The Jerusalem problem by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani


At a time when the 100th anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem was being observed, US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel sparked unrest throughout the world.

In December 1917, British forces captured Jerusalem, the city of peace, from the Ottomans. Prior to World War I, annexing conquered territories through the use of force was a common practice. But in 1928, France and the US supported an international agreement under which signatory states promised not to use war to resolve any dispute or conflict. The Pact of Paris, which is officially known as the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, still remains in effect.

British had achieved the legitimacy to rule Palestine under a mandate entrusted by the League of Nations. According to the mandate, the administration of Palestine was bound to safeguard the interests of local communities in connection with the development of the country. Britain, under the Balfour Declaration, also vowed to support the rights of Jewish people to have a “national home” within Palestine. Moreover, the Balfour Declaration called for the protection of the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.

At the time, the US foreign policy also seemed to revolve around the Balfour Declaration. On September 1922, a joint resolution was passed by the US Congress to garner support for a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people. But the resolution also categorically mentioned that this should not be happened at the expense of other cultures.

On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Partition Plan for Palestine in Resolution 181. The resolution recommended the formation of sovereign Arab and Jewish states and the internationalisation of Jerusalem. Back then, Jerusalem was not part of Israel because, according to the UN Resolution 181(ii), the historical city of Jerusalem had to be established as a separated body and administered by the UN.

Just after the declaration for the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, a regional war erupted that enabled Israel to occupy the western part of Jerusalem and almost 60 percent of Arab territory allocated for the state of Palestine. Although the UN didn’t legitimise the Israeli occupation, the Israeli Cabinet in 1949 declared West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, endorsed by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. However, the international community kept their diplomatic missions in Tel Aviv. On the other hand, a majority of Muslim countries, including Pakistan, refused to recognise Israel.

After the end of the Arab-Israel War 1967, Israel managed to capture the entire city of Jerusalem as well as more territories of the surrounding Arab countries to expand its borders. To condemn the Israeli aggression, Resolution 242 was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council on November 1967. The resolution called for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the occupied territories. This UN resolution is considered to be the most widely affirmed initiative to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. It also led to the signing of various peace treaties among Israel and the neighbouring Arab states, including Palestine, Egypt and Jordan.

In July 1980, the Knesset passed the Basic Jerusalem Law to declare that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel”. The controversial law was a setback for the global efforts to restore peace in the region. In response, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 478 on August 1980 to declare the Basic Jerusalem Law null and void. The resolution also called upon member states to withdraw their embassies from Jerusalem. The resolution was passed with 14 votes in favour of it and none against it while the US preferred to abstain from voting on the matter.

However, the influence of Israeli lobbies in the US Congress resulted in the adoption of the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995. Contrary to the UN resolutions and international laws, the act called for the relocation of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999. On practical grounds, the law remained unimplemented for more than two decades by various US presidents – including Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama – who repeatedly claimed a presidential waiver on the issue after every six months.

Today, the international community has shown solidarity with the people of Palestine. The UN, the EU, the Arab League, Canada, China, Russia, Turkey and even the peace-loving citizens of the US have opposed the controversial decision to destabilise world peace. As the only superpower, the US must play a critical role in implementing the UN resolutions to resolve the Palestinian crisis peacefully rather than complicating the issue any further. The US must also convince the Israeli leadership that the creation of an independent Palestinian state is also in the best interest of Israel.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani

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