Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and start preparations for the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city, has the potential to spark massive unrest across the Middle East.
Clashes already begun on Friday between Palestinian protestors and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem, the West Bank and elsewhere where hundreds were injured, and a Palestinian is believed to have been killed.
Although Trumps move shouldn’t come as a surprise as he expressed his intention to do so during his electoral campaign – the decision breaks the US’ longstanding refusal to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, believing that a formal announcement could spark violence and would fatally undermine the US’ position as an honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians. Trump has now changed that.
In a short speech delivered at the White House, on Wednesday Trump directed the state department to start making arrangements to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a process that officials say will take at least three years.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”
Trump said: “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The move has been condemned by leaders across the globe. Eight countries also called for an emergency meeting at the UN headquarters in New York.
At the emergency meeting several countries resoundingly condemned the unilateral move by the US to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said Jerusalem “is perhaps the most emotionally charged and difficult subject” among the final status issues in the conflict.
“The United Nations has repeatedly declared that any unilateral decision that seeks to alter the character and status of Jerusalem or that may alter these long-standing principles could seriously undermine current peace efforts and may have repercussions across the region,” Mladenov said.
He added that he was “particularly concerned about the potential risk of a violent escalation” in response to the US decision.
Mladenov said the world was standing at a “critical moment in the long-running history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.
Matthew Rycroft, the UN ambassador representing the UK, said the British embassy is in Tel Aviv “and we have no plans to move it”.
He said the UK sought to reaffirm its “strong support” for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and the two-state solution.
“This is the only way to ensure the long-term security that Israelis deserve and the statehood and end to the occupation that Palestinians are calling out for,” Rycroft said.
Rycroft called on the US to release detailed proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon however took a decidedly different tone, saying Trump’s decision “marks a milestone for Israel, for peace and for the world”.
“The United States has the courage and true understanding of justice to officially state what has always been known: that Jerusalem has and always will be the capital of Israel,” said Danon.
“The embassy of the United States belongs in Israel’s capital.”
Israel took control of West Jerusalem after the state was created in 1948. It occupied East Jerusalem after the 1967 war and annexed the eastern portion of the city in 1980 in a move that remains unrecognised by the international community.
Israel has built several Jewish-only settlements around and inside key parts of East Jerusalem in an effort to cement its control over the entire city. The settlements are illegal under international law.
Despite this, Danon called on all states to “recognise Israel’s connection to Jerusalem” and to move their embassies to the city.
“We are grateful to the United States for its courageous decision. We call on all the nations of the world to join us this year in Jerusalem, the capital of the state of Israel,” he said.
Whatever, the opinion, one thing for sure Donald Trump’s abandonment of decades of US policy has put him into a turbulent situation with the rest of the world, which could have far-reaching consequences