President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the announcing of plans to relocate the US Embassy there, has heightened and inflamed tensions in the region and unsettled the prospects for peace.
The US, through this decision, is being seen as acting in contravention of all existing international legal resolutions. The last few days have seen anger, frustration, violence, and condemnation not only within the Islamic countries but also elsewhere in Europe and other parts of the world.
Donald Trump has termed this course of action as “nothing more or less than recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do.” Trump has also claimed that his decision was designed to advance the peace process and that it did not in any way reflect “a departure from the US’s strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement” or with regard to US policy on the final boundaries of future Israeli and Palestinian states.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response, as expected, was one of happiness. He stated: “The president’s decision is an important step towards peace, for there is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.”
Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel, has however pointed out that “it was also curious that right after signing the proclamation recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Mr Trump also signed the national security waiver enabling him to avoid moving the US Embassy to that city for another six months.”
Senior aides of the US president have, in this context, drawn attention to the fact that “it would take years to build an embassy in Jerusalem, possibly requiring the president to sign many further waivers.”
Trump’s decision of December 6 nevertheless appears to have upended seven decades of US foreign policy that has resisted recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned and rejected Trump’s decision. The Palestinian leader has said that the move is likely to aid extremist organisations to wage holy wars. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has also observed that Trump’s decision had “disqualified the United States of America from playing any role in any peace process.”
The ramifications of Trump’s decision has over the past week reverberated through Israel, the West Bank, the Middle East, the EU, and all Muslim countries who are members of the OIC and also within the UN.
The move by Trump has led to almost simultaneous action within the diplomatic front both within the Arab League and its 22 member states and also within the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). There has also been an emergency meeting of the OIC in Istanbul convened at the request of Turkish President Erdogan.
Bangladesh has been represented there by its president. Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina not only denounced the US move, but has also urged Muslim unity to thwart such a process against Palestine. Both the Arab League and the OIC have been critical of the Trump proposal.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina not only denounced the US move, but has also urged Muslim unity to thwart such a process
Earlier, on December 8, the UNSC in an emergency meeting, widely condemned Trump’s unilateral decision. Eight countries called for this meeting at the UN headquarters in New York as Palestinians protested across the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip against the US President’s decision throughout the day.
Both Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process and Riyad Mansour, the ambassador and permanent observer of Palestine at the UN, have pointed out that the Trump Administration has not only violated “Jerusalem’s legal, political, and historic status, and the Palestinian peoples’ rights and legitimate national aspirations” but has likely heightened tensions and risks that might lead to the complete destabilisation of this volatile situation.”
On the other hand, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, in a different tone, said that Trump’s decision “marks a milestone for Israel, for peace, and for the world.” Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, roundly rejected the criticism and noted that it was “simple common sense that foreign embassies be located” in Jerusalem, which is home to Israel’s parliament, several government ministries, and its president and prime minister.”
Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta, Egypt’s UN ambassador, and Sima Bahous, Jordan’s representative to the UN, “rejected” the US decision as a violation of international law, and also observed that the decision may exacerbate tensions, provoke strong emotions, and lead to confrontations between people of different religions in the city. They also reiterated that such unilateral decisions had no impact on the legal status of Jerusalem since it was a city under occupation.
Matthew Rycroft, the UK’s UN ambassador said that his country had no plans to move the British Embassy from Tel Aviv. He also observed that Jerusalem should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states.
Francois Delattre, French ambassador to the UN, said that the status of Jerusalem must be determined after a negotiated settlement and “France recognises no sovereignty over Jerusalem.” Olof Skoog, Sweden’s UN ambassador, pointed out that Trump’s declaration “will not affect the position of Sweden, the European Union, or the wider international community” on the status of Jerusalem.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya observed that international law and UN resolutions must serve as the basis of a settlement to the long-standing conflict. Koro Bessho, Japan’s UN ambassador, also underlined that Japan believed in a two-state solution to the conflict based on international law and UN resolutions.
India’s two-sentence response to the US recognition of Jerusalem issued from New Delhi was interesting: “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country.”
Critics have called this response as muted, and pointed out that it was not only vague, but also failed to call for a two-state solution.
Such opposition in the UNSC subsequently persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undertake a visit to Brussels on December 11 to urge the EU to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This was the first visit to the EU by an Israeli premier in 22 years.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini welcomed Netanyahu, but underlined that the bloc would continue to recognise the “international consensus” on Jerusalem. Earlier, the same message was passed on to him by the French president when he stopped over in Paris on his way to Brussels.
It is clear from the evolving circumstances that almost all the countries in the world feel that the US should not pursue its plans with haste but move more carefully. The last thing the Middle East needs is more complexity, greater violation of human rights, excuses for more violence, and the growth of terrorism. We need to understand that tolerance and discussion will facilitate a constructive engagement.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]