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Trump's Jerusalem announcement will only fuel repression of Palestinians Open in fullscreen

Thayer Hastings

Trump's Jerusalem announcement will only fuel repression of Palestinians

Palestinians are rising up in protest of Trump's Jerusalem decision [AFP]

Date of publication: 8 December, 2017

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Comment: Israel's brutal practices targeting Palestinian residents of Jerusalem make life unlivable for many, writes Thayer Hastings.
The Israeli municipality of Jerusalem prepared a celebration in anticipation of Trump's announcement, while Palestinians began three "days of rage" in protest.

But focusing on these immediate reactions not only replicates a stale narrative of two sides - violent Arabs, and absent power relations. What this lazy narrative also does is to risk mapping an international diplomatic debacle onto the lives of people on the ground who are already suffering the consequences of failed international mediation.

Palestinians have been and will continue to live under intense Israeli repression in Jerusalem.

The US move to relabel the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel contradicts the history of US policy. Its effect lies primarily in that realm. Trump's announcement deviates in substance if not in rhetoric from the position that the future of Jerusalem should be the subject of a negotiated settlement.

That deviation removes any fiction of US leadership as a "neutral" arbiter, as the "Peace process" framework would have it. By effectively withdrawing US support for the so-called peace process - hinged on the idea of two separate states for two separate peoples - Trump has rendered the two-state model an impossibility, even for the mainstream public.

Seemingly unbeknownst to Trump and his administration, disabling the two-state rhetoric used since 1995 to mask US support for Israeli rule over Palestinians lays bare the settler-colonial reality in Jerusalem.

The Trump administration's decision will change little for Palestinians on the ground in Jerusalem. Still, there are important implications of his statement to consider.

Palestinians in Jerusalem have faced severe violence from militarised Israeli police, particularly in recent summers

Tens of Palestinian schools in Jerusalem have been on strike since Trump's speech. A general strike of Palestinian businesses and institutions was also announced in East Jerusalem on Thursday. Palestinians from the Naqab in the south to Nazareth in the north issued statements rejecting any Israeli efforts to use Trump's policy announcement to intensify on-the-ground repression.

This comes in the context of increasing outright violence on the Palestinian community of Jerusalem. Palestinians in Jerusalem have faced severe violence from militarised Israeli police particularly in the recent summers of 2014, 2015 and 2017 - with whole neighbourhoods blockaded, surveillance of and restrictions to reaching the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, and many Palestinians killed or injured.

The emergence of another moment of heightened repression is certainly a possibility as Israel bolsters its police-military presence in Jerusalem. As always, even small victories will be hard-won by Palestinians and at a high human cost.

What Israel means by an "undivided and eternal Jerusalem" is clear. In the 1948 Declaration of Independence, Israel controlled the territory of West Jerusalem - from which at least 80,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled and denied return. Israel officially relocated its capital there from Tel Aviv in 1949. In the 1967 War, Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with the rest of the West Bank, and assumed legal responsibility for the 60,000 Palestinians that remained in the city.

The vast majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites live under a 'permanent residency' status

Israel quickly extended infrastructure, architecture, policing and military presence into the Eastern half, a trend that has only accelerated in the past two decades. In 1980, the Israeli Knesset legalised the governmental and military policies of expansion by formally annexing East Jerusalem, a move that the international community condemned for its breach of the international laws of war - otherwise known as Humanitarian Law.

Today, 370,000 Palestinians and 280,000 Jewish-Israeli settlers live in a highly segregated East Jerusalem.

The vast majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites live under a "permanent residency" status. There is no other country that does not provide citizenship to nearly 400,000 people living in its proclaimed capital. In practice, this translates into intense pressures on daily life, including home demolitions, severe repression of civil disobedience, restriction of religious practice, taxation without provision of adequate basic utilities, arbitrary closures of schools, cultural centres and other institutions, and residency revocations that expel Palestinians from the city altogether.

Together, these practices targeting Palestinians make life unlivable in Jerusalem. Considering Israel's treatment of the Palestinian population in Jerusalem, it is difficult to imagine how Trump's announcement can make the situation much worse.

The announcement will, however, have implications for Binyamin Netanyahu - for whom Trump's pivot on longstanding US policy is a major victory. On Facebook on Tuesday, Netanyahu posted a statement in which he promoted the controversial Israeli Nationality Law, suggesting he was emboldened to do so by Trump's announcement.

The proposed bill would give legislative backing to efforts that privilege the "Jewish" over the "democratic" nature of the state of Israel. Doing so would afford greater leeway to legislators, administrators, government officials, the military and others acting on behalf of the state in policies that affect non-Jewish people living under Israeli control - such as the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

The law is symptomatic of an increasingly emboldened Israeli right-wing, and Trump's announcement offers affirmation to their project. In addition to Netanyahu's administration, the Israeli right-wing in general will also receive a significant moral and political boost.

We can expect the trend of increasingly flagrant rights abuses to continue and escalate. Israeli legislators seeking to redraw city boundaries will be encouraged to expand the amount of Palestinian land that will be incorporated into Jewish-Israeli Jerusalem.

As for Palestinian officials, the Trump announcement is a setback for Mahmoud Abbas who has already called on the international community - including the Vatican - to intervene. The rumours of a plan floated by a newly centralised control over Saudi Arabia through Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman include pressuring Abbas to concede central issues such as the status of East Jerusalem as a capital for a Palestinian state.

The aging 82 year-old Abbas is in a particularly precarious position considering his unpopularity with Palestinians after years of proferring the two-state solution without result on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and increasing visibility of Palestinian Authority (PA) security collaboration with the Israeli military.

For everyday Palestinians, Trump's announcement will finally kill even mainstream discussion of a two-state "peace process" as the primary medium for resolving Israeli and Palestinian claims.

The final death blow for the two-state solution as a serious resolution to decades of occupation, apartheid and settler colonialism may be the one positive development of Trump's announcement.

The final factor to consider is on the international level. While there is a small chance that the US will perpetually delay an embassy move from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem, what the announcement has already triggered is the possibility for other countries to consider changing their treatment of West and East Jerusalem.

While countries including the US maintain consulates in West Jerusalem, no international embassy is currently located there.

The main lesson that a history of Jerusalem has shown is that the city will not be transformed to further exclude Palestinians without their stiff resistance and permanent presence. Palestinians who live there as well as those Palestinians from Jerusalem who were forcibly displaced from the city in 1948, 1967, and since, have demonstrated a principled unwillingness to relinquish claims to their homeland and home city.

Even combined with sophisticated Israeli militarised police violence that enforce expulsions and restrictions on daily life in Jerusalem, high level political wranglings have little capacity to challenge the continuation of Palestinian life in the city.

High level political manoeuvres do, however, have the potential to increase the pressure and suffering inflicted on them. 

Thayer Hastings is a doctoral student in Cultural Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @ThayerHastings

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