The Policy and Conflicts Resolution Studies Center at the Arab American University concluded the first international conference entitled “In Light of the Local, Regional and International Changes… Palestine Where To?”
“Jerusalem between Religion and Politics”
The first session of the final day was entitled “Jerusalem between Religion and Politics”, which was moderated by Dr. Nahid Habiballah from Arab American University, where the French Consul General Pierre Kochar talked about “Jerusalem in Light of Regional Alliances.” He reviewed the French status on the Palestinian issue, Jerusalem especially, France considers Jerusalem city to be a center of the interfaith rivalry since it is not biased to any party. Also its commitment to UN Resolution 181 on the city independence. Stressing, having the French consulate based in Jerusalem doesn’t mean the recognition of it as Israel’s capital, its presence related to old history. He added France is a secular state, thus, provide protection to the clergy in the city of Jerusalem and offer the chance to choice religions without obligations. Emphasizing, France is decisive in Jerusalem’s status and it’s in the city to help.
Professor Salim Tamari, a researcher at the Institute for Palestine Studies, presented a paper entitled “Jerusalem and the Intolerance of Religious Thought under the Current American Administration”, in which he discussed the American position to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem and declaring the latter capital of Israel. Pointing, this blows any possibility of US mediation in the peace process, opening new horizons to overcome Oslo framework, and heading to international legitimacy of another kind that resolute in division and internationalization of Jerusalem. He explained, Trump's last decision made three results, namely; he brought back Jerusalem’s importance to the world after it shrank due to the situation, trimmed America’s role in the peace process in the future, and other regional parties such as France have emerged.
As for the Historian of Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Illinois, Dr. Esam Nassar presented his paper entitled “Jerusalem: Lessons and History”. He pointed out, the city of Jerusalem has two concepts: a spatial concept as a sacred place connected as a whole to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The second is civil as the city has a long history of more than five thousand years through the Roman, Byzantine, Abbasid and Mameluke era. Moreover, its modern history began during the Ottoman Empire's control. He also reviewed the implemented statistics in the Ottoman era to emphasize Jerusalem's civilization, saying “The population of Jerusalem city reached 16 thousand, the majority of whom were Arab Muslims, the minority were Arab Christians and Jews and some Africans and other races lived there.”
He pointed, linking religious with the political project is an essential part of the Zionist idea. Since the 1980s, Palestinian speeches started with a Zionist essence. Jerusalem was confined to Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, that shouldn’t be the case as it’s like any occupied Palestinian city. “Jerusalem’s case is based on historical and national right, we won’t give out Al-Aqsa, but we do not link Jerusalem to religion only because if we do, then the Jerusalem issue is lost,” he added.
Director General of Mada Al-Carmel – Haifa Dr. Muhannad Mustafa presented a paper entitled “The Holy Mosque in the Zionist Discourse”. Where he said, “Israel is trying to separate worship of authority, and in recent years the Zionist discourse merged the national issue with religion to enter an important stage in the Zionist project started in 1967 and has been strengthened recently.” He continued, “Regarding the mosque, Jewish have 3 old parties; the secular Zionist, the Zionist Salafi, the religious Zionist party. After Oslo and handing part of the Israeli territory, these religious parties have let go Al-Aqsa subject because they dealt with Jerusalem politically not religiously; the Zionist Salafi stayed away from it physically because the entry to Al-Aqsa is religiously prohibited and it still is until the moment, but the religious one moved away from the idea of controlling the Temple because it believes Israel’s land is the center of salvation and imposing control over land and belief in the Torah of Israel, and so on.”
Dr. Mustafa continued, “All these parties moved away from control Al-Aqsa, but the ones that emerged from these called comic movements like the Sons of the Temple and others because it seeks to control Al-Aqsa.” He explained, since the mid-nineties we saw a major shift in the Zionist discourse towards Al-Aqsa and the reason is transferring the act of strengthening the concept of controlling Al-Aqsa from individual to institutional work supported by Israel, adding the temple subject into the Israeli educational curricula and taking Jewish students to Israeli museums that addresses the temple, conducting educational trips to the so-called Holy Basin, and in recent years the Knesset held dozens of meetings with its various committees with the motto “Jewish Religious Freedom in Al-Aqsa” to facilitate settlers entry to Al-Aqsa. Stressing, the need to link the Al-Aqsa issue religiously and politically and separating it is a severe threat to the issue.
He referred to some of the data on settlers entry to Al-Aqsa Mosque under the framework of “Jewish settlement believes in the idea of building the temple,” he pointed, in 2009 approximately 5600 settlers entered, but now 25,000 entered Al-Aqsa. Stressing, the reason for the Zionist discourse shift is Oslo agreement which saved the Israeli right party from its ideology failure and enabled it to achieve three things: the Palestinian territories classification, the handover of power, and separation Gaza from the West Ban.
Mr. Jonathan Kattab, a specialist in international law, presented a paper entitled “International Law Role in Jerusalem”, in which he addressed the relationship between international law and the Jerusalem issue. Also, he discussed the Palestinian Christians status towards Jerusalem and their attitude of the Zionism-Christian phenomena that led to transferring the US embassy to the city, where Palestinian Christians saw this phenomenon as untrue and resisted it through their contact with American churches.
Palestinians between the Local, Regional and International
The conference last session was moderated by Prof. Dr. Ayman Yousef from the Arab American University, where the managing editor of Al Sharq 21 Online Journal for Middle East affairs, Alain Gresh, presented a paper entitled “Palestine and a Torn Middle East” in which he addressed the Palestinian issue in the context of the Middle East dismantling and whether Palestine still important especially with the West participation in the war against terrorism.
He said, “Palestine is an important issue, but because of the Middle East wars, it becomes a secondary issue for some especially America and Israel. However, from what I noticed, if it wasn’t important then why are the Americans making an effort to find a solution to the Palestinian issue with some Arab countries support?” Stressing, it’s still essential for the Arabs despite the wars, based on a study by a research center in Doha which indicated that three-quarters of the Arab respondents assert that Palestine is crucial for them, 80% of them were Saudis.
Gresh pointed, in his paper, that more than 90% of the Arabs believe that Israel is a significant threat to the Arabs security, while 66% believe that Iran is threatening to them, 78% oppose the recognition of Israel and 8% of the Arab respondents accept diplomatic relations with Israel on the condition of having an independent Palestinian state. He stressed the importance of these results because they help to know what the Arab community thinks in the light of the Arab World changes, mainly the century deal.
In turn, the Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi presented a paper entitled “Arab normalization with Israel.” Where he said, “The century deal was found for normalization with the Arabs at the expense of the Palestinian issue according to; normalization without solving the cause, economic peace in place of political solution, and evicting the Palestinian issue elements; remove Jerusalem from the issue, neglect and end the refugees rights, establish a state in Gaza and create emirates in the West Bank, and to succeed the Palestinians must be negotiating”.
Barghouthi mentioned the possible ways for applying this deal “Forcing the Palestinian to negotiate the Israeli, using the state of division, and improving the Palestinian people circumstances to deceive them. So we must respond to this deal, in my opinion, with decisive and absolute rejection, refuse to negotiate, and escalate public resistance”. He wondered why they want normalization. “To impose Israeli economic hegemony domination in the region after they imposed the military hegemony, strengthening Israel's ability to compete in the regional arena, and unite the Sunni with Israel against the Shiite,” he answered. Stressing, normalization won’t happen as long as Palestinians refuse to do so.
The political analyst and lecturer at Al-Azhar University in Gaza Dr. Ibrahim Abrash presented his paper “Palestinian Reconciliation and the Closed Horizon” through video conference, where he addressed the division concept, in his opinion, it is an Israeli and regional mater in which the Palestinian differences been used to achieve the equation that exceeded the ability of Palestinians. He said, “Before Hamas controlled Gaza the words division or reconciliation themselves weren’t used. Hamas control over Gaza isn’t internal Palestinian matter, but an Israeli one linked to regional changes that began with the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and join the Islamic parties in authority and the Palestinians political regime," he said.
Director of the Konrad Adenauer Organization office Mark Fring presented a paper on “European Union and regional alliances.” He pointed out that the EU is preoccupied with many domestic issues and their policy priorities are the situation in the Middle East. As for the Palestinian issue, it’s not important to them, their situation towards Palestine is ambiguous, mentioning the European Union is committed to the United Nations resolutions, including the 181 resolution.
Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Researches Dr. Khalil Shikaki presented a paper entitled “Public Opinion Perceptions of the Palestinians Future Intentions.” He pointed, Palestinians reject the status quo because the priorities he wants to handle are getting worse and they are; ending the occupation, fix the economy and end poverty yet they’re becoming worse, unite the West Bank and Gaza even though they believe this won’t happen after the repeated setbacks between Fatah and Hamas. The public believes the political system is full of corruption and authoritarianism and wants to change it, but they know it will not.
He added, “What about negotiations why haven’t I mentioned it among the things the Palestinian people want? The answer, negotiations is not an option for them unless one of these conditions is met; there is no Israeli partner, America is not an absolute partner, the settlement is stopped, and strengthening confidence in Palestinian diplomacy”. He said, Palestinians do not believe in armed struggle and do not accept the PA dissolution because they fear the security chaos return. Also, he doesn’t support the single state solution because he refuses to live with Israelis under one roof, refuses publics resistance because he does not believe in it or power, and they support investing the international support because it’s less expensive to the people.