Playing with Fire
Trump's unilateral, illegal and reckless decision to recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel spells the end of peace in the Middle East
London , United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland - 6 Dec 2017 - Ghassan Matar
Trump’s illegal and reckless decision to recognize Jerusalem as the de-facto and historic capital of Israel will not help Israel in any shape or form. Far from it, it is likely to trigger a cascade of violence, diplomatic isolation and less security for both the United States and Israel.
Trump's statement that his decision will advance the prospects of peace have been ridiculed by most leaders and commentators who hold the complete opposite view.
While the decision was a central plank of his campaign promises, the unilateral decision effectively ends the leadership role of the United States while the timing seems to be aimed at helping his friend Benjamin Netanyahu who together with his wife, is facing scores of corruption allegations.
Both Russia and China warned Trump that his decision was tantamount to declaring war on 1.6 billion Muslims while Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu joined the chorus of condemnation against Mr Trump saying he viewed it as “illegal.”
Given the sensitivity and far-reaching consequences, the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the embassy will tip the balancing act and lead to a potentially disastrous fallout. The US seems to have anticipated the negative fallout having placed its military on full alert as well as bolstering security at all Embassies, Missions and Outposts.
US Central Command says it has "contingency plans in place" in the event violence breaks out after White House Jerusalem announcement on Wednesday. @ForeignPolicy
Arab states led by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan—which is the custodian of the holy Muslim shrines, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock—will view such a move as a flagrant assault on Islam itself. Egypt immediately responded by rejecting the US move, the same position is likely to be taken by all countries with large Muslim populations.
Even though the Israelis will make a special provision that will allow Jordan to continue to administer its custodianship over these holy places, under no circumstances would the Arab states allow Israel to have sovereignty over Haram Al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), with the exception of the Wailing Wall (a part of the outer wall of the Second Temple).
Trump’s decision will, for all intents and purposes, put an end to the prospect of peace based on a two-state solution. Indeed, for the Palestinians, the establishment of an independent state with its capital in East Jerusalem is non-negotiable. This is not merely a symbolic demand; it is a requirement which is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
No one should dismiss the potential breakout of ferocious violence between Israel and the Palestinians joined by other Arab extremist groups if the Palestinians are denied the establishment of their capital in East Jerusalem. Such violence would be incomparable to any such conflagration that we have witnessed in the past.
Palestinian Authority’s supreme Sharia judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash declared on Friday. “The new American administration intends to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem. In a simple, calm, and rational manner, in clear words that need no explanation and which are unambiguous: Such a step, for every Muslim, is a declaration of war on all Muslims,” said Habbash in a Friday sermon broadcast on official PA TV, and attended by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trump has all but destroyed the United States’ standing and credibility in the Middle East, which has eroded since the Iraq War, and is likely to suffer another major setback in its relations with its Arab allies in the region.
Former secretary of State John Kerry said that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would cause “an explosion, an absolute explosion in the region, not just in the West Bank, and perhaps even in Israel itself, but throughout the region.”
The move could have an extraordinarily adverse effect on Israel’s future as this would foreclose any prospect of an Arab-Israeli peace. The move would also embolden the right-wing Netanyahu government to annex more Palestinian territories and further expand the settlements, scuttling any prospect of peaceful Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.
While the Trump move appears on the surface to help Israel realize its long-held dream, it will in fact severely undermine Israel’s relations with Egypt and Jordan and jeopardize their peace treaties, which is central to containing regional instability and limiting the threat against Israel’s national security.
The move will further alienate the European community, which feels the most affected by continuing turmoil in the Middle East and views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a major contributor to the upsurge of extremism. They view the rise of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other extremist groups as a direct result of the Israeli occupation. For the EU, relocating the American embassy to Jerusalem is another, if not the final, nail in the coffin of a two-state solution, which would instigate increasing regional violence from which Europe will continue to suffer.
More specifically, the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital if Israel is non-binding under international law as Jerusalem is under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. Although the U.N. recognized the state of Israel in 1948, allowing it to become a member state, it placed the whole city of Jerusalem under international control (a ‘corpus separatum’) on Dec. 13 1949 even though most governmental offices moved to the city.
Any move to officially recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital will require a UN vote, probably in the General Assembly, something unlikely to happen without the implicit support of the Palestinians.
In 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel captured the eastern section of Jerusalem, which Jordan presided over, and declared Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration would be applied to the whole city. Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem has been considered illegal under international law and was condemned by the U.N., as well as other states.
In 1980, the Knesset declared that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel,” but this law was declared null by the U.N., which called for the removal of the remaining embassies in the city. A statement from Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the resolution “unjust” and “additional proof that the U.N. organization has been converted into an instrument in the hands of Israel’s enemies in their war against her existence and independence.”
Countries continued to locate their foreign embassies in Tel Aviv, Israel’s second largest city, situated on the Mediterranean coast, and the refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israeli territory has become a near-universal policy among Western nations.
To this day, no countries have an embassy in Jerusalem although Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump have all called for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Both Clinton and Bush backpedalled once they were in the Oval Office—but Trump seems to be signalling he is willing to do what they would not.
The U.N. still maintains its position on Jerusalem which specifies that it must be the capital of both Israel and Palestine—living side-by-side in peace and security, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all—for peace in the Middle East to be achieved. “
Today marks the day in history which will forever be remembered for the failure of Arab governments whose foreign policy has always used the Palestinian issue as an attempt to distract public attention from their domestic problems. They have been masters and manipulators of their political culture given the powerful and widely accepted premises of Islam and of Arabism. The Palestinian leadership should for once and for all drop all aspirations of a negotiated settlemennt and iimmediately declare an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The failure to take the bold and required actions, deemed dangerous and against their personal or national interests, will now come back to haunt them.