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Next Year in Jerusalem

“All of us are saying: ‘Hey, United States, we don’t think this is a very good idea’,” said Jordan’s King Abdullah II in 2002, when it became clear that President George W. Bush was going to invade Iraq. But Bush didn’t listen, and it turned out to be an extremely bad idea.

This time, with President Donald J. Trump about to announce that the United States will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there, King Abdullah
simply sounded resigned: “The adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East.”

He knows there’s no point in protesting, even if it ends up meaning that Jordan has to break diplomatic relations with Israel. Trump is simply keeping a campaign promise he made in order to win the votes of American Jews and evangelicals, and he neither knows or cares about the implications of his decision for the Middle East.

Neither does he care that he is abandoning an American policy that has endured for seven decades and is still observed by every other country with an embassy in Israel. They are all down on the coast, in Tel Aviv, because the final status of Jerusalem in international law is still to be determined.

It’s still up in the air because the 1947 United Nations resolution that recommended the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states in Palestine also put Jerusalem under a separate Special International Regime, since it is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

That never happened, because the UN resolution triggered a war that left Jerusalem divided between Israel and what remained of Arab Palestine (all of which was promptly annexed by Jordan and Egypt). And since the Old City, the heart of Jerusalem, was now part of Jordan and exclusively Arab in population, all the embassies stayed in Tel Aviv.

In the 1967 war Israel conquered the eastern, Arab-majority part of Jerusalem (and all the rest of Palestine too), and in 1980 it declared that the entire ‘reunited’ city would be Israel’s eternal capital. The embassies still didn’t move, however, because Israel had not more right to annex East Jerusalem in 1980 than Jordan did in 1948. International law no longer allows borders to be moved by force.

Nothing has changed since then. There are 88 foreign embassies in Tel Aviv, and not one in Jerusalem. This is inconvenient, since most Israeli government offices are up in Jerusalem, but diplomats and foreign ministries generally take international law quite seriously. They’d gladly move if Jerusalem were internationally recognised as Israel’s capital, but it is not.

This view of things is enshrined in the Oslo accords of 1993, a US-sponsored pact that has defined the Arab-Israeli ‘peace process’ for the past quarter-century. It leaves the final status of Jerusalem to be decided by negotiations between the two parties – although, significantly, Israel did not cancel its 1980 annexation of Arab Jerusalem when it signed the accord.

Now in fact, everybody knows that Israel has no intention of ever giving up Jerusalem as its capital, and that it is too strong for any combination of Arab countries to force it to do so. Everybody realises (or should realise) that the ‘peace process’ has actually been dead for at least a decade, and that there is currently no possibility of resurrecting it. So this whole fuss is just about symbolism – but symbols matters.

Everybody goes on pretending that there is a ‘peace process’, just as they pretend that the status of Jerusalem is still unsettled and that the United States is neutral between Israel and the Palestinans, because these fictions allow the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, to pretend they have not lost the struggle decisively. But they have, at least for this generation.

What Trump is doing now, for no better reason than to keep some American voters happy, is rubbing the Arabs’ noses in their defeat. Being normal human beings, they will respond by re-opening the struggle – not to the point where they risk being destroyed by Israel, but at least enough to save face and do a lot of damage.

Some Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel (and even some other Muslim countries) will feel compelled to downgrade them or cut ties completely. Jordan and Egypt, which actually have peace treaties with Israel, may be forced to reconsider them. The Palestinians may feel obliged to launch a third intifada, just to show that somehow they are still in the game. It won’t be Armageddon, but it could get quite ugly.

There is one important group of pro-Trump voters, however, who would be delighted if it did turn into a real war: white evangelical Christians, or at least the ‘dispensationalists’ amongst them. Armageddon is what the Bible prophesies, in their reading of it, and they eagerly await the prophecy’s fulfillment. Even if it comes at the hand of a thrice-married pussy-grabber.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 9. (“Nothing…accord”)

Olmert: Dreaming in Technicolour

13 April 2006

Olmert: Dreaming in Technicolour

By Gwynne Dyer

“We have a very tight timetable [for drawing Israel’s final borders], because we seek the support of the US administration and President Bush. It has to be done by November 2008,” said Yoram Turbowicz in an interview with the Yediot Ahronot newspaper on 11 April. Turbowicz, who will be chief of staff to Ehud Olmert when the latter takes over as prime minister of Israel’s new government, was only saying publicly what most members of the Kadima Party think in private, but it’s interesting how foolish it looks when you see it in cold print.

Kadima was created only months ago by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, now in a coma due to a massive stroke, to seize control of the centre of Israeli politics and impose a permanent “peace” settlement on the Palestinians. In Sharon’s vision, Israel would decide which parts of the occupied territories to keep and draw the new borders unilaterally, marking them out with the huge security fences that are currently carving their way through the West Bank — and the Bush administration would ratify the outcome and get the rest of the world to accept it.

Kadima emerged as the biggest party in last month’s election, and Sharon’s successor Olmert, who will lead the new coalition government once the usual deals are struck, imagines that he can then carry out Sharon’s grand plan. After all, he has President Bush’s letter of last year to Sharon that drastically changed US policy, declaring that Israel could not be expected to return to its pre-1967 borders “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers.” Since the United States is the world’s sole superpower, surely it can make everybody else accept that outcome too. Just get it all done in the next 32 months, as Yoram Turbowicz pointed out, before Mr Bush leaves office at the end of 2008.

One of Turbowicz’s assumptions is dead right: Israel cannot expect to have Washington’s support for expanding its borders in such a dramatic way from any subsequent administration, whether Republican or Democratic.

No previous administration in Washington would have backed such a project either. The Bush administration is an aberration, both in its contempt for international law and in the degree to which it sees American national interests and the desires of the current Israeli government as identical.

So the deadline is real.

But Turbowicz is dead wrong in assuming that US support will be enough to make the change in Israel’s borders legal, permanent, and widely accepted. The world does not work like that, and even if America’s power were as great as Olmert seems to think it is, Washington could not make other countries accept such a gross breach of international law.

The new international law, written into the United Nations Charter, states that territorial changes imposed by force will not be recognised by UN members. Full stop. It’s about taking the profit out of war and thereby reducing the temptation to go to war, and over sixty years it is the one UN rule that has almost never been broken. Indonesia conquered East Timor and held it for a quarter century, for example, but nobody ever recognised East Timor’s annexation as legal and finally Indonesia had to leave.

Israel conquered East Jerusalem (together with the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights) in the Six-Day War of 1967, and immediately proclaimed that a unified Jerusalem (including Arab East Jerusalem) was its new capital forever more. The Israeli Foreign Ministry and all the other government departments moved up from Tel Aviv, and since 1967 Israeli domestic law has treated East Jerusalem as just another part of Israel. But no foreign government recognised the annexation of East Jerusalem as legal, and no foreign embassies moved up from Tel Aviv. Not even the US embassy.

Go on the website of the US embassy in Tel Aviv, and you read that “the information contained in this website applies specifically to American citizens residing in or traveling through the Tel Aviv Consular District (which is comprised of “greenline” Israel [that is, the country within its pre-1967 borders]; residents of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza should visit http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov/.” The US State Department knows the law, and it applies it.

It is possible (though unlikely) that the Bush administration might yet browbeat the State Department into “recognising” not only Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem but the far greater expansion of Israel’s borders that Olmert now has in mind. (Unlikely, because the Iraq fiasco has already severely eroded the White House’s ability to force its views on the professionals at State.) But it is simply inconceivable that President Bush could persuade other countries to accept such a gross violation of international law.

He cannot deliver; the deadline is meaningless. Olmert’s government can build walls, dig ditches, move settlers around, proclaim that Israel’s eternal borders are now some distance to the east of where they were last week, maybe even get the Bush administration to agree to the change, but none of it will have any legal force. The whole exercise will take up enormous amounts of time, effort and newsprint over the next few years, but it is in the end only a charade.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 8. (“One of…real”; and “Go on…applies it”)

The Strategy of Suicide Bombs

6 January 2003

The Strategy of Suicide Bombs

By Gwynne Dyer

 Terrorism isn’t about killing innocent people; that’s just a means to an end. Terrorism is about goading a stronger opponent into behaving in ways that will benefit your cause.

On Sunday, for the first time since November, a couple of Palestinian suicide-bombers got through and blew themselves up in central Tel Aviv. At least 23 people were killed, most of the foreign workers from Africa and Asia who came to Israel to do the low-wage jobs that were once filled by Palestinians. With wearisome predictability, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s spokesman blamed Yasser Arafat: “This terrorist attack has earned the Palestinian Authority’s stamp of approval. It is a direct result of persistent incitement coming out of the Palestinian Authority and its refusal to rein in the terrorists in its midst.”

Sorry, could you run that by me again? You’re talking about Yasser Arafat, the man whose whole career was dedicated to the goal of getting his people recognised as Palestinians (with rights to at least some of the land of what used to be called Palestine), rather than mere refugees with a right only to a tent and daily rations? The man who then risked assassination by his own hard-liners by renouncing terrorism, signing the Oslo accords with Yitzhak Rabin, and then, after Rabin was assassinated, waiting patiently while Binyamin Netanyahu stalled for three years on fulfilling the terms of the accords? You reckon he sent the bombers?

Sharon’s spokesman doesn’t really believe that Arafat sent the bombers. He’s just ‘on message’ — the message being that we must discredit Arafat because he’s still the really dangerous Palestinian, the one who wants to make a deal. Sharon isn’t interested in making any deal that gives the Palestinians a viable country in what remains of their original territory, because that would block his purpose of incorporating much of that land into Israel. So his goal is to paint all Palestinians who want to make a deal as unreasonable terrorists who have no interest in a deal.

Yasser Arafat is his own worst enemy, of course. He was a brilliant guerilla/terrorist leader, cunning, long-sighted, and staunch in adversity, but he is an inept negotiator and a dreadful administrator.

The reason everybody has all but given up on the Palestinian Authority is that Arafat never graduated from being a guerilla leader: he maintains control over his administration by appointing three, or four, or five men to do the same job, setting them against one another so that only he can adjudicate the disputes. When you finally get in to see him, five or six hours after the agreed time, you are likely to find him personally signing cheques for only a few hundred dollars: Arafat is a bandit chieftain who never managed the transition to real power.

The last and greatest service he could have done for the Palestinian people would have been to die in the siege of Beirut twenty years ago, leaving it to a younger, better educated generation of Palestinians to negotiate a land-and-peace agreement with a triumphant but still vulnerable Israel. Alas, he didn’t.

So there he sits still, a trembling, superannuated relic who now serves mainly as an Israeli bogeyman. But did he really send the bombers to the Tel Aviv bus station to kill all those foreigners? Don’t be silly.

Comfortable people in safe places see the phrase ‘enemies of peace’ as mere rhetoric. I mean, nobody could really be the enemy of peace, could they? But there are people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who are genuinely the enemies of peace — or at least, of peace on any terms that would be acceptable to the other side. They are the whole-hoggers, who don’t ever want to compromise on the territory they believe is theirs, and many of them are quite willing to kill in order to prevent the wrong kind of peace. On the Palestinian side, most of them are Islamists, but some are not.

The al-Aqsa Brigades who claimed responsibility for Sunday’s Tel Aviv bombings are not Islamists. They are a faction that still has a formal connection to Arafat’s Fatah organisation (unlike Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who do not) But either al-Aqsa are a very stupid group of people who have let their anger lead them astray, or they have consciously gone over to the side of the Islamists who dream of a total victory over Israel in the long run, and fight to prevent a negotiated peace in the short run.

The effect of these attacks, obviously, is to improve Ariel Sharon’s chances of being re-elected at the end of this month, which would guarantee that there is no risk of a negotiated peace that gives Palestinians only part of Palestine for the indefinite future. It was never likely that the peace candidate, Amram Mitzna, would win, but you can’t be too careful. So the bombers are out in force, just as they were in 1996 when there was a risk that the peace candidate, Shimon Peres, would win against Netanyahu. Terrorism is never ‘blind’; it is politics by other means.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraph 6. (“The reason…power”)