Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Palestine Problem




Back in the 70s, my sister wrote a book on the situation in Palestine.  The PLO was still regarded as a terrorist organization, so there was little attempt to arbitrate a settlement after Israel annexed the Palestinian territories in 1967.  It wasn't until the 1991 Madrid Conference that the US and Israel entered into reluctant talks regarding Palestine, which ultimately led to the PLO recognizing Israel's "right to exist."  A new Palestinian Authority was established with its capital in Ramallah, about 6 miles north of Jerusalem, to avoid conflict with Israel, which had established its knesset in Jerusalem.

No foreign country recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.  Instead, they located their embassies in Tel Aviv, which became the de facto capital of Israel.  All that changed on December 6, when Donald Trump formally stated that the US would be moving its embassy to the disputed city.  The US, like several other countries, had consulates-general in Jerusalem to ease diplomatic relations with Israel without coming into direct conflict with the 1947 UN resolution, which declared the city a "corpus separatum" under international control.

Of course, the UN has little jurisdiction over Jerusalem.  The city falls under Israeli control.  The best the UN has been able to do is help accommodate Palestinian interests in the city, which still amount to about 35% of the population.  As a result, we have East and West Jerusalem.

None of this seems to matter much as far Donald Trump is concerned.  He was looking for some juicy headline at the end of the year, as his "cuts, cuts, cuts" bill appeared to be in jeopardy.  He got it, and the UN duly responded with a resolution demanding he revoke his executive order.  In turn, Nikki Haley, our UN ambassador, issued a blistering condemnation of the UN resolution, in which she said the US will slash its share of UN funding by 25 per cent.  The most amusing part is Ms. Nikki chastising the UN for its "budgetary excesses," when the US hasn't balanced a budget in decades and carries a national debt in excess of $20 trillion.  Like the decision to pull out of UNESCO earlier this year, this is simply in response to the UN "favoring" Palestine over Israel.

The UN finds itself in a similar quandary to the League of Nations between the World Wars.  Its continued existence largely remains dependent on big nations, usually at the expense of small nations, or in this case a disputed territory that the US tried desperately to push under the rug after failing to negotiate a settlement between Israel and Palestine back in 1999.

The war in Iraq was largely designed to shift attention away from Israel.  This after President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon had bullied the Palestinian Authority into selecting a new leader, since they both refused to negotiate with a "known terrorist," Yasser Arafat.  While American forces waged battles against Iraqi insurgents, Israel literally walled off Palestine, hoping it would disappear from international attention.  But The Question of Palestine remained.

Our dear President may have unwittingly brought the issue back into the forefront with his latest declarations.  The UN hasn't been this outspoken on Palestine in a long time, but now there seems to be some genuine fervor to reopen discussions on a two-state solution despite the difficulties of piecing together a nation from the tattered remains of the 1947 Palestinian territory.

How effective the UN will be in such negotiations remains to be seen, which I suppose is why Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, is currently in negotiations with France to act as mediator, flatly refusing to work with the United States after Trump's December 6 statement.  Not surprisingly, Palestinians are now pushing to make East Jerusalem the capital of its future state.

In fairness to Trump, Congress had long ago penned an Jerusalem Embassy Act, which no president had acted upon until now.  President Bush toyed with the idea early in his tenure, but dropped it when he got bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq.  No sense further inflaming the Muslim world.

No one thought much about this act since then, but I guess Jared, our so-called special envoy to Israel, or someone else close to the president gave him a reminder, and here we are adding fuel to the fire in a region still very much in conflict.  Virtually every Muslim country has spoken out against the act, including Saudi Arabia, which thought it had gained Trump's ear with the lavish celebration they gave him earlier this year.  But, it seems Trump has long forgotten whatever advice King Abdullah gave him.

It remains to be seen if this move comes to pass anymore than the wall along the Mexico border.  All Trump has done is give Congressional Republicans one more contentious issue to defend in what promises to be very bitter midterm elections.  But, this seems to be the way our flamboyant president operates.  He relishes conflict, thinking he can somehow gain the upper hand in these situations, like he did on The Apprentice.  He runs the White House as he did his reality show.  Whatever blood comes out of it, he will wipe on someone else's hands.

One can only hope that this decision not only undermines what little is left of Trump's credibility as a world leader, but that of Bibi Netanyahu, who barely survived the last election cycle in Israel.  As for Palestinians, they have had to deal with oppressive Israeli rule for 50 years.  They will survive Bibi and Donald.

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