Monday, September 26, 2016

Jerusalem and Trump

On September 25, the Associated Press reported that Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At that meeting, according to this report, as seen in the New York Times online edition of September 25, 2016, Mr. Trump ”repeated his pledge to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv if he's elected to the White House.”

Of all the things Mr. Trump could have talked about with the Prime Minister, why did he raise the US embassy issue? Mr. Trump obviously meant to curry favor with Jewish voters ahead of the upcoming presidential elections. Advised by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, the owner and publisher of the conservative New York Observer, Mr. Trump chose to lend his support to an issue that may appear largely symbolic. What does it matter whether the US embassy is in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem? 

It would not be the apocalypse, but it would spell the end of an era in US politics in the Middle East. It would mean that the US, under a Trump administration, would give up its role as an honest broker and take a position that would effectively and officially end US support of the Oslo Process.

In the Jerusalem Embassy Act (1995), Congress mandated the State Department to move the US embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Every US president has since declined to follow suit. Instead, every six months, the president signed a statement reaffirming that the US will not preempt the diplomatic settlement of the Jerusalem question but leaves it to final status negotiations between the two major parties, the State of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) who are signatories of the Oslo Accords of 1993. 

While perhaps merely pandering to Jewish voters, if Trump is elected and if, as president, he implemented the Jerusalem Embassy Act, as promised to PM Netanyahu, this would herald a major change in US policy. It would mean the end of US support for the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

If we care about Jerusalem, which is as much a Muslim and a Christian city as it is a Jewish one, and if we care about a peaceful and equitable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must not be swayed by one-sided, short-sighted declarations on the city's future.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bye, bye, Rockefeller

Human rights organization "Emek Shaveh. Archaeology in the Shadow of the Conflict" failed to prevail at the Israeli Supreme Court which sided instead with the view of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, that it had the right to remove the library and archaeological artifacts from the Rockefeller Museum. At issue in this case is the question whether the Israeli authority has the right to cultural assets housed in an East Jerusalem institution. Emek Shaveh had argued that the highly prized books and manuscripts housed at the Rockefeller Museum since its founding in 1936 under the British Mandate and in its location just outside the Old City walls, as well as archaeological finds from across the West Bank (esp. from Sebaste, the old Israelite capital Samaria), are cultural assets of an occupied territory (East Jerusalem was captured by Israel in 1967) and hence forbidden from being transferred by international law. The Israeli Supreme Court, in its decision 3556/16 of July 19, 2016, rejected that view and asserted that international law does not apply in this case, which falls instead under the general ordinance for the Israeli Antiquities Authority, whose mandate it is "to manage and hold a scientific library for the archaeology and history of the land of Israel and its neighborhoods."  Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut pointed out that artifacts had been removed on prior occasions and that therefore any kind of "freeze" in the handling of East Jerusalem archaeological assets was unrealistic. Finally, the justice invoked Israeli law, including the "Jerusalem Basic Law," to assert that Israeli law applies to East Jerusalem and international law has no standing when it comes to the inner affairs of the country.

For Emek Shaveh's petition not to transfer the Rockefeller Museum library and assets to West Jerusalem see

For the Supreme Court decision (in Hebrew) see

For a background article on "nationalization and cultural avoidance" (in Hebrew) see, posted by Professor Orna Ben-Naftali, The Emile Zola Chair for Human Rights at the Striks School of Law at the College of Management – Academic Studies (COMAS) and its former Dean.

(Thanks to Prof. Pnina Lahav, BU-LAW, for drawing my attention to this case.)