Trump to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, sending a shock to the Middle East peace process

Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem, considered holy by three religions, as Israel’s capital has met with a widespread backlash from the rest of the world. Why it’s so controversial.

President Donald Trump informed Israeli and Arab leaders of his intention to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Tuesday the 5th of December, exacerbating the already polarised political landscape of the Middle East. The baffling decision came a day after the expiration of a deadline to decide whether the US Embassy should remain in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

The White House released a statement on Wednesday the 6th of December that officially declared the United States’ decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem in the next few years, once the building is ready, confirming the end of the diplomatic policy pursued by Trump’s predecessors and that it is to become the first country to have an embassy in the city.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” the president said.

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People pray at the Western Wall in the Old City in Jerusalem, Israel © Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Jerusalem, the holy city 

Jerusalem is at the epicentre of the Middle Eastern conflict for its religious significance for Judaism, Islam and Christianity, in particular concerning the sacred sites located in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians, supported by Muslim countries, claim as the capital of their future state. On the other hand, Israel claims sovereignty over the entire city but this has never been recognised internationally. Israeli settlements, systematically built in East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war, house about 200,000 Jews despite being considered illegal under international law: as these grow, the occupation of East Jerusalem by Israelis becomes increasingly permanent. 

Read more: Holy water in the Israeli-Palestinian water conflict

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The Star of David is seen painted on the door of a house next to a shuttered Palestinian shop on a street that seperates an Israeli settlement and a Palestinian neighbourhood inside the city of Hebron, West Bank © Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The implications of Trump’s move

The decision has been widely criticised given the fragile nature of peace talks in the Middle East. Experts point out that making any announcements before Palestinians and Israelis reach a consensus will push the perspective of peace further away. In fact, the move upends the long-standing international understanding that Jerusalem’s future should not be imposed from abroad but rather a decision should be withheld until there is a resolution of the conflict between Palestine and Israel. 

qalandia checkpoint
Palestinian Muslim worshippers cross the Qalandia checkpoint on their way to Jerusalem near Ramallah, West Bank. Usually thousands of Palestinian worshippers cross from the West Bank into Israel to attend the first Friday prayers of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, however this year due to an age restriction not many people attended the crossing. The age limit was set because of an escalation of violence after the discovery of the body of a Palestinian boy earlier this week, suspected of being a revenge killing for the murder of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank © Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

International reactions

Among the opponents to Trump’s move is Jordanian King Abdullah II, who strongly advised against undertaking this step, “stressing that Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world,” according to a statement released by the royal palace in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

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A mural of “Che” Guevara is seen on the Palestinian side of the divided neighbourhood of Abu Dis, Jerusalem © Chris McGrath/Getty Images

In response to the planned announcement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in turn, said that the recognition of Jerusalem would constitute a “red line” for Muslims and it could force Turkey to cut recently restored diplomatic ties with Israel. Additionally, it remains unclear why the Trump administration has waited until the expiration of the deadline to make an announcement on such a contentious issue. Critics of the decision point to the unexplainable dramatisation of the decision, which has only added more fuel to the conflict. 

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A woman stands in front of the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City in Jerusalem, Israel © Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The peace process

Trump’s pro-active approach towards the Middle East doesn’t come as a surprise considering his promise of taking a strongly pro-Israel stance during the presidential campaign: “When I become President, the days of treating Israel like a second class citizen will end, on day one,” he said during a conference last year. That doesn’t, however, make the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital any less of a blow to the ongoing peace process, which risks suffering either as leaders involved in the talks isolate Israel or as people’s outrage ignites violence on the streets.

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