The reckless, misguided, irrational, insensitive, unpopular and futile decision by US President Donald Trump on Wednesday last week to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem shocked public opinion all over the world and made the prospects for permanent peace in the Middle East even less likely. Trump went ahead with the decision despite warnings from almost every other country in the world apart from Israel that it would further endanger the comatose Middle East peace process, alienate Arab and Muslim nations, fuel anger and frustration in those countries and serve as an impetus to terrorist groups.
The decision is reckless because since 1967 when Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordan, nine US Administrations, five of them Republican, refrained from recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and they maintained the US embassy in Tel Aviv. Despite a law passed by the US Congress two decades ago asking for the embassy to move to Jerusalem, every US president since then seized upon a loophole in the law and signed a deferment every six months. Donald Trump has now up-ended that stance due to his limited knowledge of history, his irrational view of world events and his extreme attachment to a fanatic political base and rich donors.
The decision is also misguided because since 1974 when the United Nations adopted a resolution that prescribed a two-state solution to the Middle East crisis, the world has stood by that formula and no nation in the world has opened an embassy in Jerusalem for fear of inflaming Palestinian passions and jeopardising the peace process, until now. The decision is irrational because all of America’s allies advised against it, including UK, France, Japan and Germany in addition to objections from Saudi Arabia, Russia, China and the UN. Trump’s decision is also insensitive because all the diplomats from various nations that have grappled with the search for peace in the Middle East over several decades have described the status of Jerusalem as the single thorniest issue in the peace process. While Israel claims West and East Jerusalem together as its “eternal and undivided capital,” the Palestinians passionately want East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. The UN and the international community on the other hand recognise East Jerusalem as occupied territory and say its status should be determined by negotiations.
The American action is also more symbolic than real because it will take years to build a new embassy in Jerusalem, which leaves open the possibility that it could be reversed by a future administration. Besides, all nations that have embassies in Israel are expected to retain them in Tel Aviv, with the possible exception of Philippines and Czech Republic. Finally, Trump’s action is unpopular around the world and has been criticised by almost every world leader of note. Though Trump said his decision was “nothing more or less than a recognition of reality” and “the right thing to do,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said it “destroyed any possibility of a two-state [solution]” and was in “total contradiction of agreements signed between Palestinians and Israelis. This step is prejudging, dictating, closing doors for negotiations and I think President Trump tonight disqualified the United States of America to play any role in any peace process.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said it was “a moment of great anxiety” and “there is no alternative to the two-state solution.” The Saudi state news agency quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying the recognition will have “serious implications and will be provocative to all Muslims.” UK Prime Minister Theresa May described the move as “unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region”. The European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed “serious concern” with the decision. King Abdullah of Jordan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan both warned the move would have dangerous consequences and Erdogan threatened to cut his country’s diplomatic ties with Israel.
At an emergency UN Security Council on Friday which was summoned at the behest of eight member states, UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov said “The United Nations has repeatedly declared that any unilateral decision that seeks to alter the character and status of Jerusalem or that may alter these long-standing principles could seriously undermine current peace efforts and may have repercussions across the region.” Palestine’s ambassador and permanent observer at the UN Riyad Mansour said the Trump administration violated “Jerusalem’s legal, political and historic status and the Palestinian people’s rights and legitimate national aspirations” and that it “rewards Israel’s impunity.”
Egypt’s Ambassador to the UN Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta said “Such unilateral decisions are a violation of international legitimacy and thus it has no impact on the legal status of the city of Jerusalem since it is a city under occupation.” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Trump was “throwing the region into a ring of fire.” Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani said the move “hurt the feelings of hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims.” French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both said their countries did not support the move.
In response to the provocative American deed, the Palestinian “national and Islamic forces” announced three days of rage that began on Wednesday and ended on Friday. Hamas called for a new intifada and deadly riots broke out in many parts of the West Bank and Gaza. The whole world has now seen that Donald Trump is willing to undertake the most dangerous diplomatic and security gambles in order to please his narrow political base. He must be held responsible if his reckless actions further plunge the world into chaos.