Under International law, the status of Jerusalem as recognised by the UN or at least majority of its members, is that of a Corpus Separatum (Latin word for ‘separated body’). That is, a separate international territory under the supervision of the UN. This recognition was done pursuant to the 1947 United Nations’ Partition Plan for Palestine. The plan was adopted by the General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947. The Resolution was successfully carried by a two-thirds majority votes of the General Assembly. According to the Plan, the city of Jerusalem, being an occupied and disputed territory – especially in the East where some of the holiest sites such as the Temple Mount, Western Wall, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are located, would be placed under International regime, conferring it with a special status due to its shared religious importance to Jews, Muslims and even the minority Christians. Further, the Plan provides that all the residents of Jerusalem, irrespective of their religious affiliations, would automatically become “citizens of the City of Jerusalem”, unless they elect to be citizens of the Arab or Jewish State.
Although the UN has since been unable to implement the Plan, the view that Jerusalem should be the capital of both Israel and Palestine is the prevalent position under International law till date. In other words, it is the widely supported position internationally. Thus, foreign embassies, including that of Nigeria, are generally located in Tel-Aviv and its suburbs. As a matter of fact, in deference to International law, no State has its embassy or foreign mission in Jerusalem till date.
Today, in what will go down as a tragic rolling back of the gains of several decades on the Internationally driven Two-State peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian perennial crisis, the erratic President Donald Trump of the United States of America unilaterally declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. To be clear, his declaration is actually a fulfilment of his campaign promise to move the embassy of the US from Tel-Aviv, the current capital of Isreal, to Jerusalem. However, today’s unilateral declaration by the erratic President Donald Trump, though an empty political declaration without any force of law, is a brazen, provocative, reckless and an unthinking afront on international law and the internationally driven “peace process” for the Middle East crisis.
What can the UN do now? Sadly, the UN is now generally seen as nothing but a toothless bull dog. Worse, it doesn’t even bark any more let alone bitting. This is no doubt the reason many have long accepted the reality that the UN has failed in its mission as stated under its 1947 Charter. But in fairness to the UN, it must also be noted that it has always declared every provocative actions of Isreal in changing the status of Jerusalem, through illegal occupation and expansions, as illegal and therefore null and void. Indeed, as recent as 2011, the UN passed its Resolution 66/18 of 30 November which affirmed the status of Jerusalem as Corpus Separatum.
What can the right thinking members of the international community do now? Thankfully, messages of condemnation have erupted across the world from responsible members of the international community such as the President of France.
With today’s unilateral declaration of President Donald Trump, it is also clear that the US can no longer be an unbiased negotiator or mediator in the Middle East Peace deal (many will actually argue that the US has never been anyway!). The US has now taken side in the conflict and it is very loud.
Is this the end of the internationally driven Two-State solution? Only time will tell.
M A Lateef is a law lecturer, international law expert and legal practitioner who writes regularly on lawyard