On Monday October 24, Palestinian societies from King’s College London, Brunel, Imperial College London and the University of Westminster hosted Dr Husam Zomlot, Head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK.
Zomlot came to speak about what he felt would be the implications of the British embassy moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following the example of the US. Wholly opposed to the move, Zomlot argued that any embassy in Jerusalem would be illegal under international law.
Despite repeating time and time again the “absolutely illegal nature” of the embassy, Zomlot did not state which law this would break. He pointed to Britain’s understanding of Jerusalem as a ‘unique’ city. He also referenced the offence taken by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) at states seemingly condoning Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem by placing the embassy in Jerusalem. As an agreement hasn’t been reached with regards to the territorial status of Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians, he argues that placing the embassy in Jerusalem negates the ability to discuss further terms for peace.
Offence does not translate to law, however. Most claims of the illegality of an embassy in Jerusalem usually centre upon UN Security Council Resolution 478, which “calls upon… States that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City”.
However, as noted by international legal scholar Malcolm Shaw, only Resolutions added to an official chapter of the UN Charter are binding on nations. Resolution 478 was not added to the Charter and remains only an opinion and recommendation for Jerusalem. For Zomlot to paint Resolution 478 as legally binding is incorrect and misleading.
Secondly, there is already a British consulate in Jerusalem, specifically in East Jerusalem as a diplomatic mission interacting with Palestinian leadership. If Jerusalem as a whole is disputed territory, then the existence of this consulate should be under the same scrutiny under the same Resolution, and should express the same implicit approval of control over the city as that nation’s capital. There should be no double standard – if a British consulate in Jerusalem on behalf of the Palestinians is permissible, then why not the same for the Israelis?
This also proves with utter clarity that Resolution 478 is not binding as if it was, Britain would already be in violation of international law as it makes reference to withdrawing from all ‘diplomatic missions’.
The PLO’s ambassador also implied the presence of lobbying and “transactional politics” underlying Liz Truss’s intention to review the situation of the embassy. Zomlot referenced the “very powerful and influential” Conservative Friends of Israel who pressured Truss to move the embassy.
This implication is particularly worrying, as it strikes a strong resemblance to the classic antisemitic trope of Jews controlling politics through money and proximity to power. In the same point, Zomlot referenced Trump’s “transactional politics” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Zomlot argued that Trump agreed to move the embassy to Jerusalem in exchange for ‘help’ with re-election.
He did not specify who exactly would be helping the US former president in his election. Would it be the US ‘Zionist lobby’? Would it be a foreign government interfering through economic or political means in another country’s electoral process? Any interpretation has antisemitic implications, but it was ultimately left ambiguous as to exactly who would help Trump in exchange for the embassy move.
The ambassador made accusations of apartheid, arguing that 20% of Israel “is Palestinian” and do not have the same rights as Jewish Israelis. One reason for this is because the state was designated a ‘Jewish State’.
For one, 20% of the Israeli population is Arab, not specifically Palestinian. Secondly, those 20% have full Israeli citizenship with all the rights that entail and that are given to Israel’s Jewish and Christian population. This is evidenced in Arab-Israelis ascending to the highest offices in Israel, in politics (with the Arab-Israeli Ra’am party joining the government coalition in 2021), in law (with Arab judge Salim Joubran appointed vice president of Supreme Court) or business (with Haj Yehia chairman of Bank Leumi.)
On the question of designating Israel a ‘Jewish State’, any attempt to claim that this move in any way hinders or disenfranchises Israel’s non-Jewish citizens is entirely misleading. It is very common for states to have a national identity, in the same way that the Vatican is designated a Catholic state, England is Anglican, or Iranian Kurds want a Kurdish state based around their ethnic and cultural identity. Indeed, the national Charter of the Palestinian Authority starts with the words “Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people”. Clearly, Mr Zomlot is not against the concept of a nation-state declaring its identity.
Unlike the PLO, which denies rights to its LGBT citizens, democratic states do not harm their separate ethnic, religious or identity groups by stating the national identity. Israel was created specifically as the nation-state, safe-haven of the Jewish people. Yet it also gives full rights to peoples of different denominations.
This kind of misrepresentation to sway people to believe in false claims of apartheid is dangerous, fraudulent and unhelpful to understanding, activism, or resolution of the conflict.
There was one moment of moderation, however, to Zomlot’s credit. The majority of the questions addressed at the end of the event were centred around the question of two-states. More directly, one attendee asked explicitly: “Would you be alright with the Israelis staying in Palestine?” Zomlot argued for “relative justice” rather than “absolute justice” and said that simply deporting Israelis would not be just. However, Zomlot is directly contradicting the position espoused by Mahmoud Abbas, who said there would not be a “single Israeli” in a future Palestinian state.
The room was not satisfied with deflections about the question of statehood and so Zomlot reiterated earlier statements, urging people to “avoid discussion of two-state, one-state. It doesn’t matter. Talk about equality.”
And yet, the question of genocide and forced eviction is still very much on the Palestinian Authority’s agenda. Despite sometimes being seen as the voice of moderation compared to Hamas, their charter still calls for the eradication of Israel from the territory. Articles 12 and 19 read:
Article 12: Goals “Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military, and cultural existence.”
Article 19: Method “Armed struggle is a strategy and not a tactic, and the Palestinian Arab People’s armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease until the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated.”
I guess ‘equality’ might have a different meaning for the PLO and for Husam Zomlot.
A slightly edited version of this editorial appeared in Roar News, the official campus paper for the King’s College London.
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