials in Brussels have warned both Belgrade and Pristina that there could be consequences: In the case of Serbia in relation to its application to join the EU, while in the case of Kosovo it enjoys the economic and political support of the EU. However, judging by the way spokespersons from both countries were evasive in answering questions about the issue, it is suspected that they may delay their controversial gestures for as long as possible; and, if Joe Biden becomes president, they may even throw him out completely.
Only a peace agreement with the Palestinians will persuade states that have diplomatic missions in Israel to abandon the sandy beaches and cosmopolitan atmosphere of Tel Aviv in favor of Jerusalem and join those lonely and isolated American diplomats there. Until such time, similar movements may constitute only a leak, but nonetheless a pest.
- Yossi Mekelberg is Professor of International Relations at Regents University in London, where he is Head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also a MENA Program Fellow at Chatham House. Twitter: @YMekelberg
Responsibility: The views expressed by the writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News.
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