Declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital sets dangerous precedent

Announcement could spark controversy not only in the Middle East but across the world and fan flames of militancy

14:11 December 6, 2017
Jerusalem's Old City
Occupied Jerusalem

Occupied Jerusalem, Washington: There’s no other country that has an embassy in Occupied Jerusalem.

All foreign embassies in the state of Israel are in Tel Aviv. But a few hours from now, President Donald Trump is about to change that.
On Wednesday night, about 10pm in Dubai, Trump is expected to announce that the United States recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move its embassy there.

The move will break with long-time US policy and potentially stirring unrest, not only in the Middle East but in the world.

What is Trump expected to do?

In a 1 pm (1800 GMT, 10pm Dubai) White House speech, he is expected to direct the State Department to begin looking for a site for an embassy in Occupied Jerusalem as part of what is expected to be a years-long process of relocating diplomatic operations from Tel Aviv.

Trump is to sign a national security waiver delaying a move of the embassy, since the United States does not have an embassy structure in Occupied Jerusalem to move into.

Since there is already a US consulate in Occupied Jerusalem, and the embassy remains in Tel Aviv, it could be as simple as switching the names -- making the embassy in Occupied Jerusalem and a consulate in Tel Aviv. 

The US Ambassador to Israel would move from his residence in a Tel Aviv suburb to Occupied Jerusalem. A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build an embassy. 

 Does this bias the US role as mediator to the conflict?

Yes. Analysts say this is clear indication that the US is not and cannot be an honest broker in Arab-Israeli peace talks.

“This US president who said he is determined to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict is the same president who hammered the last nail in the coffin of the peace process,” Murhaf Jouejati, professor of International Relations at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, told Gulf News.

Palestinians have long complained that the US is not an honest mediator in the conflict, pointing to the billions of dollars in aid and invoking the veto power to undermine UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel.

“US declaration on Jerusalem is basically taking a position in favour of one party’s claim over another. This should just clarify to the few who still believe in US mediation that it is a joke and instead affirm need for BDS,” Yousef Mounayer, Executive Director at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights said.

He was referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions grassroots movement aimed at censuring companies that do business in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

“ZERO countries have their embassies in Jerusalem. The one country that is about to change this, the US, is the so-called “mediator” between Israel and Palestine. Think about that,” Mounayer posted on Twitter.

He went on to predict that this decision would have further negative implications—particularly on Israel’s illegal colonies.

“The message that this sends is if Israel creates realities on the ground, by hook or by crook, the US will eventually recognise them.”

Trump’s decision will upend decades of American policy that has seen the status of Occupied Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as their capital.

 Why do no other countries recognise Israel’s claim to Occupied Jerusalem?

Israel occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 war in a move never recognised by the international community.

Since then it has pursued systematic policies aiming to change facts on the ground and erase Muslim and Palestinian identity from the holy city–sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike—including the building of illegal Jewish colonies on Palestinian land in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Israel has long wanted Jerusalem as its capital but the Palestinian see it as the capital of their future promised state.

Occupied Jerusalem hosts shrines holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.

When Israel occupied and annexed Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war, it left the Jordanian Waqf Department to administer and run the Muslim holy site Al Haram Al Sharif in a historic status quo agreement which governs access to the holy shrine.

Ongoing incursions by Jews on the premises have been the largest instigator of violence since last year. Palestinians say the Israeli regime is encouraging its citizens to violate the status quo agreement in an effort to change the facts on the ground and erase all Palestinian and Muslim identity from occupied Jerusalem.

Al Haram Al Sharif is built on top of the ancient remnants of the Temple Mount, a site sacred in Judaism, but was destroyed in the 4th century by the Romans, during their rule.

It houses both Al Aqsa Mosque which was originally commissioned to be built under Omar, the second Caliph in Islam in the 7th century, and the Dome of the Rock which houses the rock from which Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) ascended to heaven, according to Islamic teachings.

Jerusalem is also home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians believed Jesus was crucified and buried.

What has been the reaction so far?

Pope Francis called on Wednesday for the status quo of Occupied Jerusalem to be respected and for “wisdom and prudence” to prevail to avoid further conflict.

Speaking to Palestinians ahead of Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, he said “recognising the rights of all people” in the Holy Land is a primary condition for dialogue.

Declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will “end” any prospects of a future Palestinian state, said Amr Mousa, former Arab League secretary-general, in Abu Dhabi.

Moussa, who has also served as Egypt’s foreign minister, was speaking at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy.

Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said the Palestinian leader had warned Trump of the dangers of such a decision to Middle East peace efforts as well as security and stability in the region and the world.

King Abdullah issued a statement telling Trump that such a decision would have “dangerous repercussions on the stability and security of the region” and would obstruct US efforts to resume Arab-Israeli peace talks.

King Salman was reported by the Saudi Press Agency to have told Trump: “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.”

The UAE also issued a similar warning on Tuesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC)—a pan-Islamic body—in Istanbul on December 13 to discuss the developments.

“Jerusalem is our honour, Jerusalem is our common cause, Jerusalem is our red line,” he added, urging the Trump administration to “return from this grave mistake immediately,” a spokesman for Erdogan said.

Turkey already said it would cut ties with Israel over the US decision.

What is Jared Kushner’s role in all this?

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in his role as presidential advisor, has been leading a diplomatic initiative aimed at concluding the comprehensive Middle East deal that has eluded previous admissions. 

The White House insisted that Trump’s announcement would not derail that effort and that the Kushner initiative was making progress even though little had been heard about it.

“There are things happening that the people directly involved in the talks know about that people around the world don’t know about that will become known when the time is right,” a White House official said. 

“That is one of the reasons that the president is still very optimistic.”

(With inputs from agencies)