by Aysha Qamar
President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced plans to relocate the United States embassy there. This move is expected to further tensions in the region and unsettle any prospects for peace.
Every U.S. President since 1995, including Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, has declined to move the embassy, citing national security interests.
According to National Security Council officials, Trump has signed a waiver officially delaying the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for six months.
The status of Jerusalem has been one of the most sensitive and conflicting aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian war. In the past, U.S. foreign policy has avoided declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. This is because both Palestinians and Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital. Containing sacred sites to three major religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Jerusalem is of importance to both.
While in theory the embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be simple, as there is already a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, the challenge exists in the diplomatic crises that would arise.
The United Nations partition plan in 1947 visualized Jerusalem as a separate “international city,” but the war that followed Israel’s declaration of independence, one year later, left the city divided, (Source: CNN).
East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, was annexed by Israel after the Six Day War of 1967. A United Nations resolution was thus passed condemning Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and declaring it a violation of International Law- this caused countries that had embassies in Jerusalem to move.
According to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.
The issue of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is considered by Palestinians as a provocation and deconstruction of the peace talks. These talks have been on standby since 2014.
Palestinian officials warned the US against the move stating that it would be a step towards destabilizing the whole region and destroying the peace process
“Such a step would destabilize the whole region, destroy the peace process, disqualify the US from its role in the region and generate a new wave of extremism,” Member of Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee and head of Information and Culture Department Hanan Ashrawi said.
“I hope that nobody would take such a step. This would be an extremely irresponsible and dangerous.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeinah said that the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is “equal dangerous to the future of the peace process and would take the region into the square of instability”.
According to Rudeinha, any just solution of the Palestinian Israeli conflict should guarantee that East Jerusalem is the capital of the independent state of Palestine. Rudeinha also stated that “failing to reach a solution to the Palestinian cause will prolong tensions, chaos and violence”.
On the other side, the Israeli government has praised Trump’s plan to move the embassy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move is an “important step towards peace, for there is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.”
Arab leaders are condemning the recognition by Trump including Jordan’s King Abdullah.
“There is no alternative to a two-state solution, and Jerusalem is key to any peace agreement. It is imperative to work fast to reach a final status solution and a peace agreement. Ignoring Palestinian Muslim and Christian rights in the holy city could fuel terrorism,” King Abdullah said.
The announcement has sparked numerous protests. Israel has deployed hundreds of extra troops in the West Bank as Palestinians went on strike and took to the streets this week.
At least 31 Palestinians have been wounded in clashes in the Gaza Strip and across the occupied West Bank, during protests against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.