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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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