(February 10, 2023 / JNS) Americans faced the “biased, crooked, legalized lawlessness of Israeli law and Israeli planning,” decried Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi in a Jan. 31 Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) webinar. Addressing “How the U.S. is Planning to Build Its Embassy on Stolen Land in Jerusalem,” this Palestinian-American former spokesman for the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) concocted lie after lie about Israel.
Khalidi and his fellow panelists focused on the fraudulent accusation that the U.S. is currently considering building its new Jerusalem embassy on land “stolen” under Israel’s 1950 Absentee Property Law. Under this law, Israel took custodial possession of real estate and other property left behind by Arabs who fled the fighting in what became Israel during its 1947-1948 independence war. Israel thereby followed standard international norms, under which such abandoned property falls into state possession if, for no other reason, than nonpayment of taxes, as both Israel and Jordan’s Custodian of Enemy Property effectively copied British law.
Against this reality, Khalidi lambasted Israel’s “legalized lawlessness.”
“Like other colonial powers after ethnic cleansing, the Israeli state took over, stole, the property of the indigenous population,” he said. Suhad Bishara, legal director at the anti-Israel Adalah organization, parroted that the Absentee Property Law is a “most arbitrary and draconian, racially designed law,” which is based on the “logic of conquest” and “violates international law.”
As one of the descendants of the original Arab title holders to the building site of the embassy, Khalidi bemoaned that the American government is proceeding with the embassy construction while dismissing these property claims. “The U.S. government is endorsing theft of the property of U.S citizens, so somehow private property is sacrosanct except when Israel decides to take it from U.S citizens,” he asserted. Diala Shamas from the leftist Center for Constitutional Rights, another anti-Israel organization, concurred that “private property is paramount in the U.S legal system.” Yet Israel has provided monetary compensation for Arab property lost in 1948, in contrast to Arab states like Jordan, whose various expulsions of Jewish populations under their control entailed far greater property losses.
Khalidi made numerous other errors in his comments about land ownership and territory during Israel’s modern history. He noted that only about seven to eight percent of the British Palestine Mandate territory was in Jewish private ownership in 1948 when Britain withdrew from its League of Nations mandate and Israel declared independence. Yet Arab private land holdings were hardly greater, as state land inherited by the Israeli government, such as the waste areas of the Negev Desert, comprised most of the mandate territory.
Beyond issues of land ownership, Khalidi fixated on how Israel has supposedly committed “gross violations of international law” in Jerusalem, whose “status was to remain . . . international.” He noted how the 1947 Palestine Mandate partition plan in United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 181 “called for Jerusalem to be a separate International Zone, a corpus separatum,” distinct from the envisaged Jewish and Arab states. Shamas also falsely invoked an “international consensus” over this corpus separatum lasting for over 70 years until President Donald Trump in 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israeli by moving the American embassy there. Thus, Khalidi condemned that the “U.S. government proposes to build its embassy in Jerusalem,” something “under international law it should not be doing.”
These spurious arguments ignore that the 1947 partition resolution foresaw a corpus separatum lasting only ten years in Jerusalem followed by a local referendum. Thereafter, Israeli leaders hoped that the city’s dominant Jewish population, which has existed since the mid-nineteenth century, would vote for joining Israel. Irrespective of the partition plan’s provisions, the UNGA can only make recommendations, and Resolution 181 became a dead letter after rejection by all Arab parties inside and outside of the former Palestine Mandate.
Jerusalem’s corpus separatum has therefore joined all other failed internationalizations of cities. For example, the Free Territory of Trieste, proclaimed by the United Nations Security Council in the same year as the partition plan, met its end in 1954 through Italian and Yugoslav annexation of its various parts. Meanwhile only under Israeli rule has Jerusalem ever experienced peace and security, as recognized by even its Arab residents, who overwhelmingly prefer continued Israeli rule.
Notwithstanding Khalidi’s talk about the 1993 Oslo Accords somehow reaffirming Jerusalem’s internationalization, massive Israeli majorities reject dividing Jerusalem again. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the accords, indicated as much in his Oct. 5, 1995, Knesset address a month before his assassination.
Despite these facts, Khalidi presented himself as a voice crying in the wilderness, suppressed by a nefarious Israel lobby. Only now “there are, for the first time in U.S. history, a number of people in Congress who don’t just kowtow every time AIPAC tells them what to do,” he said. Otherwise, an “absurd political discourse around Palestine and Israel in the United States” means “a number of issues that are buried or obscured in media coverage.”
In reality, the “political discourse around” Khalidi and groups like IMEU is “absurd.” People like him constantly demand implementation of unworkable territorial arrangements for Israel and recovery of wartime property losses that should have received compensation long ago. Khalidi will not make peace with Israel’s existence and abandon his perpetual smear campaigns against the Jewish state. Columbia University, and other supporters of the intellectually corrupt status quo in Middle East studies, should end support for his irredentism.
Andrew E. Harrod, a Middle East Forum Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher and writer, is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter: @AEHarrod.
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