The Jerusalem Divide
Author: Prathik Karthikeyan
College: Jindal Global Law School
Why Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel has changed the world’s political landscape?
On December 6th, 2017 the President of the United States Donald Trump changed the long-standing US policy on Jerusalem and declared Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and even set a plan in motion to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move sent shockwaves across the world, drawing condemnation from most Arab nations and even America’s European allies, who viewed this as a step that could potentially derail the possibility of a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine issue permanently. But what are the legal nuances of this move and why is it such a hotbed of contentions?
The contemporary issue of Jerusalem goes all the way back to when Jerusalem was under British Mandate from 1923 to 1948, a time when the Arab and Jewish were locked in a mortal dispute over Palestine. To resolve this conflict Britain asked the United Nations for help which birthed the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine which called for the carving out of a Arab and a Jewish State from Palestine with Jerusalem having the status of a special legal and political entity administered by the United Nations, in doing so recognizing the delicacy of the situation of Jerusalem. Following the end of British Mandate, the Jewish community declared the establishment of a State of Israel. In between 1949 and 1950 Jordan established control over the Eastern part of Jerusalem while Israel maintained control over the West of Jerusalem. However, following the 1967 war, Israel took control of East Jerusalem, the annexation was deemed to be illegal by the majority of the International community, but the condemnation fell on deaf ears. In 1980 Israel passed a domestic law The Basic Jerusalem Law which declared that Jerusalem was the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel, this law was declared null and void by United Nations Security Council Resolution 478.
However, the most significant legal development with regards to Jerusalem was the 2004 Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory heard in the International Court of Justice which opined that East Jerusalem according to International Law is indeed occupied Palestinian Territory, a position affirmed by the United Nations consistently. Notwithstanding this Israel maintained unilateral control over East Jerusalem despite a slightly shifting position over East Jerusalem through different Israeli Administrations. The overall sentiment in Israel has always been one of keeping the whole of Jerusalem as a part of Israel. Meanwhile, the Palestinian National Authority under United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 still claims all East Jerusalem including the Temple Mount.
The issue has always been an extremely complicated one whenever there has been an approach towards peace something has always derailed talks or acted as an immovable wall to negotiations. Albeit most people would be quick to point fingers at Israel for violating International Law, one must remember that the Palestinian struggle has always had the question mark of terrorism over it, after all the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was actively involved in terrorism prior to renouncing it formally in 1988 meanwhile Hamas has continued to launch rockets into civilian populations in Israel, albeit to little effect. The Palestinian cause may urge Israel to follow the International law but past instances of terrorism committed by Palestinian groups most notably the Pan Am Flight 73 Hijacking (the Neerja Bhanot incident), Munich massacre, Sinai and Dimona bombings all greatly damage the credibility of the Palestinian movement. Acts of Terror for long have been the reason why the international community has been somewhat reluctant to help the Palestinian cause, although in recent years it has gained a lot more traction and Palestine is slowly being recognized by more and more states.
The Israel-Palestine issue has always been an extremely complicated one with the Status of Jerusalem at the heart of it. Jerusalem as a city is truly a melting pot of culture being one of the most important cities for not one but three religions, it’s cultural significance cannot be overstated however the legal and political complexity has always dominated its rich cultural history. Trump’s heavy handed approach of declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving their embassy in violation of international norms (no country has an active embassy in Jerusalem presently) is sure not only to alienate America as a possible mediator but has put into question the entire ability of the United States to lead western geopolitics under the present Trump administration, the resulting vacuum could not only exacerbate the Israel-Palestine issue but conflicts across the world could potentially suffer from rash decisions taken by the new American administration which are in dissonance from its own closest allies like the UK, France, and Germany who were prompt in condemning the rash decision.
There exists a vast number of proposed solutions to the Israel Palestine conflict, however, all proposed solutions are yet to provide a satisfactory answer to the question of the status of Jerusalem something which would require the creativity once employed by the United Nations in 1947, but to reflect the realities of the 21st century.