On 6 December, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he formally recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that the U.S. embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In his speech, the President said that his decision is a first step to reconcile the Palestinians and the Israelis. ‘’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,’’ he said.
As expected, the President’s decision provoked global uproar. In Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories, people took to the streets to protest, burning U.S. flags and posters with Trump’s picture to show their anger. The Islamist group Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh even called for a new Intifada, a Palestinian uprising, over Trump’s Jerusalem plan. Several Palestinian factions called for a worldwide ‘Day of Rage’ on 8 December. The violence continued last weekend, when 157 people were injured during confrontations with Israeli forces in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, and an Israeli security guard was stabbed by a Palestinian man at a main bus station in Jerusalem. In addition, rockets were launched towards Israeli towns from Gaza.
The reason behind Trump’s move
Up to today, the American headquarters have been located in Tel Aviv. Apart from that, the U.S. has a consulate in West Jerusalem as well as a consular annex in East Jerusalem. In addition, an office can be found directly on the ‘Green Line’, the division point between Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 required the U.S. to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem at the end of 1999, though this never happened due to a loophole, which allowed American presidents to hinder the effectuation of that section under the pretext of national security reasons every six months. In this way, Congress could not exercise its power to deny half of the funding to the State Department if the deadline was reached. However, the American President now ends that policy.
Fierce reactions from the international community
Several Arabic and European leaders criticised Trump’s announcement, saying the move just impedes the peace process. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said that Trump’s decision was ‘’tantamount to the United States abdicating its role as a peace mediator.’’ According to Abbas, Jerusalem is ‘’the eternal capital of the State of Palestine.’’ A senior Palestinian official of Fatah also said that US Vice-President Mike Pence is not welcome in the Palestinian territories later this month, as Pence had been due to meet the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The White House said it regretted PA’s decision to turn down the meeting.
Iran said Trump’s decision is against U.N. resolutions on the conflict. Saudi Arabia warned the U.S. of the consequences to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Qatar also warned for ‘’a dangerous escalation.’’ Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan condemned Trump’s decision, calling it ‘’irresponsible’’. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said the decision threatens the stability of the region as well as the credibility of the U.S. as broker of the peace process, putting it back by decades. Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi denounced the decision made by its ally. ‘’Jordan rejects the decision and all its implications and will continue to work for an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.’’ In the country’s capital Amman, several protests broke out on 8 December. Hundreds of Jordanians gathered in front of the U.S. embassy, demanding its closure and chanting anti-American slogans. In a resolution on 10 December, Arab foreign ministers called for a U.S. Security Council condemnation of the U.S. move.
According to Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) leader Martin Schulz, the international stability will be undermined because of Trump’s decision. Both Britain and Germany denounced Trump’s move, as a two-state solution is the only option to resolve the disputed status of Jerusalem. French President Emmanuel Macron regretted the ‘’unilateral decision’’ to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. ‘’For now, I urge for calm and for everyone to be responsible. We must avoid at all costs violence and foster dialogue,’’ he said. In a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister on 10 December, Macron urged him to end the construction of illegal settlements in the occupied territories and to continue talks with the Palestinians.
The European Union and the United Nations also rejected Trump’s decision. ‘’The aspirations of both parties must be fulfilled and a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states,’’ EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini said in a statement. She reiterated her remarks in a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister on 11 December. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also said that only a two-state solution can bring peace in the region.
Israel: recognising Jerusalem makes ‘’peace possible’’
Contrary to its western allies, Israel welcomed the decision made by the American President. Netanyahu said it was ‘’an important step towards peace.’’ He called other nations to follow Trump’s example. The Israeli Prime Minister also said several countries already showed their willingness to do so, albeit he did not mention the names of those countries. The rejection of the U.N. to recognise Jerusalem called the Prime Minister ‘’laughable’’. Furthermore, Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Gallant announced in a statement he wants to build 14.000 housing units in occupied territories, including East Jerusalem. The U.N. deems housing in those areas to be illegal.
Jerusalem: an eternal contested city
The city of Jerusalem has been contested for centuries because it is considered to be a holy city for Muslims, Jews and Christians. Throughout history, Jerusalem was controlled by Jewish kings, Islamic warlords and western crusaders. After World War II, the U.N. proposed a plan to create two separate states but to place Jerusalem under international control. However, after the establishment of an independent Israeli state in 1948, several Arabic states invaded the new nation, which resulted in the occupation of West Jerusalem by the Israeli army. After the Suez crisis of 1956 and the 1967 Six-Day War, other areas became occupied as well, including East Jerusalem. Up to today, this situation has not been changed.
For most Palestinians as well as for the international community, a two-state solution is the only way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Israel considers Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital, while some Palestinian factions deem Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state without an independent Israeli state, such as Hamas. A long history, internal and external oppositional interests of the main players in the region, and Trump’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital make a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the short-term even more difficult.