President Trump has won praise from Christian Zionists and many staunch supporters of Israel for declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital, but critics say it only makes peace a more distant goal, reports Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein
Protests have broken out across the Middle East against President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — and Western critics complain that the move adds one more brick in the wall against the prospects for peace.
Professor Francis Boyle, who teaches international law at the University of Illinois College of Law and served as a long-time legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), calls Trump’s announcement a “symbolic but still critical step in Israeli designs to control not just Jerusalem, but all of historic Palestine.” I spoke with Boyle on Dec. 6.
Dennis Bernstein: What was your initial response to the announcement by President Trump that the United States will be moving its embassy to Jerusalem?
Francis Boyle: It is always a sad day when you know that people are going to die. It is a defeat for the human spirit. In the last intifada [September 2000-February 2005], about 3,000 Palestinians died and 1,000 Israelis. I don’t know what will happen this time. The Palestinians have called for “three days of rage.” Trump could very well set off a third intifada here.
Dennis Bernstein: Trump says this doesn’t get in the way of the US being an honest broker, that the vision is for peace. From the legal perspective, how do you see this?
Francis Boyle: First of all, the United States has never been an honest broker here. I was legal advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations from 1991, when they began, to the signing of Oslo. It was very clear that the United States was always serving as Israel’s lawyer. You had Miller, Ross, and Kurtzer, all three American Jews, two of them orthodox.
The Palestinians had to go hat-in-hand to present their case to American Jews. Nothing has changed: We now have Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman, all three of whom are orthodox Jews. The whole thing has been preposterous from the beginning. We have always been in favor of Israel, using lies, threats and intimidation to force the Palestinians to accept whatever the Israelis are giving them. That is international diplomacy for you, conducted by the United States, not only in the Middle East but all over the world.
Dennis Bernstein: Would you say that what is going on here is not just Israel trying to control Jerusalem but all of Palestine?
Francis Boyle: That has always been Israel’s policy. I had a conversation with the chair of the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East peace negotiations. He told me that the Zionists have not changed their position since the Basel Convention of 1897. They want all of Palestine. What is happening now in Jerusalem is a step in that direction.
If you look at the recently leaked so-called peace plan that was presented to [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas in Saudi Arabia, he was basically given an ultimatum to either accept some tiny bantustan or forget it. It is very clear that they want all of Palestine, all of the West Bank, all of Jerusalem. They want the Golan Heights and maybe even some more of Syria.
Dennis Bernstein: We have revelations now that Jared Kushner, our chief peace negotiator in the Middle East, failed to disclose in ethics filings his role as director of a family foundation that funded Israeli settlements. Do you think that is a problem?
Francis Boyle: Of course, because basically he is aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine.
Dennis Bernstein: Is the United States participating in illegal actions in Israel, or doesn’t it matter anymore?
Francis Boyle: For most of the Arab and Muslim world, it matters. Here in the United States, apart from the BDS movement, we have basically thrown in our lot with the Israeli government. Congress has been bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. During his campaign, Trump made explicit promises in order to secure Jewish funding and votes.
We arm, equip, supply and train Israel. What is going on in Gaza right now is a form of genocide. They are being strangled to death. The 1948 Genocide Convention, to which both Israel and the United States are parties, says that “deliberately inflicting on a people conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part” is genocide. That is exactly what is going on in Gaza today.
Dennis Bernstein: How would you assess the situation now? Is a two-state solution at all viable?
Francis Boyle: That is for the Palestinians to decide. Their right of self determination is at stake here. As of today, their official position is two states with their capital in East Jerusalem. There have been hints that they might go back to the one-state solution, which was their position before the Palestinian Declaration of Independence of December 15, 1988, when they officially accepted a two-state solution. Since then they have gotten nothing. Every day Israel just steals more land and drives out more Palestinians.
Dennis Bernstein: Are there any options for the Palestinians in the international arena, for example, at the United Nations?
Francis Boyle: I have advised them to invoke the “Uniting for Peace” resolution adopted by the general assembly in 1950, so that they can be admitted to the UN General Assembly as a full-fledged UN member state, recognizing their capital as East Jerusalem. And, as you know, after Palestine became a UN observer state, you and I discussed the concept of a “legal intifada” that the Palestinians could pursue.
My advice to the Palestinians is a full-court press in all specialized United Nations agencies and affiliated organizations, using all available legal mechanisms. This would include suing Israel at the International Court of Justice, which I have offered to do for them. And of course they have filed a complaint against Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court. According to press reports, they are meeting right now to decide what to do and President Abbas will soon be addressing the Palestinian people.
Dennis Bernstein: I suppose it is important to emphasize the fact that this could turn very violent.
Francis Boyle: I am afraid so. This could turn into the third intifada. The First Intifada, which took place in 1987, was spontaneous. The Second Intifada [September 2000-February 2005] was provoked when Ariel Sharon went to the Al-Aqsa mosque with a couple hundred soldiers. Eventually, about 3,000 Palestinians lost their lives as a result.
Now we have Trump provoking the situation. His people, including Bannon and Flynn, know exactly what they are doing. They believe in Sam Huntington’s concept of “the clash of civilizations.” They truly believe that they are leading a crusade against the Muslim world. This is being done very deliberately.