The ill-thought-out decision of United States President Donald Trump to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the US embassy to the holy city deserves to be condemned unequivocally.
With just one stroke of his pen, Trump has put paid to decades-long efforts for a two-state solution to resolve the protracted Palestinian-Israeli conflict, of which the status of Jerusalem is the core issue.
Jerusalem – home to holy sites of Muslims, Jews and Christians – is sacrosanct for Palestinians.
After occupying the city’s eastern part in the 1967 War, Israel annexed the territory, and proclaimed it as its “eternal, undivided capital.” The Palestinians, however, see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
By illegally annexing East Jerusalem Israel has violated several international laws, which stipulate that an occupying power does not have sovereignty in the territory it occupies.
The international community, including the US, has officially regarded East Jerusalem as occupied territory. No country in the world, except Russia, has recognised any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Until now, all embassies have been based in Tel Aviv.
The seeds of Trump’s catastrophic decision were sown in 1995, when the United States Congress passed The Jerusalem Embassy Act, which calls for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
However, Trump’s predecessors, such as George Bush and Barack Obama, have repeatedly invoked an inbuilt waiver every six months, and staved off the move citing security concerns.
President Trump himself, in the month of June this year, delayed the relocation of the US embassy.
But that changed on Wednesday. Throwing caution to the wind, Trump has reversed decades-old US policy, and ignored warnings from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Middle Eastern, Arab and global leaders.
So, Trump’s latest decision begs the question: why now?
During his election campaign last year, as a ploy to garner Jewish votes and thank his key financial donors, Donald Trump had pledged to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and recognise the holy city as Israel’s capital.
After his June decision to invoke the waiver and maintain the status quo of Jerusalem, the Jewish lobby in the United States was reported to be quite upset with Trump for failing to keep his election promise.
Seen in this light, Trump’s decision on Wednesday will no doubt appease his Jewish supporters in America, not to mention the state of Israel, and boost his popularity with his right-wing evangelical voter base.
Also in August this year, at Trump’s behest, his son-in-law Jared Kushner is believed to have launched a new effort to restart the long-stalled peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.
In the days and weeks to come it will become clear whether Trump’s latest decision on Jerusalem is part of a strategic plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue or just a move to fulfil his election campaign promise.
However, for now, as expected, Trump’s decision has been greeted with global outrage. His Highness the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has added his voice to the growing concern over President Trump’s reckless move, warning of serious repercussions.
As Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, put it Trump is “playing with fire”.
With his ill-advised decision, President Trump has undermined the US position as an honest broker. More significantly, the United States has alienated Muslims worldwide and lost its credibility in the eyes of the Palestinians and Arabs as an impartial mediator.
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