When as President-elect of the United States, Donald Trump, on 16 November, 2016, signaled his intention to nominate his campaign adviser David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer with hardline views on Israel, he left not a few in doubt as to how radical the US foreign policy in the Middle East under his leadership will be. That reality got to a head, Wednesday, with the extension of recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This move has sent tongues wagging and riddled with mixed emotions. OMONU NELSON writes
In a dramatic shift, the United States President, Donald Trump, penultimate week, took the world by storm, when he altered the US’s traditional foreign policy in the Middle East. President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and immediately initiated the process of relocating the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to the city of Jerusalem. This step broke the nearly 70 years of US lip service to the status of Jerusalem. The question of the status of Jerusalem has at best remained a campaign tool for aspirants for the Whitehouse, since Israel attained statehood, nearly 70 years ago (1947).
The latest move has been variously interpreted by international affairs analysts. While some believe, this drastic step is coming at this time because, President Trump is looking for every available means to distract his countrymen and women, especially, the US Congress, that has spent the last one year, investigating Trump’s links with Russia, as it concerns the 2016 US Presidential election.
Others believe, the action is Trump’s direct way of saying to his supporters, countrymen and women “Trust me.” This position is against the backdrop of the fact that, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was one of Trump’s core campaign promises to the Jewish community in US, who are believed to be indispensable in American presidential politics.
Since December 6, when Trump’s decision, described by international actors as ‘draconian’ was taken, the world has been polarized into two: Trump versus the rest of the world. The decision has sparked another ‘intifida’ uprising against Israel. In a bid by the Israeli security forces to contain the turmoil, scores has been killed and over 800 injured.
With fury and fire, even the traditional allies of the US in Europe, Asia, Africa and Arab have condemned Trump misadventure in the Middle East. Hamas has called for continuous protest against Israel. On the streets of major towns and cities around Arab world and beyond, protests are yet die-down.
For instance, in reaction to Trump’s decision, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), founded in 1969 as “the collective voice of the Muslim world”, has declared East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and has called on other world leaders to do same. The group rejected the US stance as “dangerous”.
At a summit held in Turkey a week after US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the group of Muslim leaders on Wednesday called on all countries to “recognise the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital”.
In a statement, the OIC added that the 57-member group remains committed to a “just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution”.
It also called on the UN to “end the Israeli occupation” of Palestine and declared Trump’s administration liable for “all the consequences of not retracting from this illegal decision”.
“[We] consider that this dangerous declaration, which aims to change the legal status of the [city], is null and void and lacks any legitimacy,” the group said.
“Now, Muslim countries in addition to a whole lot of others that are allied with the Palestinian cause will recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine,” he said.
“And those Islamic countries are ready to sever relations to punish any one country that follows in the footsteps of the United States in recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Historically, the United Nations Partition Resolution (General Assembly Resolution 181) proposed that Jerusalem be established as a corpus separatum under an international regime to be administered by the United Nations. Despite the outbreak of hostilities in 1948-49 the United Nations made several attempts to establish the international regime before giving up in 1951. But the proposal remains “on the table” in the sense that it remains one option in future negotiations on the status of the Jerusalem.
Israel claims the city as its capital, following the occupation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan, and considers Jerusalem to be a “united” city.
No country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem and the international community, including the US until yesterday, does not recognize Israel’s jurisdiction over and ownership of the city
While the latest development is coming to top Israelis as a ‘longtime dream coming true’ comes true, those opposed to the move sees it as a time-bomb or poisoned garlic, that is capable of exploding the Middle East into crises of monumental proportion.
Top Israeli officials reacted with across-the-board praise on Wednesday after US President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.
“This is a historic day,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. It’s been the capital of Israel for nearly 70 years. It was here that our temples stood, our kings ruled, our prophets preached.”
“Jerusalem has been the focus of our hopes, our dreams, our prayers for three millennia,” he continued. “From every corner of the earth, our people yearned to return to Jerusalem, to touch its golden stones, to walk its hallowed streets. So it’s rare to be able to speak of new and genuine milestones in the glorious history of this city.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin stated, “There is no more fitting or beautiful gift, as we approach 70 years of the State of Israel’s independence.”
“The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the relocation of all embassies to the city, is a landmark in the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to our land, and a milestone on our road to peace — peace for all the residents of Jerusalem, and the whole region,” Rivlin went on to say.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer tweeted, “Thank you @POTUS Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital and taking an honored place alongside President Truman, who recognized the State of Israel 70 years ago.”
Avi Gabbay — the head of Israel’s Labor Party — said, “Jerusalem has been a symbol of the Jewish people for thousands of years. After 70 years of existence of the State of Israel, I’m happy that our important friend, the US, also recognizes Jerusalem as our capital.”
However, the Secretary General of Arab League, Aboul Gheit, in a statement on the organization’s website warned that “Today we say very clearly that taking such action is not justified … It will not serve peace or stability, but will fuel extremism and resort to violence,” “It only benefits one side; the Israeli government that is hostile to peace,” he said.
On his part, the Palestinian leader, “President Mahmud Abbas warned of the dangerous consequences such a decision would have to the peace process and to the peace, security and stability of the region and of the world,” Nabil Abu Rudeina, Mahmud’s spokesperson, said in a statement after Trump’s call.
Echoing Abbas’ comments, Jordan’s King Abdullah II told Trump that such a decision would have “dangerous repercussions on the stability and security of the region”, according to a statement released by the palace.
The king also warned the US president of the risks of any decision that ran counter to a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict based on the creation of an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.
King Abdullah also called Abbas and said they had to both work together to “confront the consequences of this decision”.
In a statement, Egyptian PresidentAbdel Fattah el-Sisi also cautioned Trump against “taking measures that would undermine the chances of peace in the Middle East”.
“The Egyptian president affirmed the Egyptian position on preserving the legal status of Jerusalem within the framework of international references and relevant UN resolutions,” the statement said.
Following a separate phone conversation with Trump, Saudi King Salman also told the US president “that any American announcement regarding the situation of Jerusalem prior to reaching a permanent settlement will harm peace talks and increase tensions in the area”.
A statement by state-run news agency SPA quoted the king as saying that the kingdom supported the Palestinian people and their historic rights and asserted that “such a dangerous step is likely to inflame the passions of Muslims around the world due to the great status of Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa mosque”.
Pope Francis said in his weekly address that the status quo that governs al-Aqsa Mosque compound should be respected. The state of Jordan has been the custodian of all Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem since 1994.
“Jerusalem is a unique city,” Pope Fracis said, “sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, where the Holy Places for the respective religions are venerated, and it has a special vocation to peace.”
Francis said, “I pray to the Lord that such identity be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the entire world, and that wisdom and prudence prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”
“My thoughts now go to Jerusalem,” Francis said. “In this regard, I cannot keep silent about my deep concern over the situation that has arisen in recent days and, at the same time, a heartfelt appeal so that everyone would be committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.”
French President Emmanuel Macron called the action an “unfortunate decision” and said, “France does not approve it.”
“It goes against international law and the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council,” he said. “The status of Jerusalem is a security issue for the entire international community. The status of Jerusalem must be determined by Israelis and Palestinians in the framework of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations.”
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to cutdiplomatic ties with Israel, following reports that the US was considering recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that would be symbolized by relocating the embassy to Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” said Erdogan. “We implore the US once again: You cannot take this step.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the US move was “because of their incompetence and failure”.
The Syrian foreign ministrysaid: “The move is the culmination of the crime of usurping Palestine and displacing the Palestinian people.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has “consistently warned against any unilateral action that would have the potential to undermine the two-state solution”, his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters in New York.
Also speaking, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh described Trump’s decision as a “flagrant aggression”.
“This decision is an uncalculated gamble that will know no limit to the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim reaction,” he said.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament on Wednesday she planned to “speak to President Trump about this matter,” but she declined to criticize his plan.
Cumulatively, analysts believe this move is a dangerous ‘red line’ that may plunge the whole of Middle East into crises.
Trump had during the announcement said, “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said from the White House, where he was joined by Vice President Mike Pence. Trump described it as a “long overdue step to advance the peace process.”
“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver,” he added. “Today I am delivering.”
Trump also emphasized that “the US would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.”
“Jerusalem is not just the heart of three great religions, but it is now also the heart of one of the most successful democracies in the world,” Trump said. “Over the past seven decades, the Israeli people have built a country where Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of all faiths are free to live and worship according to their conscience and beliefs.”
Until the new embassy in Jerusalem opens, current law requires the president to sign a waiver that keeps the embassy in Tel Aviv operable. The process of relocating the embassy is expected to take years.
To demonstrate his unwavering resolve, Trump said the process of hiring “architects, engineers and planners” will begin “immediately.” The new embassy “will be a magnificent tribute to peace,” he added.
To give effect to the president’s proclamation, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that “the State Department will immediately begin the process to implement” the decision to move the embassy. He added that “the safety of Americans is the State Department’s highest priority” and that the department has “implemented robust security plans.”
He spoke a day after a senior U.S. administration official said U.S. President Donald Trump was likely to make the announcement next week.
The Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and the international community does not recognize Israel’s claim on the entire city, home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions.
Word of Trump’s planned announcement, which would deviate from previous U.S. presidents who have insisted the Jerusalem’s status must be decided in negotiations, has already drawn criticism from the Palestinian Authority.