Written by María Maldonado
The status of the city of Jerusalem has been long-disputed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to religious and cultural meaning. A successful peace process would implicate an agreement over its recognition as the capital of either Israel or Palestine, and given the complexity of the conflict, the UN considered that the status of Jerusalem had to be negotiated and agreed upon between the two parties. The position of the UN does not imply that world leaders are forbidden to express their own opinion, but many have abstained to avoid fuelling tensions in the conflict – until now.
The President of the United States, Donald Trump, recognized the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and publicly announced his desire to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with the purpose to validate his position. Trump added to his statement: “This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality”.
However, this does not mean it is the ‘reality’ for Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinian cause. The announcement was received as a further step back from achieving any peace agreement and consequently triggered further hostility among Israel and Palestine. But, why is Trump’s announcement so relevant to the conflict?
Trump has received extensive criticism as the implication of his announcement is clear: to favour Israel over Palestine. The United States has a major global influence, but the relevance of this announcement relies upon the role of the United States as a key mediator in the conflict and its attempt to deliver a peace proposal. Given this mediating role, to express or even take a position was inappropriate. Consequently, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, disapproved the unfairly inclined position and announced that the United States could no longer play the role of a peacemaker in the conflict.
The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was predicted to cause a major outrage and destabilization throughout the region. Trump was warned in advance when he expressed his desire to make his announcement. Among the opposed, King Abdullah II of Jordan warned that terrorists could benefit from the resulting anger; while other world leaders warned against destabilization in the region. Despite the warnings, Trump went forward with making his position public. Even if it is positive for a leader with such power to hold a strong stance, Trump was indifferent towards the effect his statement could have on the ongoing conflict.
Once the announcement was delivered, the impact was easily perceived as strikes promptly arose across the world and negative responses surfaced on social media. In addition, tension erupted once again as Ismail Haniya, Hamas leader, perceived it as a declaration of war against Palestinians and called for a new intifada. Until now, 12 deaths resulting from violence have been reported since the day Trump said the words, and there are fears of violations against the sacred sites located in Jerusalem. On the other hand, it is important to recognize that the statement appeared rightful for the state of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, reiterated that Jerusalem is the legitimate capital of his country and the recognition of this fact is a requirement for any peace agreement with Palestine.
The announcement alone came as a sudden twist, but the situation worsened when Trump and Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, threatened President Abbas to cut the US contributions directed to Palestinian refugees, unless peace negotiations with Israel start again. Moreover, they did not miss the opportunity to put pressure on the countries that voted against the United States and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the UN Security Council. Nonetheless the reiteration of support for a two-States solution by other world leaders have appeased the effect of the position taken by the United States. It remains necessary to see if the US embassy is relocated to Jerusalem and the reaction of the international community at the time of the relocation.
The steps taken by the United States have been counter-productive towards a fair peace process between Israel and Palestine. It is too late to take back the damaging statement made by the United States, but there is still hope to re-establish a fair position in the future. Hopefully, the USA will reconsider and keep the US embassy in Tel Aviv along with mantaining a fairer, less aggressive approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.