A turbulent Middle East already engulfed in crisis and conflict hardly needed more fuel on the fire. However, that is exactly what it got after U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and in turn his decree to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict has dominated the Middle East agenda for decades with a peace deal proving as elusive as ever. The principle of a two-state solution has waned against a backdrop of obstacles and complications that make the prospect of a viable peace deal between Arabs and Israelis a distant reality.
As a spiritual center for Islam, Christianity and Judaism, any settlement of the status of Jerusalem was also going to be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Centuries of conflict have raged for the religious, cultural and economic riches of this ancient city.
The rival claims to Jerusalem were made more problematic by the Israeli capture of Jordanian-occupied east Jerusalem in 1967 in the Six-Day War. Since then, decades of wars, uprisings, failed international diplomacy and thousands of new Jewish settlements have only added to the complications of any peace deal.
The policy of foreign countries has been to keep their embassies in Tel Aviv until a final solution on the borders and Jerusalem is agreed. Trump's declaration on Jerusalem broke the norm and triggered large scale protests and anger in the Arab and Muslim world.
Trump insisted that this decision does not determine the final agreement between Israel and Palestine, stressing, "We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved."
Ironically, serving as major symbolic support to Israeli claims, it makes negotiations far more complex. In turn, it places doubt on the role of the U.S. as an impartial peace broker.
Palestinian officials insisted that Trump's decision would have no legal effect on the status of Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went as far as saying that he no longer sees the United States as having a role in peace negotiations.
U.S. policy has been generally on a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, but in spite of efforts and brokering from successive U.S. presidents, this has proved a tall order.
A more reconciliatory stance would have been for Trump to clearly mark the move as the recognition of west Jerusalem in support of the border of the demarcation line from 1967. The Czech Republic did just that shortly after Trump's declaration, by recognizing west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Czech foreign ministry statement went on to emphasize that "the Czech Republic together with other EU member states, following the EU Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, considers Jerusalem to be future capital of both states, meaning the state of Israel and the future state of Palestine."
East Jerusalem was always earmarked as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the international community has never recognized Israel's occupation of all of Jerusalem after 1967.
Any amicable and long-lasting peace deal should be based on international accords, anything less would merely trigger decades of more conflict that will serve neither the Israeli or Arab sides.
Due to the significance of Jerusalem to billions of the world's population, any final solution must not come to the detriment of Muslims, Jews or Christians, including the millions of pilgrims each year. Jerusalem will always have a special place in the world, not just for Israel or Palestine.
The bold move by Trump has caused division with traditional U.S. allies. The recent U.N. Security Council resolution against Trump's recognition of Jerusalem – affirming that any decisions on the status of Jerusalem were "null and void and must be rescinded" – was vetoed by the U.S. after the remaining 14 members voted in favor of the draft, including U.S. allies Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Ukraine.
Haley's way of diplomacy
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley rebuked the U.N. and pointed to the resolution as "one more example of the U.N. doing more harm than good in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Haley, warned ahead of a nonbinding U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, organized as a counter-measure to the U.S. veto of the Security Council resolution, that the U.S. would remember the names of those that vote against it.
Haley does have a point when highlighting the U.S. Congress declaration of 1995 that Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Israel, which includes the relocation of U.S. embassies there. On that note, Trump can argue he is merely implementing a legal commitment. However, Washington must diligently assess why in 22 years, successive presidents have continually waived the implementation of this legislation.
The short-term gain for Trump in appeasing, his vital Jewish support base and fulfilling a key campaign pledge will erode with a ramp up of hostilities in the region and the U.S. losing further influence after it was overtaken in Syria by Russia and with Iran able to propel its regional policies unmolested.
Turkey has been particularly vociferous in rejecting Washington's move, leading to a bitter exchange of words between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Erdoğan denounced the U.S. as a biased broker and indicated his desire to relocate the Turkish embassy to east Jerusalem in response.
In an emergency meeting in Istanbul one week after Trump's announcement, leaders from the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) recognized east Jerusalem as the occupied capital of a Palestinian state, while calling on the international community to reciprocate.
The U.S.'s decision may lead the two sides to further entrench their positions rather than make concessions, for example, in the settlement building around east Jerusalem. Trump's declaration increases international divisions, and toughens the Israeli stance and Palestinian disunity. It also promises to make any settlement much more tenuous.
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