Everyone knows Israel’s true capital

In international relations there is sometimes a situation of political make-believe whereby states conduct themselves in a manner that actively and consciously ignores reality.

On some occasions this is warranted in order to avoid a crisis or mitigate conflict. And once-relevant self-deception can become ingrained after time, even though its usefulness is debatable at best. Such is the case (or perceived to be) with Israel’s capital city.

Israel’s capital is Jerusalem. The government is located there; so are the Supreme Court and the Bank of Israel. All are located in West Jerusalem, which is seen by the international community as part of Israel’s sovereign territory — and would almost certainly be so following a future peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

East Jerusalem is another matter. The international community objects to Israel’s official position whereby East Jerusalem is considered an integral part of a unified city under Israeli sovereignty. The status of East Jerusalem (and the West Bank), as far as the international community is concerned, ought to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the aim of establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel.

However, the international community explicitly accepts that West Jerusalem is part of the sovereign territory of Israel and implicitly understands that the Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city would remain under Israeli rule after a peace agreement.

Given all this, why can’t the world accept West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? Why keep pretending that Israel either has no capital or has one in Tel Aviv?

There are some who refer to Jerusalem as “Israel’s self-declared capital.” But aren’t all capitals self-declared? Of course, the implied meaning is that Jerusalem is Israel’s self-declared and unrecognized capital.

After all, Jerusalem was not intended to be part of the Jewish state under the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947. So why even recognize parts of Jerusalem as part of Israel’s sovereign territory?

Well, there are other territories that were not supposed to be part of the Jewish state according to the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947. While the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership failed to endorse the plan, these too became part of the newly created Jewish state.

This was controversial, but nevertheless the international community sees these territories as sovereign Israeli territory. So why not West Jerusalem? If the Armistice Lines of 1949 (the so-called 1967 borders) are regarded as the basis for a future settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, why make a distinction between, say, Acre, Jaffa and West Jerusalem?

If logically no distinction ought to be drawn, what is the problem with recognizing, or at least accepting, that West Jerusalem is Israel’s capital?

Certainly, the present situation is comfortable to all concerned except Israel – and perhaps the ambassadors who travel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem each time they have to meet with a government official.

Pretending that Jerusalem — or at least its western part — is not Israel’s capital may be avoiding a crisis with the Arab and Muslim world. This line of thought is understandable, though peculiar. After all, most Arab and Muslim states ostensibly call for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. West Jerusalem would remain within Israeli sovereignty. So what is the problem, then, of recognizing de jure, or at least accepting de facto, that West Jerusalem is Israel’s capital?

This article was originally published on Politics in Spires, a blog on the Politics and International Relations/Studies Departments of Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England Web site.

Yoav J. Tenembaum is a lecturer in the diplomacy program at Tel Aviv University. He received his Ph.D. from St. Antony’s College, Oxford.

White House: Romney’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital contradicts U.S. policy

A White House spokesman noted that Mitt Romney’s calling Jerusalem the “capital of Israel” contradicts United States policy over several successive administrations.

The spokesman, Josh Earnest, said that the presumptive Republican presidential candidate’s declaration that Jerusalem is “the capital of Israel” contradicts the policy of previous Republican and Deomcratic administrations. He said Romney could further explain the comments, according to The Jerusalem Post.

“Well, our view is that that’s a different position than this administration holds,” Earnest said in a news briefing Tuesday, according to the Post. “It’s the view of this administration that the capital is something that should be determined in final status negotiations between the parties.”

Palestinian groups also harshly criticized Romney for the remark, which was made in a policy speech given in Jerusalem on Sunday night.

Palestinians rally for Abbas’s U.N. statehood bid

Flag-waving Palestinians filled the squares of major West Bank cities on Wednesday to rally behind President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations despite U.S. and Israeli objections.

“We are asking for the most simple of rights, a state like other nations,” said Sabrina Hussein, 50, carrying the green, red, black and white Palestinian national flag at a demonstration in Ramallah.

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank under 1990s interim peace deals, gave school children and civil servants the day off to attend events in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and Hebron.

A large mockup of a blue chair, symbolizing a seat at the U.N., and giant Palestinian flags hanging from buildings provided a backdrop for the Ramallah rally, where attendance peaked at several thousand.

The main venues were far removed from Israeli military checkpoints on the perimeter of the cities and the rallies were peaceful.

But in incidents away from the gatherings, Palestinian youngsters threw rocks at Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint on the edge of Ramallah and in the divided West Bank city of Hebron. The soldiers responded with tear gas, and in Ramallah also used a so-called “screamer”—a device that emits an ear-splitting high-pitched sound—to disperse stone-throwers.

Palestinian leaders have pledged that demonstrations for statehood would be peaceful.

Later in the day in New York, U.S. President Barack Obama was due to meet Abbas to urge him to drop plans to ask the U.N. Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state. Washington says statehood should be achieved through peace talks.

Abbas has said he will present U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with a membership application on Friday. The move requires Security Council approval and the United States, one of five veto-wielding permanent members, says it will block it.

At the Ramallah rally, Amina Abdel Jabbar al-Kiswany, a head teacher, said the U.N. bid was a step on the road to statehood, not a solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which direct negotiations have failed to resolve.

“It’s a cry of desperation,” Kiswany said.

Reflecting anger with U.S. policy, a Palestinian, his face covered by a scarf, climbed the stage scaffolding and set ablaze an American flag. Earlier, some of the demonstrators had tried to stop the flag burning.

Washington’s pledge to veto the bid for U.N. membership has added to deep Palestinian disappointment in Obama. The Palestinians have long complained of what they see as Washington’s complete support for Israel at their expense.

“America talks about human rights. They support South Sudan. Why don’t they support us?” said Tamer Milham, a 26-year old computer engineer, referring to the new state of South Sudan which was admitted to the United Nations in July.

U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed a year ago after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month limited moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in areas Palestinians want for a state.

Netanyahu has called the Palestinian demand of a halt to settlement building an unacceptable precondition and urged Abbas to return to negotiations.

The Israeli leader was due to meet Obama, with whom he has had a strained relationship, later in the day on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Palestinians hope to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The Palestinian Authority has held sway only in the West Bank since Hamas Islamists opposed to his peace efforts with Israel seized Gaza in a brief civil war in 2007.

Hamas has dismissed the U.N. bid as a waste of time and there were no rallies in the Mediterranean enclave, where Palestinians argue that Abbas should be devoting his energies to bridging the internal political divide.

Israel cites historical and biblical links to the West Bank, which it calls Judea and Samaria, and to Jerusalem. It claims all of the city as its capital, a status that is not recognized internationally.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich

VIDEO: Arabic-speaking Israeli prof tells Al-Jazeera: ‘Jerusalem is ours for 3000 years!’

On Al-Jazeera TV, Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University asserts—in Arabic—that Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for over 3000 years. 

Available here for the first time with English subtitles.

Disney’s Dangerous Course

Just last month, Walt Disney World appeared to be right in the path of a bona fide hurricane. Hurricane Floyd was headed for Florida’s eastern coast, and Walt Disney World was forced to close its doors for the first time in its 28-year history. But Mickey’s luck held out. Floyd veered north, and Walt Disney World was saved from potential devastation.

But the Walt Disney Company has now found itself right in the eye of a political storm that is stalled smack dab over Orlando. How Disney has chosen to weather this storm may tip the balance of power between political pressure groups and the entire entertainment industry for years to come.

First, the back story: In 1998, Disney invited 24 nations to participate in a millennium celebration at its Orlando-based Epcot Center. Israel was invited to join in this hoopla that celebrated cultural diversity. Israel contributed $1.8 million to the reported $8 million project. In the last several weeks, the media has been reporting that Jerusalem would be depicted in Israel’s exhibit as the capital of the Jewish state. Clearly, Disney was not prepared for the controversy that these stories would bring.

The status of Jerusalem is a highly sensitive issue between three of the world’s major religions — Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In fact, until 1967, the city was divided between Israelis and Arabs. During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured Jerusalem’s eastern portion and declared the entire city to be its eternal, undivided capital. Palestinians have insisted that East Jerusalem be the capital of any future Palestinian state.

Once the Arab world got wind that the exhibit was intended to portray Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, many of its leaders called for a boycott of the entire Walt Disney Company. Unlike other entertainment conglomerates, Disney has been the frequent target of boycotts from several interest groups, including the American Family Association, the Southern Baptist Convention, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the National Federation for the Blind and the Catholic League. In fact, the Arab-American community has protested or boycotted Disney in the past, objecting to the depiction of Arab characters in the Disney films “Aladdin,” “Kazaam” and “Father of the Bride 2.” In most of these instances, Disney has tried to weather these storms and not buckle to the pressure of these interest groups, by issuing brief statements and waiting for the headlines to pass.

Hoping to dodge Hurricane Jerusalem, Disney has taken a different course. Instead of laying low, the company actually ceded to the demands of the Arab community. Bill Warren, a Disney spokesman, recently announced that while Epcot would proceed with the Israeli pavilion, “the exhibit contains no reference to Jerusalem as the capital.” In the final analysis, this decision may prove to torment Disney and other entertainment conglomerates for years to come.

In response to the “Aladdin” flap, Disney altered two lines in a single song at the behest of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination League. Playing on negative stereotypes of any group is wrong, but making these changes did not touch on the political agenda of the Arab community. On the other hand, when Disney officials declared that the Israeli exhibit would not refer to Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, they inserted the Happy Kingdom into the debate over the fragile Israeli/Arab peace process.

Most distressing, however, is a statement issued by the president of the Walt Disney World Resort upon the Oct. 1 opening of the exhibit. When Al Weiss was asked what changes were made to appease Arab detractors, he responded: “The process we go through to develop entertainment, exhibits, attractions and shows is a process we hold near and dear to our hearts. It is a proprietary process that we go through, so I’m not going to comment on anything as it relates to that competitive advantage.”

This refusal to answer demonstrates that Disney could have adopted their standard strategy — issue a brief statement and wait for the headlines to pass — without declaring under threat of boycott that they would cave to the demands of a political interest group.

Now that a leader in the Hollywood community has acquiesced to political pressure, other interest groups may feel emboldened and take Disney’s action as their cue to pounce. These pressure groups will surely try and manipulate other studios’ creative decisions by waging an all-out media assault against the studio they subjectively believe has offended their sensibilities.

For example, the Parents Television Council recently targeted Fox for broadcasting what it deemed to be the least family-friendly programming during the 8 to 9 p.m. “family hour.” Taking solace from Disney’s recent inability to withstand political heat, this interest group may now intensify its efforts — hoping that Fox will similarly buckle under political pressure.

Whether you support or reject any one interest group’s view of the world, exerting political pressure on the creative community will only hobble those gifted with the ability to make us laugh and cry with the written and spoken word.

While Disney may believe that it has dodged Hurricane Jerusalem, in return, it may have spawned other hurricanes surely to make landfall on the Hollywood coast in seasons to come.

Brad Pomerance is the entertainment and media correspondent for Los Angeles- area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-89.3 FM. The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s. His column, “The Industry,” will appear in this space bimonthly.