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Thank you world for this symbolic vote. Now the Palestinians need concrete action

All states who voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution should make the most of this momentous global cohesion and back up their political positions with action

The US is facing increasing isolation in response to its unilateral decision that purports to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Thursday's vote in the UN General Assembly reaffirmed international consensus on the illegality of Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem in a rare - if mostly symbolic - display of international solidarity.

Despite unprecedented bullying by the US and threats to withdraw US funding from the UN, only 9 out of 193 states voted against the resolution

It's time to move beyond symbolic acts and take unified, concrete steps to uphold international law and end Israel's occupation.

Contested or occupied?

The US announcement on 6 December spurred a flurry of diplomatic activity at the UN, with Jerusalem thrust into the spotlight suddenly as a contested - and occupied - city. On Monday, the UN Security Council voted 14-1 on a resolution that implicitly called on the US to reverse its decision.

The US, by itself, wielded its 43rd veto to block the resolution. Yemen and Turkey then called for an emergency session in the UN General Assembly, and tabled a similar resolution rejecting unilateral steps to change the status of Jerusalem.

Despite unprecedented bullying by the US and threats to withdraw US funding from the UN, only nine out of 193 states voted against the resolution.

In doing so, the international community exhibited extraordinary solidarity in its rejection of attempts to unilaterally and illegally alter the status of Jerusalem, and in its support for the Palestinian people.

The US Jerusalem announcement is a golden opportunity to effect real change to counter Israel's decades-long occupation

However, this solidarity shown, while important, does very little to change realities on the ground. The cruelty of Israel's occupation is seen in the daily human rights abuses carried out against ordinary Palestinians – violations that will continue long after the spotlight turns away from Jerusalem.

Israel's abuses against Palestinians in East Jerusalem, as well as in the West Bank and Gaza, not only undermine established international law but also, dangerously, further undermine prospects of a just and sustainable peace that respects Palestinians’ inalienable rights.

Ramped up residency revocations, forcible population transfers, apartheid-like exclusion of Palestinians from civil rights, settler and military violence, and home demolitions are just some of the ways that Israel attempts to alter the demographic makeup of Jerusalem and lay claim to Palestinian lands in clear violation of international law.  

Solidarity with Palestinians

As Palestinians, we are grateful for Thursday's vote in the UN General Assembly. It is of utmost importance for the international community not only to stand in solidarity with Palestine but also to emphatically reject the US’s ill-conceived decision to predetermine sovereignty over Jerusalem.

These events provide the international community with an opportunity to capitalise and break the status quo.

Countless UN resolutions and decisions – including UN Security Council Resolution 2334 of December 2016 – have put forth real and binding obligations on all states to uphold international law and, in doing so, take active measures to ensure that their relations with Israel do not contribute to human rights violations, settlement expansion and annexation.

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Numerous states have policies to avoid recognition of Israel's occupation. For example, in 2012, the EU Foreign Affairs Council issued a political decision that stated: "All agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967."

The EU followed this decision by issuing a set of funding guidelines in June 2013. The decision excluded settlement-related entities from bilateral relations with Israel. Despite this, only 17 out of 28 EU states have taken actions to implement the guidelines.

Israeli border guards detain a Palestinian youth during a demonstration outside the Lions Gate, a main entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque (AFP)

The EU and its member states should take concrete steps now to apply the funding guidelines. One powerful move would be for all EU member states to codify the guidelines into their domestic laws.

This move would send a clear signal that Europe will not support Israel's occupation. It would also give the EU and its members a chance to exercise real leverage to end Israel's ongoing and escalating activities.

Golden opportunity

It's vitally important that the EU and its members implement differentiation policies because of Europe's significant connections with Israel. But, as UN Security Council resolution 2334 reaffirmed, non-recognition of the occupation is an obligation on all states.

In recent years, Israel has made concerted efforts to strengthen relations with states in Africa, South America and Asia. Many states in these regions have a long history of support for the Palestinian people, which they displayed again by voting for yesterday's General Assembly resolution.

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They should also demonstrate that support by ensuring ties with Israel do not contribute to its illegal occupation. The US Jerusalem announcement is a golden opportunity to effect real change to counter Israel's decades-long occupation.

All states who voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution, including those in the EU, should make the most of this momentous global cohesion and back up their political positions with action.

- Issam Aruri is the general director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC). He is a founding member of the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), which is a coalition of 140 Palestinian civil society organisations. Also, he is currently chair of the PNGO Board of Directors and a founding member of the Palestinian Human Rights Council (PHROC), the Coalition for the Monitoring of Public Freedoms, and other Palestinian coalitions.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki speaks on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly on 21 December 2017 in New York City (AFP)