Palestinian leaders have hailed the result of a vote at the UN rejecting a unilateral US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, calling it proof of international support for “justice”.
“The international community has unequivocally proved that it will not be intimidated or blackmailed, and its members will defend the global rule of law,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement after Thursday’s vote.
But for many on the ground, the resolution approved by the UN General Assembly was nothing more than a symbolic act.
“It’s a pointless exercise,” Amany Khalifa, a political activist in Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera.
“The Palestinian Authority (PA) has to evaluate the whole diplomatic process of going to the UN. The experience we’ve had is that for decades now these resolutions have not changed anything.”
Breaking with decades of US policy in favour of a two-state solution, President Donald Trump on December 6 said Washington would formally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would start the process of moving its embassy to the city.
The declaration dealt a blow to the Palestinian leadership, which for more than two decades has unsuccessfully attempted to establish a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
When a US veto at the UN Security Council earlier this week blocked the same draft resolution from passing, the PA decided to take the issue to the General Assembly, where the resolutions are non-legally binding.
“We will take political, diplomatic and legal actions against Trump’s declaration regarding Jerusalem,” Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the PA, said.
But Khalifa believes that “the only ones who are still talking about the two-state solution are the PA”.
It is “in their interest to maintain this discourse”, she said.
“If they don’t do so, they will cease to exist.”
The PA, which administers pockets of the occupied West Bank, says that the only answer to the more than 70-year-old conflict is the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, alongside the existing Israeli one.
But since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, meant to lead to the formation of that Palestinian state on the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, the Israeli occupation of these territories has only intensified, making it difficult for Palestinians to envision such a solution.
Currently, between 600,000 to 750,000 Israeli citizens – or 11 percent of the Israeli population – live in the occupied territories.
Guarded by heavily armed Israeli soldiers, they have taken up large swaths of Palestinian private land. At least 12 such settlements have been built around and in the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem.
Amid this reality, as well as dwindling hopes of Israel ever withdrawing its settlers, some say it is time for a different approach.
“People are already living in the reality of settlements and they see that such a solution is impossible to be achieved on the ground,” said Khalifa.
“We need to accept that there is one state – the Zionist one – and then we can talk about finding other means of resistance – not clinging on to the two-state solution,” she added.
‘Oslo ruined us’
Jerusalem’s religious significance to Islam, Christianity and Judaism makes it by default more than just a local issue.
For many on the outside, particularly in Muslim-majority countries, Trump’s Jerusalem declaration was outrageous. Since his decision, there have been rallies across major international cities, with tens of thousands turning up to protest and asking him to rescind his decision.
However, those on the ground say that the response has not been as strong as the more grassroots protests witnessed in Jerusalem in July against Israel’s installation of metal detectors at the entrances to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
“If you ask any of the guys protesting, they’ll tell you: ‘Trump wasn’t any new news for us’,” Mariam Barghouti, a West Bank-based writer and political activist told Al Jazeera after attending a rally on Wednesday, adding that the demonstrators are mostly affiliated with the PA.
“There’s no momentum.”
A reason for this, says Nora Sub Laban, a resident of the Old City – which hosts Jerusalem’s major religious sites – is that Trump’s decision reflected an already existing but painful truth.
“When our leadership said it would accept a two-state solution, what was left for us to say? Oslo ruined us. We are surrounded by settlements from all sides and nothing is left for us of Jerusalem,” Sub Laban, who fought a long legal battle with Israeli settlers who wanted to take over her home, told Al Jazeera.
She explained that while she does not believe in splitting Jerusalem for an Israeli and Palestinian state, many have lost hope and will accept anything they can get.
“Our demands have continued to decrease as time goes on. And the international community has only let Israel grow stronger – from 1948 until today,” she added, referring to the year of Israel’s establishment, known to Palestinians as the Nakba – when more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homeland to make way for the Jewish state.
Heart of the conflict
The issue of Jerusalem has been at the heart of the conflict since its start.
When the UN proposed to partition historic Palestine into “Jewish” and “Arab” states in 1947, Jerusalem was meant to remain under the control of the UN due to its religious importance.
But a year later, the newly-established state of Israel seized the western half of the city and declared ownership over it.
In 1967, Israel annexed the eastern half of the city and claimed it as part of Israel – unlike the West Bank, which it physically occupies but does not claim.
The majority of the international community does not recognise Israel’s ownership of Jerusalem. As a result, all embassies in Israel are located in Tel Aviv.
Despite the international position, Israel has only consolidated its control over the city.
In 2002, it began building a separation wall cutting off the 3.1 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank from Jerusalem. Many have not been able to enter the city for more than a decade and have stopped trying to, owing to the restrictions enforced by the Israeli army.
In addition, the PA is not allowed any presence or authority over the eastern half of the city, where some 420,000 Palestinians live in limbo – not citizens of Israel, nor Palestine.
“The international community only believe in the rights of Palestinians on paper – not in reality,” Mohammad Abu al-Hummos, a Fatah-affiliated activist in Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera.
“Not one decision taken against Israel has actually been applied on the ground,” he added.
“Some of us believed in the two-state solution – and our leadership convinced us of it – but unfortunately, if you look at the situation today, it’s pointless to do so.”