“Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done. … I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.” With these words, US President Donald Trump made the announcement that he was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Soon after this announcement, Israel said: “the announcement made by President Donald Trump has made this a historical day for us and from every corner of the world our people are desperate to return to Jerusalem. Undoubtedly, this is a historical day for us and Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 70 years. Jerusalem has been the center of our hopes, dreams and prayers. It has been the capital of the Jews for three thousand years. Our places of worship have been here, our kings have ruled here and our messengers have preached here.”
Notwithstanding, Israel’s praise and expression of gratitude, Trump’s announcement was widely denounced world over including by European Union and United Nations Secretary General, both of whom described the move was “irresponsible” and “one-sided”, which no one accepts. There is hardly any doubt that Trump’s announcement is against international law and UN resolutions. The fact is that since 19th century Palestinians have been under siege and have been enduring repression, whether they were Christians or Muslims.
From 1949 to 1967, the Green Line distributed the Occupied Western Jerusalem from the Jordanian administered Eastern Jerusalem. After the six day war in 1967, Israel strengthened its control on Quds and changed the administrative division of the city. The Jews tried to integrate Eastern Jerusalem, where the places of religious and cultural significance were situated, with Western Jerusalem, and the ancient areas of Palestine, such as Abu Deis and Aaram etc., were removed from urban boundaries. And whereas some Palestinians were declared as Jerusalem residents, majority of them were placed in West Bank neighbourhoods.
Moreover, the residents of Jerusalem were only entitled to Israel’s citizenship, which the Palestinian population living in the city too did not avail because they considered Israeli occupation to be illegal. The Palestinians residing in West Bank perpetually lived under the shadow of Israeli reign of terror. These people, who were not accepted as Jerusalem residents, were till the establishment of Palestinian Authority in 1994, banned from entering the city. They could not either find employment. Furthermore, those, who were not present in the city during 1967 census were permanently deprived of urban registration and their property and businesses, besides being disconnected from the religious places.
1990s was then the decade of resistance, because of which more military checkpoints cropped up making it more difficult for the Palestinians (from Gaza and West Bank) to enter Jerusalem.
Today, some Muslim scholars and observers are viewing Trump’s announcement as the new version of Balfour Declaration, which was the first step taken by the British government in 1917 for the creation of Israel.
Looking at Trump’s announcement from the broader Middle East canvas, it should be kept in mind that President Trump had ahead of the move acquired billions of dollars from Arab countries especially Saudi Arabia, and encouraged talks, meetings, and back door diplomacy between Israel and Arab monarchs. Consequently, Arab leaders no more appear keen about Palestine and are rather more inclined towards better relations with Israel, which is no more seen as the enemy number 1. This view puts the Arab leaders at divergence with the popular view that is still awaiting the realization of two-state solution of the longstanding issue.
There have also been doubts about the sincerity of leaders of the Muslim world, who are generally seen voicing their concerns and criticism of Trump move. For instance critics believe that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rants against recognition of Jerusalem are nothing more than a campaign exploit, because he hasn’t backed his words with action. They wonder if he would go beyond his harsh statements to severe ties with Israel. It must not be forgotten that Arab leaders were fully aware of Trump’s impending move and were following his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s dictates on this matter.
Analysts are divided over the possible implications of Trump announcement, some think that it will increase focus on the issue of Palestine and Al-Aqsa Mosque, whereas others are expecting ‘political tremors’ that will jolt Muslim Ummah and Arab countries. But, the overwhelming view is that nothing more than statements should be expected from the leadership of Muslim world. On the other hand extremists and terrorists would also attempt to capitalize on this opportunity to serve their agenda. In this situation, the lead role against Trump announcement has to be played by the Palestinians themselves. Their response would not only determine the extent of reaction from other parts of the world, but their comprehensive resistance (Intifada) might cause reawakening in Muslim Ummah, especially among Arabs.
The Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority Riyad al-Maliki has already declared from Cairo (Egypt) that he doesn’t want Trump’s decision to serve as a reason for ending Israel-Palestine peace talks and he is not in favor of Intifada. Rather, he said, he wants to continue with peaceful protests. This announcement makes it clear that the Arab League Meeting of Foreign Ministers was nothing but a mere formality.
Arab foreign ministers through a resolution, which was high on rhetoric, but short on action, expectedly urged Trump to rescind his decision and called on the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning recognition by US of Jerusalem as Israeli capital.
The two page resolution failed to reflect the public angst especially in Gaza and West Bank as witnessed during violent protests there. Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul-Gheit explained the mild reaction saying: “We have taken a political decision not meant to reflect (what is going on in) the streets. Political work is responsible work.”
It is hoped that the Muslim leaders at the OIC Summit in Turkey will take decisions according to the seriousness and importance of this issue, while keeping in view the possible implications. Trump’s announcement may encourage Israel to have more illegal Jewish settlements. OIC needs to take a stronger line on the issue and should state that Jerusalem (Quds) is the capital of Palestine and that this position in non-negotiable. OIC should further call for unity among its ranks and state that Trump’s approach is expected to increase insecurity and extremism in the Middle East. There needs to be a stronger emphasis on US withdrawing its recognition of Jerusalem. This is too serious an issue to be left to formulaic statements.
The author is a resident scholar at IPI.