US Embassy Controversy


As reports mount that the Trump administration will declare US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, USCPR Policy Director Josh Ruebner appears on CBC News with Carole MacNeil to debate the implications of such a move.

JOSH RUEBNER: Nobody’s denying the fact that there’s a deep historical and religious connection between the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem, but the deep historical and religious connections exist for Palestinian Christians and Muslims as well, and what Trump is doing tomorrow by potentially declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital is recognizing a situation in which Israel would have an exclusive claim to sovereignty over the totality of the city. And what this does would undercut Palestinian national claims to their city and their holy sites there as well. And what it does is it entrenches an emerging one-state, apartheid reality where Israel maintains complete control over all of historic Palestine, and Palestinians are relegated to a permanent separate and unequal status not only in Jerusalem, but under Israeli military occupation in perpetuity in the West Bank and Gaza as well.

CAROLE MACNEIL: Josh, what do you think? Do you think this will put an end to the peace process?

RUEBNER: Well I think the peace process has been dead for a long time. There was a last-ditch effort by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to try to clinch a two-state resolution to this issue at the end of the Obama administration, but the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it explicitly clear that there will never be a Palestinian state under his leadership, and he’s at the left wing of his government coalition. There is almost unanimity within Israeli governing circles today that Palestinians should not have any sovereignty over any portion of historic Palestine whatsoever. So who killed the peace process is Israel, and Israel’s refusal to allow the Palestinians to have a genuine state with sovereignty in Jerusalem. All previous proposals that were on the table would not have allowed for Palestinian sovereignty within Jerusalem. Instead, it would be located outside of the boundary of the wall that Israel has built illegally that cuts Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem in two, and it would render Palestinian sovereignty within what we understand as traditionally being Jerusalem an impossibility because of this wall. So what Steve said is not at all accurate that Israel has offered Palestinians a shared capital in Jerusalem. It wants it all for itself and this is exactly what Trump’s announcement is designed to do tomorrow: ceded complete Israeli sovereignty over the totality of the city.

MACNEIL: Josh, let me ask you, what do you think the impact will be? If the Israelis trust the Americans so much and they make this move, and it reinforces the relationship, as Steve has said, then given what’s happened, do you think the Palestinians will be a part of the peace process going forward?

RUEBNER: Well I think the Palestinian team has made it quite clear that if President Trump goes through with this, there will be no more contact between the Palestinians and the US administration, and certainly no negotiations. Because what Trump is doing by this move is emboldening the most right wing and annexationist tendencies within the Israeli government and Israeli society. And if we talk about potential violent repercussions, what this does is embolden extremist Israeli Jews who are agitating, with the cooperation of the Israeli government, to replace Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem with a rebuilt Temple. They will see this as carte blanche, this US recognition of Israel’s claims to Jerusalem, to proceed with those very violent plans which could really touch off a religious war. Very dangerous things happening…

I think that Palestinians have given enormous compromises by recognizing Israel on 78 percent of their homeland before even beginning negotiations with Israel. And since that time, Israel has whittled down and whittled down and whittled down what its been willing to offer Palestinians in terms of statehood. Palestinians have never, ever been offered a truly sovereign and independent, self-determining state in negotiations with Israel. Israel’s plans, whether its been left-wing governments or right-wing government, have always been to confine Palestinians in disconnected little enclaves that don’t have real sovereignty and being cut off from any sovereignty in their historic capital of Jerusalem as well. And the notion that the United States has somehow been a benevolent actor in this process is fundamentally wrong because what the United States has done in negotiations stretching back actually to the Ford administration in the 1970s, is to act in concert with Israel to pre-determine their positions in these negotiations, and then try to force these unfair agreements on the Palestinian people. And I think what Trump will do tomorrow will put the final nail in the coffin of this facade of this pretense of the United States somehow acting as an honest broker in these negotiations, when as Aaron David Miller, a former peace process negotiator said, “What the United States does is act as Israel’s lawyers in these negotiations”…

Well, again I would disagree with the very paternalistic attitude of telling Palestinians what’s best for them. I think Palestinians are very capable of determining what is the best future for them. And Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it quite clear that there never will be a Palestinian state under his watch. So if there’s not going to be a two-state resolution, which Israel has already declared, then Palestinians absolutely have every right to argue for equal rights within the context of a bi-national or a single state framework. Because how much longer can Palestinian national rights and human rights be denied under Israel’s separate and unequal apartheid regime that it has imposed on the Palestinians. This is the 21st century version of what South Africa did to Black South Africans in the 20th century, and just as the international community, regrettably late, found that apartheid in South Africa was unacceptable, so too is the international community now coming around to an emerging consensus that Israel’s separate and unequal policies toward the Palestinians also comprise apartheid and need to be dismantled. So if we’re not gonna have a sovereign Palestinian state, there has to be a quality for Palestinians within a democratic framework. There’s no other alternative.