Donald Trump has made his outrageous statement that the US views Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State of Israel. As a further recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the whole city he has, for the first time, not renewed the waiver concerning the removal of the US embassy to Jerusalem. Sweeping, overwhelming and nearly unanimous worldly condemnations of Trump’s potential moves have been quick: Mahmud Abbas warns of the catastrophic consequences to the precarious stability in the region as well as to the so-called ‘peace process’. Nearly all nations in the world voiced their outrage, with Turkey even threatening to sever diplomatic connections with Israel if these moves were implemented. There is worldwide solidarity against the US position and on a simple reading, this could be seen as a welcome sign of growing world affiliation with the Palestinian cause of national ‘self’ determination.
But is this the case? Are we not in fact witnessing a nearly unanimous and mature symptomatic concealment of the real core of the outrageousness of the proposed American move?
The question of Jerusalem is a serious and thorny one for justice and peace in Palestine. We might stand back at this point, though, and ask what is that which makes the issue of Jerusalem – a city so sacred to so many people in a way that infinitely challenges any partition – such a serious one politically? What exactly is the ethical and political challenge posed, indeed embodied by, Jerusalem? Do the overwhelming objections to Trump’s move that we are witnessing actually respond to this challenge? Are not the objections reproducing a deep-seated denial that surrounds what is truly thought-provoking in Jerusalem? Are not these objections a symptom of a highly depoliticised form of carefully managed resistance – a self-concealing gate-keeper of how Jerusalem could, and should, be thought about in relation to the whole of historic Palestine (The area west to Jordan River that includes both what is now the State of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip)?
Would any of those who are objecting to Trump now and who claim to care for Palestinians object also for Jerusalem to be partitioned, with East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state and the West part the capital of Israel? Further, would they object to a unique international status for a unified Jerusalem seeing it as a bi-national capital of both states?
Probably they would not object as these kinds of visions would accord with the spirit of partition – the hegemonic thinking that has applied to Palestine since the First World War through the 100 years old Balfour Declaration and the various partition plans, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the Oslo agreement which defers talks about the final status of Jerusalem. The question of Jerusalem, much like the question of Palestine, indeed like the question of the Apartheid Wall (who would object to the wall had it been erected on the 1967 borders?) has always been conceived simply as a question of ‘proper partition’ and proper borders. Never has it been considered a question of the ‘wall within’ the hearts and minds of Israelis, a wall that does not permit any equal sharing of the land, a mental wall that Palestinians arguably sense in their encounter with Israeli Jews and which makes them highly suspicious and reticent. The objections to Trump we are witnessing, then, reproduce such an internal fetter by only relating the issue to the derivative matter of how much of Jerusalem belongs to Palestinians and Israelis.
That this city would be regarded as a capital of Israel surely is a problem. But regarding the whole or part of the city as a capital of a Palestinian state alongside Israel does not make it less of a problem. The reason for this is that the question of Jerusalem must be linked to the question of what kind of state Israel is as well to the question of how a Palestinian state could address the injustices afflicted all Palestinians. In other words, the question of Jerusalem derives from the question of the nature of the Israeli state – a state that is premised on differential citizenship – and the effect of this nature on injustices to, and suffering of, all Palestinians, both past and future. Only a reflection of this kind can own the responsibility for the violence in such a way that would claim to represent all Israelis and Palestinians as the people who live there and who will have to share the land.
In reflecting, we have to ask who the Palestinians are. This question is a deep question of identity and autochthony (connectedness to the earth, to the land) but more immediately, the Palestinians consists of three main groups. First, those were ethnically cleansed from all over historic Palestine in 1947-9 and their descendants in order to create a state with a European Jewish majority and character; second, those who have been occupied in 1967 in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem many of whom are continuously being displaced and are subjected to legal dualism of occupation; third and finally, those who continued to live as second class citizens, often internally displaced, in the Israeli state, a state where passing the test of Jewishness immediately grants systematic differential and preferential citizenship both to those Jews who live in Palestine and all over the world in perpetuity.
Jerusalem, then, challenges us to grasp that injustice in the whole of historic Palestine that has been afflicting all Palestinians could not be territorially partitioned and that, therefore, no partition of historic Palestine could bring justice and enduring peace to all the people who live and will live there. Therefore, the objection to Trump’s move ought to mean that there could be no capital city that would symbolise and entrench partition. But that is precisely what those who object to Trump silence, thus becoming gate-keepers by attempting to preserve a sham ‘peace process’ while evading the due of justice. What these objectors tacitly rationalise is a divided Jerusalem – a capital of two states, a vision that would entrench the injustice to two groups of Palestinians (the refugees and the Palestinian citizens of Israel), the injustice to whom is irreducibly linked to both the establishment and nature of the Jewish state.
Jerusalem should not be the capital of Israel because a capital should not symbolise silenced injustice. Rather, the whole of Jerusalem should be a capital of a single egalitarian state over the whole of historic Palestine, whose ethos of equal citizenship replaces both ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’. Only then would Jerusalem become symbol of justice, a capital of a state where the Palestinian right of return has been realised; where equality of citizenship is the supreme constitutional principle and, most importantly, where genuine sense of sharing the land as equals opens the horizons for new generations.
The Palestinian so called ‘Authority’ does not represent Palestinians and is becoming complicit in entrenching the legitimacy of an inbuilt Apartheid regime of the Israeli state and the worldly structures of power that guard this regime. The outrage that the Palestinian Authority and most of the world exhibit in response to Trump pulls the wool over the deeper reason of why Jerusalem should not be the capital of Israel – the reason for which the state of Israel should be replaced. The realist politics of rationalising the Apartheid state of Israel as reasonable is hidden behind a smoke screen that is hyper-ventilated by their disingenuous objections to Trump. Jerusalem is not the political playing field of the Palestinian Authority and those on the Zionist spectrum who call themselves moderate, despite their silencing becoming the most devious and extreme in its concealedness as guardianship of the ‘peace process’. And the powers that condition this kind of silencing are great: indeed, Donald is trumped too by the Israeli Lobby.
Jerusalem calls for thinking about the deepest existential stakes and fetters that belong to the West and in turn, to some unconscious hindrances to solidarity amongst Palestinians and between Palestinians and Israeli-born. Jerusalem points both at the origin of that which conditions, indeed demands, managed resistance that legitimises Israel. But it is this very origin that demands philosophical explorations of, as well as acting about in genuine solidarity about, those unconscious fears of one egalitarian state in all of historic Palestine. The outrageousness of seeing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, so tellingly caricaturised by current objections, ought to cause us to meditate about what kind of place Palestine is and what could bring genuine and enduring peace there, towards better understanding of the violent history of humanity in general and Europe in particular.
Oren Ben-Dor is a former professor of Law and Philosophy at the School of Law, Southampton University, UK. His publications include Constitutional Limits and the Public Sphere (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2000); Thinking about Law: In Silence with Heidegger (Hart Publishing, 2007) and (ed.), Law and Art: Justice, Ethics, Aesthetics (Routledge, 2011). He has published widely on the question of Historic Palestine. His latest pieces are ‘The One State Solution as a Demand of International Law: jus cogens, Challenging Apartheid and the Legal Validity of Israel’ in O. Ben-Dor and Nur Masalha (ed.), special issue Holy Land Studies, 12(2)(2013), pp. 181-205 and ‘Apartheid and the Question of Origin’ in Ilan Pappe (ed.), Israel and South Africa: The Many Faces of Apartheid, Zed Books, 2015. firstname.lastname@example.org