By Senior Campaign Agent Luke Walpole
It took only a few minutes for US President Donald Trump to shake the already precarious foundations of the Middle East. Delivered via a speech, as opposed to on Twitter, Trump stated defiantly that “it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
His actions raise manifold questions. Is this the death knell for the Two-State Solution? Has America effectively recused itself from future peace brokering? And finally, was Jerusalem ever Trump’s to give?
Trump deemed his actions a “recognition of reality” due to the heavy influence of the Israeli state in the city. The tendrils of government are laced throughout its streets. The Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, is there, as is their Supreme Court and the residences of its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. For the Israeli people itself, too, Trump’s decision was moot. Jerusalem has been their capital for 3,000 years, whether the international community decreed it or not.
Yet, hitherto, there has been an international reluctance to ascribe Jerusalem the moniker of the Israeli capital. The placement of embassies is a sure sign of this, as most nations, including the United Kingdom, have theirs in the much less politically volatile Tel-Aviv. Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem at an undisclosed date has yet to signal a sea-change in this opinion, with only the Czech Republic and the Philippines willing to follow suit.
Jerusalem is important for numerous reasons, both practical and symbolic. Its spiritual importance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike makes it a unique proposition. With the Wailing Wall, the Stations of the Cross, and the al-Aqsa Mosque within close proximity, the city has always housed a rich texture of people. East Jerusalem is also the area which Palestinians have long desired to be the locus of their own capital city in the future. This co-existence has seldom been sanguine in recent times, and the violence seen in recent days could be an unsavoury omen of what’s to come.
Practically, the city has grown exponentially since the Six Day War of 1967, a conflict that Israel won rapidly and decisively. Subsequently, the Israeli State has pursued an aggressive programme of settlement-building in areas referred to as the ‘Occupied Territories’. These are illegal according to the UN, but have allowed the country to strengthen their grip on Jerusalem, and the further hinterland of the West Bank. As a result, Palestinian enclaves in the area are becoming increasing isolated and embattled.
Trump’s public hope, according to his speech, is that this move will spur the Arabs into serious peace negotiations. Few meaningful steps have been taken since the Oslo Accords of 1993, despite a number of false dawns. The rise of Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation augured well thanks to his condemnation of terrorism, but the PLO is not a unified front. The most vociferous voice within it is Hamas, a group which has desired the wholesale destruction of Israel since its inception. Tying together this extremist element with a more moderate outlook has proven close to impossible.
For all of his bluster, Trump was correct to draw attention to the paralysis which has wracked the peace process in the region. However, few Arab figureheads see him, and the US as a whole, as a credible broker of peace. The powerful pro-Israeli lobby in Washington has long held sway, but the actions of Presidents from Jimmy Carter through to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are indicative of the American desire to be heavily involved in the pursuit of peace.
The sustainability of this involvement is questionable. The PLO have already threatened not to meet with Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region in the upcoming months, and the chorus of disapproval ringing from Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and beyond reflects the growing hostility of the Arab world towards Trump. This, of course, coming only days after the Supreme Court finally sanctioned his infamous Travel Ban, levied against six countries, and pending further legal challenges.
It is impossible to know whether Trump seriously believed this move would bring peace. Yet it has elicited a strong reaction from both ends of the spectrum. The Israeli Far-Right feel vindicated, whilst Hamas have called for another intifada (uprising). The voices of moderate Palestinians, whether they be Muslim, Christian or irreligious, and moderate Israelis are becoming little more than feeble whispers.
The day-to-day realities of life in Jerusalem may not change, but Trump’s actions are symptomatic of the recklessness which has characterised his time in office.
Sources and Further Reading:
- Trump says US recognises Jerusalem: The speech in full, BBC News, 7 December 2017
- Sunita Patel-Carstairs and Alan McGuinness, 'God is weeping': Protests as Trump recognises Jerusalem as Israeli capital, Sky News, 8 December 2017
- Richard Spencer, Palestinians Rage Against US Shift on Jerusalem, The Times, 8 December 2017
- Timeline: Middle East peace talks, The Guardian, 23 January 2011
- Trump Travel Ban: Supreme Court lets restrictions take full effect, BBC News, 5 December 2017
- Thomas L. Friedman, Trump, Israel and the Art of the Giveaway, NY Times, 6 December 2017
- Max Blumenthal, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013)
Image: Kristoffer Trolle @Flickr