April 12, 1999 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 17

Changes in the EU's Positions on Jerusalem and the Palestinian State

April 12, 1999 | By Y. Feldner*
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 17

Important changes have recently occurred in the European Union's (EU) positions on two of the subjects that were left in the Oslo Accord for the Final Settlement: the issues of Jerusalem and the permanent status of the Palestinian entity. As the end of the interim period draws near, and particularly since the signing of the Wye Memorandum, the Palestinian leadership has attempted to shift the focus of the territorial disputes from the legal authority specified in the Oslo Accord - Security Council Resolution 242 - to the Partition Resolution of 1947. The EU's new positions strengthen the status of the Partition Resolution over that of the Oslo Accord as the legal authority for the peace process. The European position also coincides with the longstanding Palestinian attempt to shift the process to the international arena, and away from the bilateral framework preferred by Israel.

The EU Rejects Israel's Sovereignty in Jerusalem

The dispute began with a letter sent by the Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Eitan Bentsur, to foreign ambassadors to Israel, demanding that they avoid visiting the PLO offices in East Jerusalem located in the 'Orient House.' Such visits, explained Bentsur, contradict the Oslo Accord and the Wye Memorandum. The letter was sent after the ambassadors had been invited to a political briefing there by the Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Faisal Al-Husseini. The ambassadors were warned that Israel viewed these visits as "an external intervention in the Israeli elections,"[1] because of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement he had put an end to foreign diplomats' visits to the 'Orient House.'

In his response, which was leaked to the press, the German Ambassador to Israel, stated that the European Union adheres to "its familiar position regarding the specific status of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum." This Latin term refers to the UN General Assembly's Resolution 181, the Partition Resolution, which states that "the city of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations." The German Ambassador concluded his letter, "This position corresponds to the international law."[2]

Although the European countries never recognized Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, they did recognize, de-facto, Israeli sovereignty in West Jerusalem, as manifested in official visits of European leaders to Israeli government institutions in Jerusalem and in the acceptance of European ambassadors' credentials by the Israeli presidency in Jerusalem. Also, the EU supported the Oslo Accords, in which, the issue of Jerusalem is scheduled for the Israeli-Palestinian bilateral negotiations, thus, waiving the 'separated status' of Jerusalem.

The EU's legalistic and rigid position is uncommon and has not been presented by Western officials for decades. The direct implication of this statement is that the EU does not officially recognize Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem - including the Western part.

Israeli Foreign Minister, Ariel Sharon, and Ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, responding on behalf of the Israeli government, stated that the Partition Resolution became null and void when it was rejected by the Arab side in 1947. The Israeli government also reiterated that Jerusalem would remain unified and under Israeli sovereignty forever.

Chairman of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), Abu 'Alaa, reacting to these statements, declared that "any Jew, Zionist, or Israeli," who thinks that there can be peace without Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem is "a fool.... a fool." In a speech he delivered on behalf of Arafat at the opening of the Jerusalem branch of the Fatah youth movement, held in Ramallah, Abu 'Alaa said that, "the claim that Jerusalem is [Israeli] forever is unfounded." He continued, "it would be a big stupidity for anyone to think that there would be peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis without Jerusalem." "Who do these fools think they are," Abu 'Alaa concluded, "Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine."[3]

The EU's statement created a problem for the Palestinians as well, because the internationalization of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, as decreed in the Partition Resolution, damages their demand for Palestinian sovereignty in the city. Therefore, several days after the German Ambassador's letter was published, PA Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Faisal Al-Husseini, rejected the new European position, and called on the EU to "adopt a more courageous position and recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State, instead of the current European position calling for internationalization."[4]

The Palestinian Leadership Demands to Negotiate over West Jerusalem and the Borders of 1947

Despite the EU position that contradicts the Palestinian demand for sovereignty in Jerusalem and the PA leadership's rejection of the European position, senior Palestinian officials viewed the European adherence to Resolution 181 as a positive development, because it opposes the Israeli consensus over a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty in the future and it opens a channel for the Palestinian demands to West Jerusalem. Abu 'Alaa for example, said, "the [EU's] letter stated that both East and West Jerusalem are occupied land. The EU told Israel: we do not recognize any of your resolutions. Anyone who wants peace should present both parts of Jerusalem for negotiations."[5] Faisal Al-Husseini, added: "Both parts of Jerusalem will be negotiated in the framework of the Final Settlement [negotiations]... Israel must withdraw from the lands it occupied and immediately start negotiating over the destiny [of Jerusalem] - East and West alike. The mere acceptance by Israel [in the Oslo Accords] of negotiations over the issue of Jerusalem is a recognition on Israel's part that there are question marks regarding both parts of Jerusalem and that the occupation of Jerusalem in 1948 is unacceptable according to the international resolutions."[6]

Another reason for the Palestinian leadership's positive view of the EU position is the consequence of a European adherence to Resolution 181 over the possibility of a unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state. Resolution 181 was mentioned as a source of authority for the Palestinian state in the "Palestinian Declaration of Independence" in Algiers in 1988. Resolution 181 has been invoked on important national occasions, such as the fiftieth anniversary for the Nakbah[7] and in PNC Chairman Saleem Al-Za'anoon's speech before American President Clinton and the PNC in Gaza in December 1998. Recently, and more so since the signing of the Wye Memorandum, senior PA officials, led by Abu 'Alaa[8], have presented a demand for a Palestinian state in the borders of the Partition Resolution. This demand contradicts the territorial framework of the Oslo Accord, that decreed that the goal of the negotiations is to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which refer only to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Because of the advantages of the EU position, the PA leadership's response was ambivalent. While rejecting Resolution 181 as a source of authority for the solution of the Jerusalem issue, the PA was happy to adopt Resolution 181 as a source of authority for the independent Palestinian state and the negotiations over its borders. An editorial in the popular Palestinian daily Al-Quds, threatened that if Israel rejected Resolution 181 "the Arab and Palestinian side would have the right to re-examine its positions regarding the forging of a just and comprehensive peace. Then, Israel would have to be responsible [for the consequences.]"[9]

In a letter sent to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan, the Palestinian observer to the UN, Naser Al-Qidwa, described the Israeli government claim that Resolution 181 is null and void as "pathetic statements involving illegal positions." In his letter, Al-Qidwa stated: "For the Palestinian side, and since the strategic resolution to forge a peace on the basis of coexistence, resolution 181 (II) has become acceptable... We believe that Israel must still explain to the international community the measures it took illegally to expand its laws and regulations to the territory it occupied in the war of 1948, beyond the territory allocated to the Jewish State in Resolution 181 (II)."[10]

In other words, the Palestinian representative to the UN views the geographic boundaries of the Partition Resolution as a platform for the current negotiations, in contrast with the territorial framework of the Oslo Accord. When addressing the issue of Jerusalem in the same letter, Al-Qidwa presents a tactical position that the position of the Partition Resolution will be considered: "According to the [181] resolution, Jerusalem should become a corpus separatum, which the Palestinian side is willing to take into consideration and reconcile with the Palestinian position that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territory and the capital of the Palestinian State."


On March 26, 1999, the EU published its "Berlin Declaration" supporting an independent Palestinian state. The declaration reflects a qualitative change in the official position of the EU in that the Palestinian right to a state is not subordinated to the negotiations with Israel and/or to the existing agreements between Israel and the PLO which are now to serve only as a preferred alternative. In fact, the "Berlin Declaration" opens the possibility of European recognition in an independent Palestinian state, even if this state is declared unilaterally, following a failure in the bilateral negotiations. Although a senior European diplomat, who remained anonymous, said the document "does not guarantee an automatic recognition,"[11] the British General Consul in Jerusalem, in a ceremony in Ramallah said "the EU is ready to recognize the Palestinian State if it is declared."[12]

These changes in the EU positions are part of the "reward" the West pays the Palestinian leadership for postponing the intended unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State on May 4, 1999.

*Yotam Feldner is MEMRI's Director of Media Analysis

[1] As reported by Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, March 11, 1999.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Al-Ayyam Internet, March 14, 1999. Abu 'Alaa's extreme statement appeared on Al-Ayyam's electronic bulletin on the Internet, but was censored in the paper itself the following morning.

[4]Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 17, 1999.

[5] Al-Ayyam Internet, March 15, 1999.

[6] Al-Ayyam, March 15, 1999. Also, the Arafat appointed Palestinian "Governor of Jerusalem," Jamil Othman: "Both parts of Jerusalem are under Israeli occupation and we Palestinians have the same right to it as the Israelis." – Al-Ayyam, March 15, 1999.

[7] Nakbah, which literally means catastrophe, is the Arabic word used by the Palestinians to describe the events of 1948.

[8] Abu 'Alaa wrote in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 21, 1998, that the Palestinian State has "internationally recognized borders, those drawn by the Partition Resolution."

[9] Al-Quds, April 2, 1999.

[10] According to official UN text, March 25, 1999.

[11] Haaretz, March 26, 1999.

[12] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, April 4, 1999.

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