Britain shouldn't follow Donald Trump's lead in moving the embassy to Jerusalem

An ex-Israeli security chief, the former chief of staff to Ehud Barak and a tech entrepreneur present the case against a unilateral move from Tel Aviv

January 14, 2019 11:09

In recent weeks, the UK government has faced calls to follow the US lead and move the UK embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, including Conservative MP Michael Fabricant, who lamented "the bold decisive steps taken in Washington have not been repeated in London". This followed some on the Board of Deputies calling on then-President Jonathan Arkush to urge Britain to move its embassy, after he praised Donald Trump's decision to do so with the American one.

As Israelis, Jerusalem is our capital. Jerusalem has been the spiritual centre of the Jewish people ever since King David entered its gates more than 3,000 years ago. It became the official capital of the state of Israel on December 13, 1949, a year and half after the establishment of the state. It was the capital when the eastern part of the city was under Jordanian control, and remains its capital after the entire city was conquered in the six day war in June of 1967.

But we believe it would not be in Israel's interest for the UK move the embassy to Jerusalem as a stand-alone symbolic act lacking a broader context, as did the US.

The state of Israel was established as the democratic home for the Jewish people, in the spirit of its Declaration of Independence, as the need for such a home became evident after the holocaust of the Jewish people during the Second World War. Israel will be able to preserve its Jewish and democratic identity, as manifested in the symbols, the public holidays, the language, and the narrative, only if a Palestinian state will be established alongside it.

That is because it is a Palestinian state where millions of Palestinians need to reside, and that is the only way in which the state of Israel can include within its borders a clear Jewish majority. Needless to say, as stipulated in the Declaration of Independence, the Jewish majority will have an obligation to respect the rights of the Arab minority which will remain Israeli citizens. 

Two-states for two-peoples is the only formula which enables the preservation of Israel’s Jewish identity, democracy and security. The so-called one-state solution will likely lead to an apartheid regime, or to a continuous and violent chaos, or both. Any step which makes the realisation of the two-states vision more difficult should be rejected.

The formula of two-states for two peoples, as has been shaped for more than 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, is based in UN resolutions which were accepted by the Israeli governments, and which are acceptable in principle by most Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community including the Arab League states. In all the internationally-accepted incarnations of the two-states formula, the Israeli capital is defined to be in the Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, and the Palestinian capital in the Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. 

Thus, transferring the UK embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will be a positive step only if done in the context of the establishment of a Palestinian state, as part of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, or in West Jerusalem, while simultaneously announcing plans for an eventual UK embassy in the eastern, Arab, part of Jerusalem, once a Palestinian state is established.

Outside that context it would make the possibility of negotiations and constructive process more remote, and likely increase the level of violence and terror. That is exactly what happened following the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem – with increased violence and demonstrations, leading to hundreds of deaths, mostly Palestinians and some Israelis, and thousands of casualties. It also created a stalemate in the already defunct process, with the Palestinians refusing any official contact with the US.

Instead, the UK can play a constructive role by endorsing the vision of two-states for two peoples, and encouraging the two sides to move forward by taking independent steps that gradually lead to such vision. The first steps of the parties would be toward disengaging from one another and creating a reality of two states on the ground, while preserving the conditions for an eventual negotiated agreement.

For example, constructive steps that advance a reality of two states include not subsiding terror, incitement and hostile acts; a long term Fatah-Hamas truce, allowing for rehabilitation in Gaza while preventing arming; an Israeli cessation of settlement building outside of the main settlement blocs, and preparing for the relocation into Israel proper of settlers who currently live east of the security fence it built in the West Bank, while maintaining the security status-quo in the West Bank, including the presence of IDF.

Similarly, productive actions by the international community, in which the UK is an important and influential member, would include: presenting and vigorously pursuing a balanced two-states vision; promoting constructive steps that advance a reality of two states; unequivocally denouncing any act of terror, incitement and violence; recognizing a Palestinian state as a full UN member; coordinating a multilateral regional dialogue within the scope of the Arab Peace Initiative; assisting the establishment of a regional anti-Iran coalition. 

We realise that the UK is mired in various challenges mainly related to the Brexit processes, which may also affect the non-EU international connections and trade agreements. However, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is immensely complex, and one should not use simplistic concepts in addressing it.

Anybody who wants to support Israel should keep in mind that only the vision of two-states for two-peoples can fulfill the Zionist dream of a secure and democratic home for the Jewish people.

Ami Ayalon is a former director of the Israeli security agency Shin Bet.

Gilead Sher, a former Chief of Staff for Prime Minister Ehud Barak who was Israel’s chief negotiator at Camp David, now heads the Center for Applied Negotiations at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.

Orni Petruschka is a tech entrepreneur in Israel. They are co-founders of the Israeli NGO Blue White Future.

January 14, 2019 11:09

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