On 06 December, the President of the United States (US) announced his decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move, has various implications particularly in the Middle Eastern region and specifically for the Israeli Palestine peace process which has been to some extent in an impasse. Trump’s decision does not only leave out Palestine’s claims to Eastern Jerusalem but has encouraged Israeli Palestine political analysts to question the role of the U.S. as an ‘honest broker’ in the peace process moving forward. Even though Trump insists that the peace process will not be affected by the U.S.’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital city, the truth of the matter is that the opposite is correct considering how Jerusalem has been the reason why most mediation attempts have resulted in stalemates. The fact is that Jerusalem was a contentious issue between Israel and Palestine and it shall remain at the heart of the conflict until both parties can reach a compromise on Jerusalem. The purpose of this opinion piece is to illustrate how Trump’s decision has been a long time coming especially when the U.S. policies from the mid-1990s are taken into consideration.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 opened the doors for the U.S. Embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem according to a deadline that was predetermined. However, the Act also asserts that, “The discretion to move the U.S. embassy is the President’s, who has the opportunity to decide after every six months on whether to move the embassy to Jerusalem or determines and reports to Congress in advance that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.” Since the Clinton administration, U.S. presidents have chosen to postpone the move until Mr Trump decided to announce his intentions under the guise of fulfilling his 2016 election campaign promises. As much as Mr Trump’s decision was protected by the U.S. laws, it was never in imaginable prospect that such a move and recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would open the flood gates of security unrest in Israeli Palestine territories. The previous presidents before Trump, had also made such promises to their electorates but decided against throwing a contentious bone in a peace process that had put the question of the holy city at the forefront of any peace negotiations. In May of 1995, the Time reported that, even though the President Clinton and the Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin administrations “support the move to Jerusalem in principle, they would prefer to see the peace process more stabilized before confronting the explosive issue of Jerusalem.” The security risks were transparent to both Israel and the United States, but in 2017, Mr Trump made a move that could have an everlasting impact on settling both the Jerusalem question and resolving the Israeli Palestine conflict.
The role of the U.S. as an ‘honest broker’ since the Oslo 1 peace process has been a subject of contention, mainly due to its unwavering alliance with Israel. For the U.S. to continue as the main mediator, in this peace process, it would be an injustice to diplomatic negotiations because not only has the Trump administration unjustly bestowed Jerusalem upon Israel but it has shown that Palestine does not have a legitimate claim to the holy city. Moving forward, how would the negotiations be conducted if one of the most disputed territories have already been ceded to one of the party in the negotiation process? I argue that the role of the U.S. as an honest broker, moving forward, has become illegitimate and should be reconsidered if the peace process could ever solve the conflict that haunts the Israeli Palestine region. Mike Pence, the current U.S. Vice President, in 2014 when he was still governor of Indiana, put to rest any claims that the U.S. was an honest broker, when he was quoted by the Jerusalem post saying “America should not aspire to be an honest broker in the Middle East, but rather communicate to the world that while it wants an honest and fair solution to the conflict, America is on the side of Israel.” Therefore, if the Middle East peace resolution could be reached at the negotiation table, the United States needs to recuse itself from the process and an independent party with no bait in the race should take up its role.
The in-existence of a current peace process does not lessen the security implications of recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel. Importantly, the decision should not be looked at in a vacuum of potentially unsettling the Israelis and Palestinians alone, but should be regarded as a decision that has the capacity to destabilize the broader region and directly undermine U.S. national security interests in the Arab and Middle East regions. Most political analysts have argued that, any moves that would legitimize Israel’s claim over the entire city would be considered by most states of the region and beyond as a provocative act of the United States siding with Israel. Various propositions have been put forward on how to solve the Israeli question. I maintain that, any resolution that does not take into recognition the Palestinian’s claim to East Jerusalem where most Palestinians live and West Jerusalem where most Jews live, would be null and void to reaching a two state solution. While also giving The Dome of the Rock- what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount and the Western Wall a special status. A special status to these holy places would ensure some sort of coexistence between the Muslims and the Jews that claim these sights as rightfully theirs due to historical perceptions. However, Ben-Meir of Huffington Post in 2016 argued that, “The Israelis and Palestinians should start with a process of reconciliation, to give any future peace negotiations a far better chance of succeeding.” In the following days after Trump’s announcement, there has been a boom in anti-Trump protests and violence against Israelis. This comes as no surprise and Arab leaders and most of European leaders warned the Trump administration against overturning long standing U.S. policy on Jerusalem. In public remarks Turkish President Erdogan, a frequent critic of Israel, called Israel an “invader state” and a “terror state”.
These assertions and the now overturned U.S. policy risk further isolation of Israel in a region that it has struggled to gain legitimacy. Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Arab states have been opposed to normalizing relations with Israel, which explains why Israel continues to be viewed as a pariah- mostly because of its unjust settlements in the regions that were labelled Corpus separatum by the UN in 1947 and other cultural reasons. Extremists in the region will capitalize on this decision at a time that the region is facing terror threats from Jihadi groups and terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Israeli’s neighbors already feel antagonized and they are key to fighting ISIS and other extremists. Therefore, the potential of cooperation between Israel and the majority of the Muslim states in the area has been jeopardized. There is still an opportunity for a sustainable peace of the Israeli Palestine conflict, such a peace, can be attained if international leaders such as Mr. Trump stop making grand gestures that are advantageous to one of the parties at the detriment of the other. On December 6 2017, Mr. Trump proved that he did not understand or have an in-depth understanding or knowledge of the Israeli Palestine territorial disputes. If the U.S. President, understood the ramifications and the contentious issue of Jerusalem, he would have followed the same policies that had been followed by his predecessors. There was a reason that past Presidents had opted to avoid recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel or move the U.S. embassy into the disputed territory before a sustainable peace had been reached between Israel and Palestine. There is more at stake, than simply fulfilling campaign promises to an electorate that is ignorant to an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the consequences a U.S. embassy in the holy city might have on the security of Israel, as well as its survival in the Arab region.
The assumption held by the Trump administration, that, the impasse in the Israeli Palestine negotiations could be broken after their current move is a flight of fancy. Even though, Mr. Trump did not talk about boundaries, borders and the final status of Jerusalem in his speech, that does not mean that he has not compromised the resumption of the negotiations that have been in a deadlock since 2014. In diplomacy and international politics, actions matter as much as words or utterances by world leaders. Therefore, the argument that the status of Jerusalem remains open to be discussed in possible peace negotiations, is at this time hard to understand based on the main mediator- the U.S.’s actions. Israel’s settlements in the disputed territories have infringed on agreed resolutions, and Trump’s decision has been what Israel has been waiting for since the U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem embassy Act of 1995. However, it still remains to be seen whether after ceding Jerusalem to Israel, the U.S. would continue having a seat at the table, as a mediator in future diplomatic negotiations. One thing is for certain, given the events that have followed after Trump’s decision. The Israeli Palestine conflict has been triggered for further escalation while shattering the dream of the vast majority of Jews to live in peace and security in a state they have been dreaming of for centuries which is the ultimate objective and the raison d’être of the Israeli State.