U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is an extremely irresponsible move with the potential to constrain the already limited options for the prospects of peace in the Middle East. This move may further strengthen Russia's role as the emerging hegemon in the region.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is at the center of all the conflicts and alliances in the region, and the status of Jerusalem is at the epicenter of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. No sustainable order in the region can be achieved without finding a fair solution to Jerusalem. Bringing peace and freedom to Jerusalem would be the most important incentive for any leader who would take the risk of being part of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.
Disagreement on the status of Jerusalem was the principal reason behind the failure of the Oslo Peace Process. Trump's one-sided decision limits the incentives of any Palestinian leader who would take part in future peace negotiations. Furthermore, the status of Jerusalem is not limited to Palestinians. East Jerusalem was considered to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, but more importantly, Jerusalem is a holy place and the third most important city after Mecca and Medina for Muslims all over the world. A majority of Christians are also concerned about Israel's unilateral control of this holy city, which maintained its multi-religious character for centuries. By making such a decision, Trump not only disappoints Palestinians but also hurts the feelings of more than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. This may lead to the rise of anti-Americanism and put the safety of American citizens everywhere at risk. Marginal extremist groups may target American citizens and American interests.
Trump's decision will empower actors to support a military solution to the problems and strengthen extremist camps on both sides of the conflict. Actors in favor of negotiating a fair settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be the biggest losers in this game. From now on, the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas and other Palestinian factions will be more willing to cooperate with regional actors that provide weapons and other resources for resistance.
Moderate leaders and voices will further be marginalized. A new cycle of escalation and extremism is more likely to be justified, and with weakened state capacities, the leaders of Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq have difficulty controlling extremist tendencies in their countries. Besides, Saudi and other Gulf leaders, who newly established quasi alliances with Israel, may be under more public criticism. This may limit their joint ventures with Israel in their efforts to contain and balance Iran. Trump's move also limits Saudi and Emirati attempts to cooperate with Israel in counter-balancing Iranian expansionism in the entire region.
Iran's public image and credibility were decimated and came to its worst appearance since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 due to Iran's involvement in sectarian struggles in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. Iran may reclaim and reignite its axis of resistance and fix its image as the defender of the Palestinian cause. Iran and its proxies may be the biggest beneficiaries of Trump's decision. Trump's hasty decision will also further strengthen the position of Russian President Vladimir Putin.The U.S. apparently no longer represents the voices of wisdom and prospects for stability in the region. Trump, rather, embraces the political agenda of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and voices Netanyahu's concerns, not even the entire Israeli society's concerns. A new cycle of violence in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will make the majority of Israeli's suffer deeply, as well. The U.S. plays the spoiler within the broader Middle East gambit by investing in sources of instability, such as arming and supporting the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, owning the agenda of anti-peace factions in Israel and encouraging inexperienced and ambitious leaders. The U.S. continues to make major mistakes and destabilizes the entire Middle East, but this is the first time an administration lacks a visible policy line. For many local actors, Russia's increasing presence seems to be more appealing as a source of some balance. The Trump administration's erratic moves like the recent declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will only accelerate the decline of U.S. influence and pave the way for Moscow.
* Associate professor and the chair of the Political Science and International Relations Department at Ibn Haldun University