Resetting the Middle East History Button

May 16th, 2010 by

Editor’s Note: A guest article from N. Scott Rabinowitz.

On May 14 the nation of Israel celebrates its sixty-second birthday. Despite insurmountable odds, Israel has not only survived, it has prospered.

The United States has played an enormous part in that prosperity—at least until now. President Obama has demanded that Israel reset the Middle East history button.

On March 10, Obama dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to demand that Israel halt renewed building in East Jerusalem. The trip resulted in what Israeli ambassador Michael Oren called the “most serious crisis since 1975″ for U.S. and Israel relations.

That assertion was dramatically confirmed on March 23 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Washington to meet with the President. Failing to acquire concessions from the Prime Minister, Obama – in a breach of protocol, left Netanyahu to dine alone.

Despite extraordinary pressure from the White House, Netanyahu remains resolute regarding Israel’s right to build in East Jerusalem.

There are two reasons for this. First, Israel has a historical claim to the territory, a fact recognized by the international community. Second, Israel fought a series of defensive wars over the territory and the current borders are legitimate under the rules of international law.

Obama and other opponents of Israel’s sovereignty need to acquaint themselves with the history of Jerusalem and international law regarding the annexation of territory captured during a defensive war. If they did, they would discover the following:

The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine recognized Jewish national rights to the entire territory in 1922. While recognizing the need to protect the rights of the territories’ Arab inhabitants, the Mandate declared that “recognition has been to the historical connection of the Jewish People with Palestine and to reconstituting their Jewish national home in that country.” When the UN replaced the League of Nations in 1946, its charter specifically stated that the UN must uphold the terms of all existing international instruments ratified by the League of Nations. In other words, the UN—and President Obama—are obligated to recognize Israel’s legitimate claims on Jerusalem.

That obligation would be less clear, however, had the Palestinians agreed to UN Resolution 181—the Partition Plan of 1947. Conceding that the creation of a single Jewish state was impossible, the resolution was a non-binding recommendation that called for the partition of “Palestine” into two separate states, with Jerusalem existing temporarily under the administration of the UN.

For over half a century, the Palestinians rejected a two-state solution. They did so because they were confident that their Arab neighbors would intervene and destroy Israel militarily. That never occurred and Palestinian dreams of statehood never materialized.

Resolution 181 was a non-binding resolution and more importantly, it was one that the Palestinians rejected. Moreover, the Arab aggression that ignited the 1967 war irreversibly changed the territorial landscape and made a return to borders that existed nineteen year earlier impossible. In 2004 President George W. Bush acknowledged this fact in a letter to Prime Minister Arial Sharon. “In light of new realities on the ground,” Bush wrote, a return to the armistice lines of 1949 is “unrealistic.”

The Palestinians discarded UN Resolution 181 more than sixty years ago but they now wish to resurrect it to legitimatize their claim to Jerusalem.

President Obama also wishes to hit the reset button. He chooses to ignore Israel’s legal claim to Jerusalem, the fact that the Palestinians rejected UN Resolution 181, and that the U.S. has acknowledged current geo-political realties make a return to previous borders impossible.

Despite adamant claims to the contrary, East Jerusalem does not meet the criteria of an occupied territory. Following the 1948 war, Jordan occupied East Jerusalem and expelled its Jewish community. By the standards of international law, Jordan’s nineteen year occupation of Jerusalem — not Israel’s — was illegal.

Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in a war of self-defense makes it the legitimate claimant to the territory. Former Chief Judge of the International Court of Justice of the United Nations, Stephen Schwebel wrote in 1970 regarding the matter: “Where the prior holder of the territory had seized the territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense, has against the prior holder, better claim.”

Why has the President turned on America’s staunchest ally in the Middle East and embraced the revisionist history of Israel’s enemies? As long as the U.S supports Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, Israel’s enemies will remain our enemies. President Obama has chosen to appease our enemies rather than stand by our ally.

About the Author: Noel Rabinowitz is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at The King’s College in New York City. You can contact Noel via his faculty profile located here.

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