'Whoever touches Jerusalem will be walking into fire' | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 15, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:19 PM, December 16, 2017

'Whoever touches Jerusalem will be walking into fire'

US President Donald Trump has recently recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, drawing sharp international criticism and threatening to jeopardise the future of peace efforts in the region. Yousef Ramadan, Head of Mission at the Embassy of the State of Palestine in Bangladesh, talks to Badiuzzaman Bay of The Daily Star about the unilateral US decision, its implications, and what Bangladesh can learn from the Palestinian experience to deal with the Rohingya crisis.

The US president's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has prompted some critics to say that the US can no longer claim to be a “neutral” mediator in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. What are your thoughts on that?

The US announcement on Jerusalem has isolated it from the rest of the international community, and disqualified it from leading peace efforts in the region. Israel had occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. This is an established historical fact. No policy announcement from any country will, or can, alter that. If President Trump, by his reckless decision, wants to dictate policy for us, it won't work. The long struggles of the Palestinian people have proven that no such dictates will work.

After the US decision, Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the UN, has claimed that only the United States has “credibility” when it comes to mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Would you agree?

The UNSC meeting held in response to the US decision has proven otherwise. It proved that the US has lost whatever was left of its credibility; it cannot be a fair and just mediator. Donald Trump should know that his decision will have dangerous ramifications. It will encourage countries guilty of violating international law and human rights. Why would they respect international law if the US president not only disrespects it but also rewards those who violate it? So, no—we do not trust the US anymore.

The US move is in violation of a number of UNSC resolutions. How do you think the UN and the rest of the international community should respond to this?

So far, we're pleased with the overwhelming international opposition to this decision. Palestine has followed closely the reactions from countries worldwide and welcomes their commitment to international law and our rights. All states have a standing legal and political obligation to reject the US administration's illegal decision, which they did, and protect the Palestinian people and recognise their rights to self-determination over the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967—at the heart of which is Jerusalem, our internal capital.

No one can take Jerusalem away from us. As long as there is one single Palestinian alive, he/she will fight to protect it. Despite the Zionist attempt to rewrite history, Jerusalem has always been a Palestinian city, an Arab city for the Muslims and Christians. But never in history has it been a Jewish capital. Jerusalem has a redline: whoever tries to cross it will be walking into fire.

Right now, we're pushing for a meeting at the Security Council to pass a resolution confirming its rejection of Donald Trump's decision, and to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine. Now is the time to take measures to confront the illegal occupation head-on. But depending only on the international community is not going to help, nor will talking behind closed doors. We've been talking for too long. Right now, what we need is tangible action both from the international community and the Arab world.

Palestine has reportedly suspended all talks with the US. How do you see this playing out in the future?

After the US declaration, President Mahmoud Abbas gave a statement in which he made it clear that this decision, for us, signals the withdrawal of US from the mediation process. We will reject any US role henceforth because it has sided with Israel, blowing its credibility as a mediator. You cannot be the accused and the judge at the same time.

In any case, we depend, first and foremost, on our people in the struggle for Palestinian rights. They're ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of Palestine and Jerusalem. And they've proven that repeatedly, more so after Trump's declaration. We also depend on our brothers from the Muslim world and the majority of Arab countries. I think if we can combine all the efforts and protests that are presently underway and channel them into the right direction, it will have an impact on the Palestinian fate and put extra pressure on the US government to reconsider its decision.

Lebanon has already proposed that Arab nations should place sanctions against the US. How do you think the Arab countries can help to resolve the crisis?

Lebanon has always been a trusted ally of Palestine and fought a number of wars on our behalf. As for what the Arabs can do, let me take you back to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when King Faisal made a courageous decision by stopping oil supply to all the Western countries that backed Israel. Needless to say, this Oil Weapon proved to be extremely helpful. I hope King Faisal's descendants in present-day Saudi Arabia will rise to the occasion to do what's necessary. Other Arab countries, especially those surrounding Palestine, can also play a very effective role. Sanction is but one example of what the Arab—a united Arab—world can do.

The US move comes at a time when Palestine observes one hundred years of the Balfour declaration that basically laid out the plan for the formation of the Jewish state of Israel. How do you view this correlation?

This only confirms our suspicion of an Israeli takeover that has been in progress for decades. This 100-year-old conspiracy that was hatched on November 2, 1917 set a legacy that would, in the ensuing decades, plague not only the Palestinian nation but also the entire Arab world. For Israel is a threat not only to Palestine, but also to the security and stability of all Arab countries. With the Balfour declaration, Israel was planted in the heart of the Middle East. The results are now visible to everyone.

In recent months, we have seen a similar kind of state persecution taking place in our own backyard—that of Rohingyas in Myanmar. What suggestions do you have for Bangladesh and the international community to resolve this crisis?

The Rohingya crisis reminds me of what my parents told me about when they were driven off their land in 1948. It seems like déjà vu. If the Palestinian experience is any indication, depending only on the international community to solve this crisis will not be wise. The solution, I believe, lies in regional efforts—leading to international collaboration—since an unsolved Rohingya crisis will affect all countries in the region as the Palestinian crisis did in the Middle East.

But any solution in this regard should be complete, by which I mean that it should adequately address the causes that led to the crisis in the first place, so that the Rohingyas feel safe to go back to the place they were driven away from.

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