US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reveals a deliberate ambiguity of closing the door open to having the west and east of the city as the capitals of Israel and Palestine, respectively. He has overturned decades of carefully calibrated American diplomatic policy over the last seven decades. For decades, the status of Jerusalem describes as the home to holy sites of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. It has been a major obstacle to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians see East Jerusalem as their future state capital. Muslims worldwide see the Al-Aqsa mosque, which sits on Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, as Islam’s third-holiest site. With this trump’s decision, an already volatile Middle East is set to explode once again. And this decision is also threat to impede two state solutions. This requires a response that goes beyond slogans, protests, threats, lamentations, censures and one-upmanship regarding the central status of Jerusalem to Arab and Muslim nations.
Trump’s decision fulfilled a promise he made on the electoral campaign. On 6 December, Trump said in a speech at the White House, “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.” Trump said his move was not intended to tip the scale in favor of Israel and that any deal involving the future of Jerusalem would have to be negotiated by the parties. He insisted he was not taking a position on ‘any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders.’
The first step is to scrutinize Trump’s remarks. He did not talk of an undivided Jerusalem when he recognized the city as Israel’s capital, meaning that he has managed to avoid falling into the Israeli narrative of a “unified Jerusalem.” Trump claimed his move is nothing more, or less, than recognition of reality. But he left it vague by not distinguishing between West Jerusalem, Israel’s de-facto capital where its government is located, and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state, despite Israel’s categorical refusal.
US Vice President Mike Pence is one of the strongest backers of Trump’s bid, and he believes Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s opposition to the move does not concern the White House, which considers him a fleeting presence at this juncture. The views of Defense Secretary James Mattis also do not much concern senior White House officials, who are confident the so-called Arab and Muslim streets will not rise up.
Threat to Upraising
Palestinian Islamic Movement Hamas, which remains in control of the Gaza strip, declared an Itifada again. It will now find renewed support among Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas will now find common ground on this issue. Hamas has appealed for another uprising or “Intifada”. Extremist Islamic outfits have called for terrorist strikes against the USA and Lebanon Islamic Movement Hezbollah has demanded that all Arab and Muslim countries sever ties with the USA. Islamic countries will project this as an affront to the Muslims and the Christians too will find it unpalatable. The Pope Francis has spoken out against it. Iran strongly condemned the Trump’s decision, saying it threatened a “new intifada”, or uprising against Israel.
Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement, “The provocative and unwise decision by the U.S, will provoke Muslims and inflame a new intifada and an escalation of radical, angry and violent behavior.” A strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Israel “if necessary”.
Against Trump’s declaration, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) declared that they were recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. They collectively condemned the United States for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. At the end of an emergency meeting in Istanbul on 13 December, the 57 nations OIC issued a communiqué calling on member-states to ‘impose political and economic restrictions’ on countries, officials, parliaments, companies and individuals recognizing the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. ‘The OIC calls again on those states that have not as yet recognized the State of Palestine to do so promptly such as to consolidate the foundations of the two-state solution, for justice and international legitimacy to prevail,’ OIC Secretary General Yousef Al-Othaimeen said.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said, “The decision by the U.S. is a provocation and has serious consequences on the security of the region. It has inflamed the sentiments of the Palestinians and the Muslim Ummah (community) worldwide.” “We fear that this is a situation waiting to explode as tensions continue to escalate in the region,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo echoed Najib’s message. “Once again, President Trump’s recognition is unacceptable and must be strongly condemned. Indonesia will accompany Palestine in its struggle. In every breath of Indonesian diplomacy, we have our side with the Palestinians,” Joko said.
What does say
Under the 1947 UN Partition Plan to divide historical Palestine between Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was granted special status. That was meant to be placed under international sovereignty and control. The special status was based on Jerusalem’s religious importance to the three religions. In the 1948 war, following the UN’s recommendation to divide Palestine, Zionist forces took control of the western half of the city and declared the territory part of its state. During the 1967 war, Israel captured the eastern half of Jerusalem and proceeded to effectively annex it by extending Israeli law, bringing it directly under its jurisdiction in a breach of international law. Jerusalem was under Jordanian control at once time.
In 1980, Israel passed the “Jerusalem Law”, stating that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel”, thereby formalising its annexation of East Jerusalem. In response, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 478 in 1980, declaring the law “null and void”. The illegal Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem violates several principles under international law, which outlines that an occupying power does not have sovereignty in the territory it occupies. The international community officially regards East Jerusalem as occupied territory. Moreover, no country in the world recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with the exception of the US and Russia.
Russia announced its recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and East Jerusalem as “the capital of the future Palestinian state.” As of now, embassies in Israel are based in the commercial capital, Tel Aviv, although some countries have based their consulate offices in Jerusalem.
Effect of this Announcement
What does this announcement means? Well, it bolsters a part of President Trump’s political base and bids to expand it at the expense of Democrats generally. It comes at a time; when White House is stressed by Robert S. Mueller’s investigation about Russia-trump team collide in the president Election. This could be the tricky position of Trump to keep on eye out from Muller’s investigation. The announcement also marginally helps Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu wiggle away from not one but three corruption scandals threatening to bring him down.
This announcement has of course ticked off a lot Arabs and Muslims, Palestinians in particular. Rage and violence among the latter were very predictable and have already begun. Some have predicted as well that rage and violence will spread afar in Arab capitals, putting post-Arab Spring survivor governments in jeopardy as anger directed toward Israel and the United States. I doubt this will happen to any significant scale. Survivor and successor Arab regimes are battle hardened against domestic unrest today as they have rarely been in the past, not that they ever ignored that portfolio. Nevertheless, it would be needed to beef up embassy security in Cairo, Amman, Baghdad, Tunis, Islamabad, Ankara, and so on. The general effect within Palestinian politics will be to push a beleaguered Mahmud Abbas to take a harder line with regard to Israel and a softer line with regard to ongoing “unity” or “reconciliation” negotiations with Hamas. As to the announcement’s larger impact, looking to the future, resolve the conflict could be the main effort.
Will this Decision Deescalate Peace Process?
Some voices denouncing Trump’s Jerusalem move have appealed to the US to return to playing the role of “honest broker” between Israel and Palestine. But this characterization has always been disingenuous and false. The US and Israel have a strategic alliance and an organic relationship that prevents Washington from being an honest broker. When Trump said on the campaign trail that he wanted the US to be “unbiased” in the conflict, there was a huge backlash, especially from his Jewish supporters. He has since adjusted his position, entrusting his son-in-law Jared Kushner with the miraculous task of finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Kushner believes that the key to a solution lies with the Sunni Arab bloc led by Saudi Arabia, whereby a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal would be part of a regional and international settlement. He is thinking of financial inducements to persuade the Palestinians to accept an incomplete state with provisional borders, and of economic sanctions should they refuse. Kushner’s ideas are nothing revolutionary in terms of US policy. Rather, they are a logical progression in the context of the steady retreats made by previous administrations since former President Jimmy Carter. Since then, the US has gradually but consistently walked away from its own principles, including former President George W. Bush’s endorsement of this historic US-proposed UN Security Council resolution enshrining the two-state solution. The framework of the solution is set out in UN resolutions on the ‘Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine’, going back to 1974. The resolution calls for ‘two States – Israel and Palestine, side by side within secure and recognized borders’ together with a just resolution of the refugee question in conformity with UN resolution 194. The borders of the state of Palestine are based on the pre-1967 borders.
This was the last serious achievement of US policy on the conflict. Former President Barack Obama entered the White House with a slew of promises to achieve an equitable solution, but left eight years later with nothing except a weak resolution that declared Israeli settlement-building unfavorable to peace. He even rejected a proposal for an important Security Council resolution that would have laid down a firm grounding for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Trump’s decision seems to be payback to his Christian evangelist supporters and the Jewish lobby, which funded his election campaign lavishly. Trump has tried to justify his decision by saying it was merely recognition of an existing reality. West Jerusalem has functioned as the seat of Israeli government since 1948. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestine. This decision will make any American role, as a peace-broker, hugely suspect in the eyes of Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has missed one opportunity after another, including in regards to suing Israel at the International Criminal Court, as it had pledged to do before backtracking on several occasions. The PA had also threatened to dissolve itself to stop serving as a safety valve for Israel. Hamas remains the biggest factor that has helped Israel capitalize on Palestinian division. It serves as a hidden weapon in Israel’s hands should it need to justify the forcible transfer and deportation of Palestinians when the time comes. The biggest winner after Trump’s announcement is Israel, but Israel wants him to go further and recognize “undivided” Jerusalem as its capital. Claims that Iran is set to benefit are premature because Tehran is required to prove it a real opposition to compromises over Jerusalem, beyond lip service. Meanwhile, Russia’s one-upmanship is almost laughable. If it is truly determined to prevent the fall of all of Jerusalem to Israel, it must do more. Turkey’s hands are bound while its tongue is loose. Its strategic considerations continue to come ahead of any real measures, so its objections will remain superficial. Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are the forefront, either through unprecedented opportunities that will come from plans for a regional settlement. n
Author: Journalist and