Author: Natig NAZIMOGLU
A spectre is haunting the Middle East, the spectre of a new war. The decision of the U.S. President Donald Trump on the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel has generated this spectre.
"Right decision" or "unjustified measure"?
The status of Jerusalem is one of the key problems in the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority officially recognize Jerusalem as their capital. According to the resolutions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly, the status of the city of the three world religions shall be resolved through direct negotiations between the parties to the conflict - Israelis and Palestinians.
During the Six-day War in 1967, Israel took control of East Jerusalem. After thirteen years, in 1980, the Knesset passed a bill unilaterally declaring Jerusalem the one and undivided capital of Israel. However, the UN Security Council did not recognize this decision: Resolution No. 478 condemned the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel as an action violating the principles and norms of international law.
The world community believes that East Jerusalem should belong to Palestinians and West Jerusalem to Israelis. At least, any change in the status quo of the ancient city should be based on existing international legal norms and the mutual consent of the parties to the conflict. Accordingly, none of the states has recognized Israel’s unilateral decision on Jerusalem. The embassies of countries maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel are located in Tel Aviv.
However, the United States has violated global agreement on this issue. Back in 1995, the U.S. Congress adopted a law on the relocation of its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. All the presidents have hesitated to recognize the city as the Israeli capital except Donald Trump, although Washington's support for Tel Aviv has never generated doubts. Trump has literally put the region on the verge of explosion by recognizing the Israeli ownership of Jerusalem and ordering the relocation of the American diplomatic mission. The incumbent U.S. president believes that his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is correct. According to the First Deputy Press Secretary of the U.S. President, Raj Shah, "if you are going to be an honest broker in the Middle East, you need to be honest, and recognising reality is the first part of that."
Meanwhile, the position of the "honest broker" has been strongly condemned by the greater part of the world community, primarily the Arab countries, who do not want to "recognize the reality" that has developed since the Israeli occupation. For Palestinians, Trump's decision is a declaration of war against their people and leadership. The administration of the Palestinian Autonomy declared that they would not negotiate with Washington until the American decision was cancelled. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas refused to meet with the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the region. Abbas also said that the U.S. could no longer be intermediary in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The Arab world explicitly rejects a unilateral American decision. Even the Egyptian Coptic Church refused to accept the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence saying that the U.S. did not regard the feelings of millions of Arab people.
The closest ally of the Americans in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, has also condemned Trump's decision treating it as "an irresponsible and unjustified measure" that caused "a storm of discontent, indignation and contempt."
Lebanese Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil, encouraged the Arab League to take pre-emptive measures against the American decision. Particularly, he called for imposing sanctions against the U.S., if they do not change their position. The Arab League held an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo, Egypt. The regional bloc’s secretary-general Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said that all Arab countries condemned Trump’s decision, which "cannot be justified and defies any logic." The League called upon the international community to recognize the Palestinian state within the borders of June 4, 1967 with its capital in East Jerusalem.
Turkey has also sharply criticized American actions against Palestine. President Recep T. Erdogan said that the U.S. "have trampled down the UN resolution on Jerusalem from 1980, which no one had yet violated." "Trump’s decision is beyond comprehension. What is he trying to do? His statements are now virtually serving as a mixer stirring up the whole region. Jerusalem is a holy place for Muslims, Christians, and Jews. This move, especially for this region, is like a burning match. Political leaders exist for reconciliation, not to stir things up," added Erdogan.
Turkey convened an extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the issue of Jerusalem. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev also attended the meeting. The leaders of the two Turkic states held a telephone conversation, agreed that the U.S. decision “is extremely erroneous”, contradicts international law, and can lead to dangerous consequences in the Middle East.
Interestingly, the closest European allies of the U.S. (UK, France, Germany, and Italy) have also criticized Washington's position. EU called on the U.S. to lead a "meaningful peace process" and to cancel the transfer of American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Finally, the UN Security Council expressed its rejection of the American decision. Fourteen member states of the Security Council held an emergency meeting, which confirmed that the U.S. actions on Jerusalem did not comply with the resolutions of the global organization. According to the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, her country remains committed to the process of peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But her statement has had no effect. In particular, Russia's permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, stressed that Washington's unilateral move risks further complicating the situation in the Palestinian-Israeli relations and in the region as a whole "undermining and even putting an end to" in the negotiations to create two states - the Jewish and the Palestinian.
Either way, the ultimate question of the whole story with Jerusalem’s recognition is why the U.S. president has made such an ambiguous and risky decision. What were his motives? One of the most trending versions is that Trump, faced with a sharp rejection of his policies inside the country, decided to play nice for certain influential circles in such an explicitly pro-Jewish way to reduce the pressure on himself.
It is known that a big portion of the American media controlled by the Jewish lobby is leading a blatant campaign against Trump. In addition, a number of influential representatives of the Republican Party are openly opposing Trump. So, the president’s move was an attempt to please these circles. It can be expected that the pro-Jewish American media will now significantly reduce the intensity of anti-Trump propaganda, or even stop it at all. As for the Republicans, Senator Lindsay Graham and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, both known for their antipathy towards Trump, have ardently supported the presidential decision on Jerusalem.
Another factor that could influence Trump’s decision is directly related to his own family. Jarred Kushner, an orthodox Jew, and his wife, Ivanka, who converted to Judaism after the wedding, could well push the U.S. president to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
But what about the consequences of Trump’s decision? In his statement on the recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, president expressed confidence that his decision would serve the cause of peace in the Middle East. "The Middle East is a region rich with culture, spirit, and history. Its people are brilliant, proud, and diverse, vibrant and strong. Our children should inherit our love, not our conflicts." However, a sober assessment of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the regional situation rather suggests sharp aggravation due to such a resonant move of the American administration.
In fact, a few bloody events occurred in various parts of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank right after Trump's decision was made public. The clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli military resulted in injuries of more than a thousand people. Palestinians rocketed the south of Israel, and the Jewish army struck Palestine. Such a situation in the Holy Land has not been observed over the past few months. We should expect further destabilisation, as moderate Palestinian organisations have agreed with radical groups to reject unanimously the explicit American-Israeli alliance. Fatah and Hamas promise a new intifada, the latter accusing Trump of opening the "gate of hell."
But can this imaginative assessment of the situation spread all over the entire Middle East? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Experts are warning about the likelihood of increasing terrorist activity in the region. It may seem that the terrorists will hardly ever be inspired to continue their odious activity after serious defeats in Syria and Iraq in the recent months. However, the last U.S. decision violating the existing international legal norms, especially the UN resolutions, can be considered a gift for terrorists. Indeed, for a large part of the Arab population deprived of any prospects for a decent socio-economic life, the radical, extremist and even terrorist groups are getting increasingly popular as those who can promise at least some hope for the best future.
But is it possible that Trump's decision has been originally aimed at escalating the radicalization? After the defeat of the so-called Islamic State, only a long-standing Palestinian-Israeli conflict could provide the most convenient chance to extend the eternal war in the Middle East. This seems to be the best option to ensure total control by the global powers trying to pave the way for managed chaos in one of the most strategically important regions of the world.