On Wednesday this week, after much speculation President Donald Trump formally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Additionally, the President signaled his intention to move the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, although the President did sign a waiver delaying this move for six months.
This announcement has caused a flaring of violence between Israeli and Palestinian forces. Clashes have erupted in the occupied West Bank and over the Israeli-Gaza border, where one Palestinian was killed. The policy shift from the President has been welcomed by Israel, but has been condemned by the Arab world and also Western allies of the United States.
Officially this has been the position of the United States since the 1995 Jerusalem Act which states “Jerusalem should be recognised as the capital of Israel.” The law also required the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem, but conceded the move could be put off for six months at a time as long as the President informed Congress that such a suspension would be necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States. Every six months since 1995 successive Presidents have opted against moving its embassy, until now.
So why is this decision so controversial? Jerusalem is a place of great religious and historical significance. Firstly, it holds a special status for each of the three Abrahamic religions of the world. Therefore any policy decision about Jerusalem will cause a reaction amongst each of these three religions. Secondly, both Israel and Palestine recognise Jerusalem as their capital. This will be seen as moving a step closer to cementing Israeli sovereignty over the city. Lastly, when in July 1980, Israel passed a law declaring Jerusalem as its united capital following the Six-Day War in 1967 this was condemned by the United Nations Security Council. There are complex religious, regional and diplomatic issues to be considered.
Undoubtedly this will make any peace deal between Israel and Palestine significantly harder and thus further reduce the prospect for peace in the region. The decision will also enhance tensions in the region. Next week Jordan and Turkey will lead a meeting discussing the Arab-Islamic response to the Jerusalem decision. Hamas have also called for a Palestinian uprising and a ‘day of rage’ to highlight the anger that exists and in Indonesia and Malaysia, Muslims have also protested outside US embassies.
In a region plagued by violence and war, this is a diplomatically foolish decision. The aim of the United States should be to secure peace in the region. This move will not help this aim. Without question, the issue of Jerusalem is one of the hardest in modern diplomacy. This, however is not the correct answer.