President Donald J. Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, as expected, has fueled outrage worldwide.
The U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act designed to initiate and fund the diplomatic compound’s relocation back in 1995, but every president since then had used their authority to postpone the move by six months.
President Trump has become the first leader of the United States not to delay the step. His decision stands in contrast to the 1993 Oslo peace accords, which suggest that the final status of Jerusalem has to be negotiated in the latter stages of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
It was clear from the begging that the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem would have another symbolic meaning. By doing so, Donald Trump had to take one step further and recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel.
Minutes after it was announced on Wednesday, the government of Israel welcomed this decision. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as a “historic day.” Nevertheless, the international community has its own reservations.
It is not only about the fact that the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has not been agreed on between Israelis and Palestinians but rather imposed by the third party, it is also about the concern about implications this move will have for the whole region.
Ironically, it appears that Donald Trump has ruined his own peace initiative, which he said a few months earlier might be “the best shot ever” at resolving the conflict. His decision is not just another tweet. Even though Mr. Trump’s political image suffers and his foreign policy is considered weak, he still stands as a leader of a superpower, which plays an important role in the Middle East and its stability.
Soon after Mr. Trump’s speech, the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, called for a new Palestinian Intifada, or uprising. Meanwhile, Israel has strengthened security measures and prepared for protests in Jerusalem. This decision might become a huge step backward in relations between Israelis and Palestinians, which have always been fragile.
The embassy move will definitely bring more instability to the region, and this is the last thing what the Middle East needs today. The controversial step by the United States will have its price, and Israel most certainly will have to pay for it.
Israel has to be concerned not only about security issues. Most of the Arab and Muslim countries have condemned the decision to move the embassy. It will definitely deteriorate Israel’s relations with countries that Israel has diplomatic ties with.
Furthermore, it might doom prospects of better relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Saudi Arabia has warned that the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel might have “dangerous consequences” and it means nothing else but “a big step back in efforts to advance the peace process.”
A few days earlier, a former Israeli defense minister claimed that Saudis are ready to accept almost any kind of peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Reports in the media indicated that Saudi Arabia and Israel were interested in allying against Iran and Riyadh sought to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. However, it looks like the Saudi position and the support for Israel have been miscalculated.
Even though the U.S. has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, this recognition will not change much since the majority of the European Union members have expressed criticism towards this decision. E.U. Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini said the latest decision by the U.S. might “take us back to even darker times.”
On the other hand, Israeli media has reported that the Czech Republic and the Philippines are considering to follow the U.S. example in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. However, in many other cases, the recognition may cause the opposite effect, and prompt the E.U. to level harsher criticisms against Israeli policies, especially activities related to new Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Both Palestinians and Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital. The essence of the conflict is a 0.35 square miles walled area, which makes the Old City. It has the most sacred places to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif is the very center of the conflict and long-existing violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jewish people. It is believed that the first and the second Temple were built there. Tradition also maintains that it is the site where the third and final Temple will be erected.
The site is also considered the third holiest in Islam, as it is believed that Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from there.
Neither of the sides is willing to give up this holy place, and it is hard to expect that the final peace solution will be reached without an agreement on the control of the Old City of Jerusalem.
If the holy city was only about holiness and peace, Jews, Muslims and Christians would be able to agree on a shared custody of the Old City. However, it looks like Jerusalem lost its real meaning a long time ago — it is all about politics today.
Jerusalem means “the city of peace,” but since the beginning of the renewed confrontation, peace seems as distant as ever.