Rumors and speculation are circulating about when and if the Trump administration is going to announce its decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv, where it is currently located, to Jerusalem. Such a move would be a dangerous and irresponsible provocation that contravenes longstanding U.S. policy by legitimizing Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem. Not a single country recognizes Israeli sovereignty over either West Jerusalem or East Jerusalem, which it occupied in 1967 and illegally annexed in 1980.
Although announced on the campaign trail, Trump’s decision will come at the heel of several developments regarding the Middle East that took place before his inauguration — UN Security Council 2334, former Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryQueen Elizabeth resting 'for a few days' after hospital stay Twenty-four countries say global net-zero goal will fuel inequality Queen Elizabeth recognizes Kerry from video message: 'I saw you on the telly' MORE’s speech, and the French-sponsored Middle East peace conference. Along with Trump’s threat to move the embassy, this diplomatic flurry marks the end of the era of bilateral negotiations under U.S. auspices that had dominated diplomacy in the region since the 1990s.
In Israel, the right wing settler movement is firmly ensconced in government. Within the Palestinian territories, the hope for justice and freedom from Israel’s occupation faded a long time ago. Trends on the ground demonstrate that an increasing number of Palestinians no longer believe in a two-state solution precisely because of Israeli settlement construction, which an expanding number of Israeli-Jews now support.
In the U.S., the Trump administration is unapologetically pro-settlements. The bias that previous administrations had towards Israel is no secret. But the pretense for even-handedness has kept the wheels of diplomacy running. No such claims are being made by President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE or his advisors, many of whom have close ties to the Israeli right and settler movement, including his son-in-law and top advisor, Jared Kushner.
In a way, that is refreshing. It dispenses with the façade of American-led bilateral negotiations that saw the number of Israeli settlers living illegally on occupied Palestinian land mushroom to approximately 650,000.
The French initiative was less an attempt at resuscitating a moribund peace process and more about salvaging the reputation of international stakeholders. After these latest interjections, members of the international community, in this case specifically the US and France, will claim they had attempted to coax the parties towards a peaceful agreement, to no avail. But in reality, these diplomatic interventions are far too little, far too late when it comes to the prospect of achieving a two state solution through bilateral negotiations.
A chronic deficiency of Israeli-Palestinian talks has always been the power inequality between occupier and occupied. Without strong international intervention on the side of the Palestinians, Israel is never going to abide by international law and relinquish control over the occupied territories.
Successive American administrations have failed to offer such pressure. Secretary Kerry’s recent speech, as passionate as it was, eludes the fact that the U.S. had close to five decades to align its actions with international law and with its own domestic policies.
While regretting and reprimanding the status quo, Kerry underplayed America’s role in enabling the reality that he so eloquently objected to. It is because of this complicity that Palestinians have been enduring the lethal impact of a repressive military occupation for close to half a century. Similarly, the French peace initiative threatened to maintain this charade of the peace process.
And now, with Trump’s threat to move the embassy, it is time for other actors in the international community to intervene. With the Security Council Resolution 2334, passed in December, that reaffirmed the illegality of Israel’s settlement enterprise, the international community has a powerful tool to set the foundation for a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict.
The text of the resolution enshrines language that calls for differentiating between the State of Israel and its illegal settlements. This provides a foundation for economic sanctions to deal with Israel’s persistent violation of international law.
If international actors such as members of the EU or other countries are able and willing to make use of this tool by upholding this principle of differentiation in all dealings with Israel, they would be at the forefront of a more effective strategy for ending the conflict. By utilizing the power of international pressure, attendees could balance the inequality between the two parties and dispense with the fallacy that direct bilateral talks on their own can produce a permanent peace.
In the absence of concerted efforts to enforce UN resolution 2334, and international law generally, diplomacy of the type seen over the past two decades will continue to prove toothless, if not dangerous under a Trump administration. It is incumbent on the Palestinians to use 2334 to push forward with their strategy to internationalize their struggle, whether through advancing their calls for sanctions or reverting to the International Criminal Court.
Perhaps more effectively than before, Palestinians can now use the tools at their disposal to return to the roots of their quest for justice: the demand for rights and equality, whatever political framework that takes. As world diplomacy draws its final breath on the peace process of the nineties, the quest for rights and equality marks the next phase of the Palestinian struggle, in alliance with all those working against a world where isolationism and anti-liberalism are in the ascendant.
Tareq Baconi is the US Policy Fellow of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. His book, Hamas: The Politics of Resistance, is forthcoming with Stanford University Press.
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