Oct 09,2018 – JORDAN TIMES – OSAMA AL SHARIF
East Jerusalem Palestinians are facing a vicious onslaught as Israel begins to implement a series of measures aimed primarily at limiting their presence in the Holy City and its environs and weakening their position as residents. Earlier this week, Israel’s Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat, announced plans to shut down and expel UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, from East Jerusalem. Furthermore, he said Israel will now take over responsibility for schooling over 1,800 Palestinian students from UNRWA. The agency runs seven schools in the Arab part of the city.
The move, which was rejected by UNRWA, means that Jerusalem municipality will also take over buildings and offices belonging to the UN agency in East Jerusalem. Barkat, known for his open hostility to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, who now make up about 40 per cent of the total population of Jerusalem, is also planning to strip over 18,000 Palestinians living in Shuafat camp in Jerusalem of their refugee status. The municipality will also confiscate the land on which the camp is located. UNRWA leased the land from the Jordanian authorities in 1965.
Aside from losing access to UNRWA’s education, health and other services, East Jerusalem Palestinians continue to suffer from discriminatory Israeli practices. They are denied basic services and over 95 per cent of them do not have Israeli citizenship. In addition 75 per cent of Palestinians in East Jerusalem live below the poverty line, as opposed to 29 per cent of the Jewish population.
While expelling UNRWA from East Jerusalem is in violation of treaties signed between Israel and the UN, Israeli authorities have been emboldened by recent anti-Palestinian measures taken by US President Donald Trump’s administration. While Israel has been adopting and executing plans to dilute East Jerusalem demographic character for years, it is now accelerating such plans openly and brazenly.
Since the US president recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; a unilateral and illegal step on his part, the Israeli far right government has moved to reverse all its obligations under the Oslo Accords. Jerusalem, in particular, has seen a number of steps taken to detach it completely from the West Bank. The US decision to cut around $300 million in contribution to UNRWA and attempts to defund the agency and change the definition of Palestinian refugees is another controversial move that has encouraged Israel to sever the agency’s ties to East Jerusalem.
By stripping the Shuafat residents of their refugee status, Israel is creating new facts on the ground; denying those refugees their inalienable right to return or be compensated. What will happen to them eventually remains unclear.
Similarly and despite international outcry, Israel is about to tear down the Arab community of Khan Al Ahmar, east of Jerusalem. Amnesty International has described plans to relocate the 270 residents of Khan Al Ahmar as a “war crime”. The small village is one of 20 others that Israel plans to raze to the ground in order to expand the area of Greater Jerusalem. Once finished, Greater Jerusalem will occupy about one fifth of the total area of the West Bank. More importantly, it will physically separate northern West Bank from the southern part; making it impossible for a viable Palestinian state to emerge.
It goes without saying that all of these measures are taken directly from Israel’s far right’s playbook, which rejects Oslo Accords and the creation of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. And regardless of President Trump’s “ultimate deal”, these Israeli actions on the ground will make any settlement impossible to implement.
In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that Trump’s peace team; Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, are taking their cues directly from the Israeli far right agenda.
Unfortunately, Arab and Muslim nations have done little to support East Jerusalem Arab residents. Rhetoric and verbal expression of solidarity will not stop Israeli bulldozers from tearing down Palestinian villages and changing the demographics of East Jerusalem. Moreover, Arab leaders have little influence over the White House. To be fair even America’s allies have not been able to affect the US position.
On the other hand, the Israeli far right is unable to provide a viable alternative to the now defunct two-state solution. Even as Israel beefs up its settlement activities, expropriates Palestinian lands, rejects Palestinian statehood and vows to keep security control over the Jordan Valley, it fails to answer pertinent questions about the fate of millions of Palestinians in the now partitioned and fragmented West Bank territory. These are questions that challenge Israel’s own existence in the long run.
Only one power can throttle down Israel’s hunger for territory and expansion and that is the US. Unfortunately, it is emboldening Israeli extremists and pushing all parties towards an inevitable collision course. Moreover, by failing to intervene it is making sure that Trump’s peace plan will be stillborn.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman