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Palestinians Call Israeli FM Gantz’s Statement on Jerusalem Capital Misleading

Palestinians Call Israeli FM Gantz’s Statement on Jerusalem Capital Misleading

They insist on sovereignty over city’s east, and not only nearby suburbs

Palestinians were not encouraged by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s support Thursday for an independent Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, because he added that the city “must remain united” as the capital of Israel.

“The Palestinians want and deserve an entity in which they can live independently,” Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party, said during an interview with the Saudi-owned, London-based, pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat daily.

He added, however, that while Israel’s capital would remain united under his proposal, “there’s room” for the Palestinians to also establish their capital in the holy city.

The US recognition of Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel does not create an absolute right

Fatah spokesperson Osama Qawasma, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told The Media Line that according to the principles of international legitimacy, East Jerusalem was the capital of the State of Palestine, “and we remind everyone that the international body which is the United Nations that recognized Israel in 1947, is the same body that recognized the State of Palestine in 2012.”

Qawasma also cited UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016), which affirmed the status of East Jerusalem as occupied territory. “The US recognition of Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel does not create an absolute right,” he said.

Bashar Azzeh, a leading analyst and a member of the National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told The Media Line that Gantz’s proposal regarding Jerusalem was part of the “deal of the century” narrative.

“A sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital is what we seek [as Palestinians],” Azzeh said.

East Jerusalem is part of the territory occupied in 1967 and a Palestinian city just like Hebron or Jenin, he continued. “East Jerusalem is to be the capital [of the future Palestinian state]. The concept of ‘Let’s find you a space in Jerusalem to call it a capital’ is not realistic, and no one will accept it.”

Gantz’s aim was to mislead Arab public opinion with false statements regarding the city, Azzeh stressed. “People with lack of knowledge might think he is giving Palestinians a capital in Jerusalem. Well, we need to clarify that we want a capital in East Jerusalem as per international law.”

He added that the need for stronger advocacy of the Palestinian narrative and cause in the Arab media had become “paramount.”

According to the so-called deal of the century, the Trump peace plan unveiled last January, Jerusalem would remain under Israeli control for the most part, while Arab neighborhoods on the Palestinian side of the security barrier would be declared the capital of a future Palestinian state. The holy sites, including Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City, would remain under Israeli control, with the PA partially involved in their administration.

Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party, told The Media Line that Gantz was playing with words, as the capital he was talking about was not the Arab part of Jerusalem, but rather as listed in the deal-of-the-century proposal, “in areas neighboring Jerusalem, such as Abu Dis, Al-Eizariya or Al-Ram.”

The talk in Israel is always about the establishment of so-called self-government within divided cantons. … There’s no real talk about a Palestinian state but only an illusion and sham talk about the state

Barghouti stressed that Gantz did not really mean that Palestinians would have their capital in Jerusalem, but the opposite, as he was confirming that the city would remain united and part of Israel.

“All of his talk is without real meaning because neither the Israeli president nor the Netanyahu government will accept the establishment of a real independent Palestinian sovereign state,” he elaborated. “The talk in Israel is always about the establishment of so-called self-government within divided cantons.”

The real test is whether Israel is willing to remove the settlements and accept the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital for the future Palestinian state, Barghouti stressed.

“The answer is no. Thus there’s no real talk about a Palestinian state but only an illusion and sham talk about the state.”

The Trump peace plan proposed Abu Dis – and additional areas outside of Jerusalem proper – as meeting the criteria for a Palestinian capital. It seems to hinge, for Gantz, on the use of the prepositions ‘in’ or ‘of.’ Is the Palestinian capital ‘of Jerusalem’ or ‘in Jerusalem’?

Benjamin Weinthal, a fellow for the nonpartisan Washington -based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Media Line that the 800-pound open question from Gantz’s interview with Asharq Al-Awsat was, did he mean the town of Abu Dis, which is located outside the current municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, in his comment about Jerusalem being the capital of a future Palestinian state.

“The Trump peace plan proposed Abu Dis – and additional areas outside of Jerusalem proper – as meeting the criteria for a Palestinian capital. It seems to hinge, for Gantz, on the use of the prepositions ‘in’ or ‘of.’ Is the Palestinian capital ‘of Jerusalem’ or ‘in Jerusalem’?” Weinthal said.

However, he said that Alternate Prime Minister Gantz was explicit about Jerusalem remaining a unified capital and not conceding East Jerusalem to the PLO as part of the deal.

Weinthal said Gantz’s statements appeared to be deliberately ambiguous at times with respect to Jerusalem to allow for negotiating space with Palestinians. “He reiterates recognizing that the Palestinians deserve statehood, but stresses the need to ensure that a future Palestinian state satisfies Israel’s need for security.”

He continued, “Gantz is threading a sensitive needle in light of the election of the Democratic administration of President-elect Joe Biden. Gantz clearly does not want to provoke Biden. He noted that he does not view Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank as outlined in the Trump plan as inevitable.”

Additionally, Weinthal pointed out that Gantz’s language suggested flexibility, as his tone signaled that he was prepared to negotiate and make concessions to the Palestinians. “During the interview, Gantz also linked the creation of a Palestinian state with the vast changes in the Arab world, in which four Arab countries have made peace with Israel within a rapid-fire period of time.”

To that end, he explained that the role of the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan in the negotiation process with the Palestinians might be a breath of fresh air. “Important regional actors such as KSA [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia], Jordan and Egypt, as opposed to the Europeans who have been wedded to obsolete views about the Israel-Palestinian process, are well-positioned to influence the Palestinians to adapt to the new Middle East.”

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