UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke to the General Assembly on May 20, 2021 as the latest battle between HAMAS and Israel was coming to a close. He spoke of the status of Jerusalem several times:
- “I am also deeply concerned by the continuation of violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, where several Palestinian families are under the threat of eviction.”
- “I urge Israel to cease demolitions and evictions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. All settlement activities, including evictions and demolitions, are illegal under international law.”
- “Jerusalem is a holy city for three world religions. I underscore that the status quo at the holy sites must be upheld and respected.”
- “We must work towards a resumption of negotiations that will address the status of Jerusalem and other final status issues, end the occupation and allow for the realization of a two-State solution on the basis of the 1967 lines, United Nations resolutions, international law and mutual agreements, with Jerusalem as capital of both Israel and Palestine.”
Note how the UNSG switched between “East Jerusalem” and “Jerusalem.” He referred to it as an actual place when connected to the “occupied West Bank” but conceded that it is a single city otherwise.
When it came to East Jerusalem, he stated that Arabs have rights to live there while Jews have none. Any house where a Jew lives was transformed into a “settlement” even a building which he owns and where his ancestors lived.
As it relates to the “status quo at the holy sites” which currently includes a ban on Jewish prayer at their holiest location of the Jewish Temple Mount, Guterres wants that ban to remain in place. He also appears to want the Arab squatters in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood which refuse to pay rent to the Jewish owners, to be able to remain. However, he seemingly wants to see all the Jews living in “East Jerusalem” to be expelled from the city, as they are doing so illegally “under international law.”
Guterres also called for resumption of negotiations between the parties but simultaneously called for the outcomes favored by the Palestinians: that the negotiating position starts from “the 1967 lines” and that Jerusalem will be the “capital of both Israel and Palestine,” positions not favored by Israel.
The various positions show inconsistency in application, unless viewed as seeking outcomes favored by Arabs.
If the United Nations favors the “status quo” on matters like the ban of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount and protecting the residence of Palestinian squatters, it implicitly recognizes all Jews already living in East Jerusalem and should no longer call them “settlers.” If the UN seeks coexistence between Jews and Arabs, it should support full equal rights for Jews on the Temple Mount, and for Arabs and Jews to live together freely as they choose throughout Jerusalem. Lastly, if the UN wants the two parties to negotiate a peace, it should allow the parties to do so without prejudging an outcome on particular issues.
But the UN doesn’t truly support the status quo, coexistence or a peace negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians. The UN only backs the Palestinians, its adopted wards, which makes it impossible for the organization to play a constructive role between the parties. It also underscores the importance for the United States to remain squarely behind Israel.
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