The end of US arbitration in the Middle East

Why did the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by the President of the United States on December 6, 2017, cause so much emotion, not only in the entire Arab-Muslim world, but also in Europe?

After all, it has been nearly 70 years since the Knesset and the Prime Minister of Israel sat in Jerusalem. After all, Jerusalem was already the capital of the Hebrew state, under King Solomon, 3,000 years ago. He built a great temple there. Its western wall remains today –  the famous Wailing Wall. So, did Donald Trump not just recognise an established state of affairs? That is his line, and it is perfectly acceptable.

But this decision to transfer the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a response to a twenty-year-old congressional request, poses two major diplomatic problems.

First, it goes against all the UN resolutions signed to date by the United States.

The Palestine partition plan of 1947 (then under a British mandate) provided for a Jewish state, an Arab state, and an international status for Jerusalem as a holy city for the three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jews inherited 58 per cent of the territory of Mandatory Palestine and the Arabs 42 per cent.

This partition plan was never applied in practice. Once the last British soldier left in May 1948 and David Ben Gurion declared independence, the Arab States (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq) attacked the very young Jewish state. As they lost the war, the state of Israel extended its area to 78 per cent of Mandatory Palestine, the remaining 22 per cent being controlled by the Jordanian army.

In 1967, thanks to its victory in the Six Day War, Israel conquered East Jerusalem (and the Wailing Wall), the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian desert of Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights. UN Security Council Resolution 242 called on the Israelis to withdraw from the territories they had just occupied in exchange for peace with all Arab states. The “green line” (line of the February 1949 cease-fire) thus became, by virtue of resolution 242, the internationally recognised border of the State of Israel.

But this resolution was never applied.

As part of the Camp David Peace Agreement (September 1978), Israel returned Sinai to Egypt. In its October 1994 peace treaty with Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan renounced all claims to the West Bank, which was set to become the territory of the future Palestinian state under the terms of the Rabin-Arafat agreements of September 1993 – secretly negotiated in Oslo, and then signed on the White House Lawn. But the Oslo Accord was sabotaged by Hamas attacks and Likud’s bad faith. That is why there is still no peace in the Middle East.

The final status of Jerusalem was to be one of the components of an Arab-Israeli peace treaty promoted by the UN. By his decision, which is hasty, at the very least, Trump has destroyed the negotiation path to which the United States had been the godmother since its inception.

The second problem with Trump’s decision is that it puts an end to America’s position as arbitrator in this conflict.

Until now, and in spite of being the godmother to Israel’s creation in 1948, the US had always tried to maintain a balanced position, allowing it to act as an effective honest broker between conflicting sides. In November 1956, it was Washington that forced the British and French allies of the Israelis to end their Suez expedition against Nasser. In October 1973, it was Kissinger who convinced the Israelis to loosen their grip on the encircled Egyptian 3rd Army. In October 1991, President George H. Bush led the Madrid peace conference, inviting a Palestinian delegation, despite fierce opposition from Israel.

All geopoliticians understand what would be a reasonable solution for Jerusalem. Its western part should remain the capital of the State of Israel, and its Arab quarter could become, under the name of Al Quds, the future capital of the Palestinian state. The Wailing Wall should, of course, become definitely Israeli. On the other hand, it would not be unreasonable for the two holy mosques to be part of the Palestinian territory.

When it was merely political, the Israeli-Palestinian territorial problem seemed soluble. Now that a growing proportion on both parties is adding religious tensions (Israeli religious parties as well as Palestinian Hamas), the solution seems almost out of reach.

The end of America as a potential arbiter is another piece of very bad news for this interminable conflict.

This article was first published in Le Figaro

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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