May 14, 1948 & May 14, 2018

Why Trump was right to move the US Embassy:

Each sovereign nation-state has the right to determine its own capital. The Israeli government has declared Jerusalem to be its capital, therefore the US Embassy should be in Jerusalem.

Why Trump was wrong to move the US Embassy:

Israel’s legal authority of both West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem are questionable.

Historical Context

In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne recognized British authority for the Mandate for Palestine. This was a result of the defeat of the Central Powers (specifically the Ottoman Empire) in World War I, and the subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire as a functioning nation-state. Thus, the legal jurisdiction of Israel-Palestine belonged to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a mandate under the League of Nations and international law.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations (the successor regime to the League of Nations) adopted the Plan as Resolution 181(II), which recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and an international authority for the city of Jerusalem. This UN Partition Plan for Palestine recommended a partition of Mandatory Palestine at the end of the British Mandate. The resolution also recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency accepted the proposal with reservations, but the Arab Commission argued that partition violated the principals of national self-determination in the UN Charter which granted people the right to decide their own destiny.

Almost immediately after adoption of the Resolution by the General Assembly, a low-level civil war broke out and violence occurred by both religious groups. Adding to the complexity of the situation, post-World War II emigration of European Jews to the British Mandate for Palestine continued, which altered the population ratios in the Mandate.

On May 14, 1948, Jewish leaders in the Mandate for Palestine issued the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel in defiance of the United Nation as Resolution 181(II) which set the stage for the 1948 Arab–Israeli War (or the First Arab–Israeli War) between the State of Israel and a military coalition of Arab states and forming the second stage of the 1948 Palestine war. In the war, Israeli forces soundly defeated the Arab coalition and took complete control of West Jerusalem. As a result of the war, the State of Israel controlled both the area that the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 had recommended for the proposed Jewish state as well as almost 60% of the area of Arab state proposed by the 1948 Partition Plan, including Jaffa, Galilee, and some parts of the Negev Tel Aviv–Jerusalem road. Transjordan, today known as Jordan, took control of East Jerusalem as well as what was left of the British Mandate, and the Egyptian military took control of the Gaza Strip. At that point in history, at the Jericho Conference of 1948, Egypt and Transjordan could have created a Palestinian state out of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the rump Mandate, but no state was created. However, because the Israeli control of Jerusalem was a military conquest and violation of UN Resolution 181, the US Embassy was built in Tel Aviv, not West Jerusalem.

Fast forwarding to the Six-Day War of June 1967: On June 7, 1967, Israel captured the Old City of East Jerusalem. Again, because the West Bank and East Jerusalem were a military conquest, not a diplomatic agreement, neither US President Lyndon Johnson nor did his eight successors relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

International Law

Since World War I, territorial expansion by military victory has been unrecognized by international law. Period. That’s it really. It’s as simple as that. Since World War I, territorial expansion by military victory has been unrecognized by international law. For example:

  • The German invasion of Poland, etc.? Wrong.
  • The Japanese invasion of East Asian territories? Wrong.
  • North Korea’s invasion of South Korea? Wrong.
  • Morocco’s invasion of Western Sahara? Wrong.
  • Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait? Wrong.
  • Russian conquest of Crimea? Wrong

What makes the Israeli conquest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem any different?

Nothing under international law, that’s for sure, though I have heard this argument, that Israel was attacked, Israel did not initiate the war, so that makes it different; Essentially, the argument goes that it’s the Arabs fault because they started the war. If one has siblings, then we are all aware of the goading that can go on before conflict. Regardless, however, there is no legal basis for that argument, no international legal caveat that says if you get attacked, you can conquer the world legally…and, finally, it may be worth pointing out that the belligerents in the 1967 War were the nation-states of Jordan and the Arab Republic of Egypt Syria, and not the Palestinian people.

Which only leaves this argument to justify the Israeli occupation and annexation of the West Bank: God. Well, specifically, the Torah. Yes, the Jewish holy texts record that God gave the land of Canaan to the Israelites. Unfortunately for Israel’s case before the international community, religious texts are not exactly admissible in international proceedings. After all, would the international community accept the words of Shiva or Krishna as binding legal documents? Do Israeli Jews accept the Qur’an’s legal weight? In fact, didn’t the Allied Commander for the Pacific Theater in WWII, Douglas MacArthur, didn’t MacArthur demand that the head of the Shinto faith, Emperor Hirohito, publicly change/alter/denounce the dogma of that religious tradition that the Emperor was the descendant of the Sun Goddess?

It seems that accepting Jewish scripture as an international legal document is playing favorites with world religion. The repatriation of European Jews was a decision made from guilt and cultural prejudice. The decision was made in wanton disregard for the existing Arab population in the British Mandate of Palestine, like European disregard for indigenous populations around the world. The decision is also a complete rejection for the principals of self-determination and territorial integrity spelled out in the Treaty of Versailles. International law cannot, ought not, to be henpecked.

So, am I saying that the State of Israel does not have a right to exist? Am I being anti-Semitic?

No, categorically, no. That is not what I’m saying. In the first place, there is a difference between de juro and de facto. For example, when the convention of delegates that was assembled in Philadelphia 1787 was charged with revising the Articles of Confederation, not replacing the US government; the Articles themselves states that the Articles could only be altered unanimously, but only 12 of the 13 states participated in the Constitutional Convention. So, what, we’re now going to abolish the US Government? No, of course not.

Yes, Israel came into being in 1948 in a dubious legal situation. But there is an equally important point to be made that, throughout history, Stateless People have been persecuted. Today, the Rohingya, as well as the Roma/Gypsies, the Kurds, and others, and yes, the Jewish people themselves. Kicked out of their historical homeland in 70 CE by the Roman Empire, the Jews were stateless people for almost 1900 years… and now, because of the creation of a Jewish Homeland, the Palestinian people have no homeland. I don’t know about you, but as a kid, I was taught that “Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.”

And, if that point doesn’t seem to have merit, let’s try an analogy. If the Native Americans rose up from every reservation and from all corners of the current United States, if Native Americans took up arms and waged war against the European-American population of the United States, would that be legitimate? After all, like the Jewish people, this land was Native American first. Again, there seems to be an inherent bias in how many Americans perceive the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

Zero-Sum versus Positive Sum

In addition, too many Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians view the situation as a Zero-Sum Game. In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game a situation in which each participant(s) gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participant(s). That’s not the only option. The falsity and limitation of Zero-Sum thinking is pointed out by the Nash Equilibrium, and perhaps more importantly, by Positive-Sum thinking.

One of the falsehoods in the general discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is the binary belief in Identity Politics. No, not all Israelis are opposed to the Two-State Solution; many Israelis recognize the dehumanizing conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And no, not all Palestinians are supporters of violence who deny the right of Israel to exist. Remember Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish murderer, not a Palestinian terrorist. If it seems that Palestinians are more angry and expressive of their feelings, ask yourself who was more angry and expressive in the American Civil Rights movement.


The United States has often neglected its potential as an arbiter for peace in the world, but not always. The American-brokered Good Friday Agreement is an example of US leadership in the world. Peace can happen when Americans recognize the right of both Palestinians and Israelis to self-determination. Peace can happen when settlements on the West Bank are not being constructed at the same time supposed negotiations occur. Peace can happen when the United States spends as much financial aid for Palestinian schools, hospitals, and police-training, as it sends in military hardware to Israel.

And, finally, peace will happen when Palestinians reject the politics of violence, and Israelis embrace the politics of humanitarianism.

The enemies of peace abound. They exist in the profit margins of the American military-industrial complex, and hidden corners of the Israeli government chambers; the enemies of peace exist in some of the madrasas and mosques of the West Bank and Gaza, just as much as they exist in the pulpits of many American Christian churches and some of the yeshivas of Israeli and America.

Yes, West Jerusalem is -and should be- the capital of Israel. But East Jerusalem should also be the capital of a Palestinian State as well. Opening one embassy, not two, was an expression of Zero Sum politics and an abdication of American leadership for peace in the world.


Universal Rights?

Are there ‘universal human rights’ that transcend all cultures, religions and national boundaries?

Yes, there are ‘universal human rights.’ By definition, these are laid out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948). This document was unanimously passed (but Five Soviet states, Saudi Arabia and South Africa abstained).

The universal civil and political rights are:
· right to life, liberty, and security of the person;
· the right to leave and enter one’s own country
· freedom from slavery and torture
· freedom from discrimination, arbitrary arrest, and interferences with privacy
· right to vote
· freedom of thought, peaceful assembly, religion, and marriage.

The economic, social and cultural rights are:
· the right to own property
· the right to work
· the right to maintain an adequate standard of living and health
· the right to an education

Having said that there ARE universal rights, let me fire a couple of shots across the bow:

First of all, and this was keeping me up a little last night, why are the “universal rights” actually western rights? Specifically, let’s look at the whole concept of individuality. I love the western model, but it seems like cultural imperialism to force that on East Asian cultures. In Eastern, Southeastern (except AU and NZ), and Subcontinental Asia, the culture places more value on the whole and harmony than the individual and uniqueness. While the Asian beliefs can be dehumanizing in some ways (mandatory sterilization in India in the early 1980s or one-baby policies in China), in other ways there is a beauty to it. Asians often feel that Western views of individualism are selfish and egotistical. Both models have benefits and detriments but are incompatible at a certain level and yet the international community has ‘chosen’ one model and seeks to impose it on others.

Secondly, while it’s easy to put your name on a piece of paper, its harder to walk-the-walk… there are a plethora of exceptions to these Universal Human Rights. Are these exceptions truly exceptions or are they the tip of the iceberg and, in fact, the norm? Most dangerous, again, are the twin issues of hypocrisy and consistency. Are the signatories of the UNDHR walking-the-walk? Let me relist the rights and some possible exceptions (please forgive me):

Part I: The civil and political rights are:

· right to life, liberty, and security of the person
A) liberty and security are often opposites, not complimentary: the more liberty, the less security and the more security, the less liberty
B) Canada is known for their strong voice in international law and they are a signatory to the UNDHR, but have a pattern of failing to protect indigenous women:
C) How about Mexico’s women of Juarez?

· the right to leave and enter one’s own country
A) Educated Russians are not allowed to leave their country, even on vacation, because Russia fears they won’t come back. Cubans can’t leave their country. North Koreans can’t leave theirs.

· freedom from slavery and torture
A) slavery:
labor Benin, Haiti, Togo, Nigeria, Gabon, Sudan, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia
B) sex slavery in Southeast Asia, Nepal, India, Korea, Eastern Europe, Russia
American sex slavery: Americans buying Mexican sex slaves and American women being kidnapped and turned into sex slaves in Asia
C) torture:
Hmm…Guantamino Bay, Bagram and Abu Ghraib prisons…?

· freedom from discrimination, arbitrary arrest, and interferences with privacy
hello? umm…Jose Padilla anyone? How about Humberto Alvarez-Machain? Let’s not even start on the Patriot Act…

· right to vote
A) With no ‘universal’ age of majority, there is an issue. In addition, in the US there are some that are calling for the voting age to be lowered to 16. The US has long had a problem with consistency in terms of age of majority (voting, drinking, joining the military, renting cars, etc –these are all separated). In addition, with the lowering of the age in which a person can be jailed for life (under 18 now in many states), shouldn’t the age of voting be lowered to correspond.
B) States like Germany and Israel (ironic, huh?) who define citizenship by religion or ethnicity. In Germany, multigenerational Turks can’t vote and yet a German-American can move to Germany and become a citizen/vote the next day. In Israel, Christian, Druze, and Muslim Palestinians have to jump through almost impossible hoops to become citizens of the very country that their families have lived in for thousands of years. In many cases, these disenfranchised peoples have more claim to the land than the Sephardic and Russian Jews who have immigrated to Israel in just the last few decades.

· freedom of thought, peaceful assembly, religion, and marriage.
How can you impose freedom of marriage on societies that are still governed by the economic system created by arranged marriages?

Part II: The economic, social and cultural rights are:

· the right to own property
In and of itself, this is again Western cultural imperialism: What about indigenous peoples who don’t want the right to individually own property? Maoris and Aborigines who had their land taken in the name of property ownership? What about the people of Mexico? When the US forced Mexico to change Article 24 of their Constitution, in the name of owning property, it destroyed rural Mexican society (and directly led to the displacement of Mexican people and thus contributed to a dramatic increase in immigration)

· the right to work
Just as one example, North Africans in France and issue of job discrimination

· the right to maintain an adequate standard of living and health
Does this necessitate a national health system (like Medicare/Medicaid) for every nation-state in the world? Does it necessitate, not just a ‘right to work,’ but a guarantee to work (because otherwise how do you guarantee an adequate standard of living without income?)

· the right to an education
The Taliban government in Afghanistan is now well known or their failure to recognize women’s right to an education.
Here’s a piece on educational discrimination in Liberia: