By Osama Al Sharif
Jerusalem’s 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.
Israel’s Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat, this week announced plans to shut down
and expel UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, from East
Jerusalem. Furthermore, he said Israel would take over responsibility for
schooling more than 1,800 Palestinian students from UNRWA. The agency runs
seven schools in the Arab part of the city.
plans, which were rejected by UNRWA, would also see the Jerusalem municipality
take over buildings and offices belonging to the UN agency in East Jerusalem.
Barkat, known for his open hostility to the Palestinian residents of East
Jerusalem, who make up about 40 percent of the city’s total population, is also
planning to strip more than 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.
from losing access to UNRWA’s education, health and other services, East
Jerusalem’s Palestinians continue to suffer from discriminatory Israeli
practices. They are denied basic services and more than 95 percent do not have
Israeli citizenship. In addition, 75 percent of Palestinians in East Jerusalem
live below the poverty line, as opposed to 29 percent of the Jewish population.
expelling UNRWA from East Jerusalem is in violation of treaties signed between
Israel and the UN, the Israeli authorities have been emboldened by recent
anti-Palestinian measures taken by the Trump administration. Israel has been
adopting and executing plans to dilute East Jerusalem’s demographic character
for years, but it is now accelerating such plans openly and brazenly.
US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the
far-right Israeli government has moved to end all of its obligations under the
Oslo Accords. Jerusalem, in particular, has seen a number of steps taken to
detach it completely from the West Bank. US attempts to defund UNRWA and change
the definition of Palestinian refugees are also controversial moves that have
encouraged Israel to sever the agency’s ties to East Jerusalem.
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 eventually happen to them remains unclear.
and despite international outcry, Israel is about to tear down the Palestinian
community of Khan Al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem. Amnesty International has
described plans to relocate the village’s 270 residents as a “war crime.” The
small village is one of more than 20 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 the northern West Bank from the
southern part, making it impossible for a viable Palestinian state to emerge.
goes without saying that all of these measures are taken directly from the
Israeli far right’s playbook, which rejects the Oslo Accords and the creation
of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. And,
regardless of the US’ “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’s agenda.
Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, rejecting the two-state solution,
defunding UNRWA and downsizing the number of Palestinian refugees are a few
Arab and Muslim nations have done little to support East Jerusalem’s
Palestinian residents. Rhetoric and verbal expressions of solidarity won’t 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. But, to be fair, even America’s allies have not been able
to affect the US position.
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 partitioned and
fragmented West Bank territory. These are questions that challenge Israel’s own
existence in the long run.
one power can throttle down Israel’s hunger for territory and expansion and
that is the US. Unfortunately, it is instead emboldening Israeli extremists and
putting all parties on 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