Trump’s Announcement on Jerusalem Under ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’ Attracted Waves of Reactions

Clashes between the Israeli forces and Palestinian youth. East of Gaza city.

Trump recent move on Jerusalem makes the US the first country in the world to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The decision has been faced with mixed reactions from across the globe. While there have been massive condemnations, there were appreciations too.

Early this month – precisely on December 6 – the US President Donald Trump effectively recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with the further intention to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In doing so, Trump has gone where none of his predecessors had ever dared to go before him.

One reason on the part of the previous US administrations for not giving the recognition – until Trump did – could be the fear that such a move could have sparked violence in the Middle East and would have undermined the image of the US as an honest negotiator in the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

What would be the status of Jerusalem, which is home to some of the holy sites in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, in a scenario where there would be two de facto and de jure states – Israel and Palestine – remained one of the fundamental issues of the longstanding Israel-Palestine peace process.

In doing so, Trump appeared to have fulfilled his promise of recognising Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a promise made during the 2016 US presidential election campaign. Even after becoming the president, his administration talked about delivering “the ultimate deal” on Israel-Palestine peace process.

The White House officials have said that Trump’s decision is “nothing more or less than recognition of reality” and is not a political statement and will not change the physical and political borders of Jerusalem. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also clarified that the final status, including the borders, would be left to the two parties to negotiate and decide.”

One-state solution, two-state solution

The Israel-Palestine conflict began during the early 20th century, though both the Jews and the Arabs date their claims to the land back to hundreds of years. There are the two broad ways the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might end: one-state solution and two-state solution.

The “two-state solution”, which is the mainstream approach, would create two independent states: establishing Palestine as an independent state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, leaving the rest of the land to Israel. However, if the sides cannot negotiate a two-state solution, a de facto one-state outcome will be inevitable. The “one-state solution” – wherein all of the land becomes either Israel or Palestine – would cause more problems than it would solve.

Long awaited recognition under the US’s ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’

Donald Trump’s decision on Jerusalem – which lies at the heart of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict – appears to be an astonishing u-turn of the position of the previous US administrations.

Israel has always regarded entire Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The territory is rich in sites of historic, cultural and religious significance.

Though Israel calls Jerusalem its undivided capital, the international community recognises Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel. While all the 86 embassies in Israel are located in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem hosts a smaller number of consulates.

Recognising Jerusalem the capital of Israel has been on the agenda of the former US president Bill Clinton and the subsequent US presidents. Despite having the strong backing of Congress, all these presidents kept delaying the decision, predicting that such a move would only provoke the population across the region into chaos and would provide the extremists with recruitment campaigning tools.

In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which included the provision: “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the state of Israel” by a date “no later” than May 31, 1999.

Bill Clinton, during his tenure in the White House, argued against the provision saying that the section 3(b) of the 1995 Act was unconstitutional as it goes against the executive authority which the Constitution gave him, as president, to conduct diplomatic relations with other states and he did not find the timing appropriate to recognise Jerusalem as Israeli capital during that period.

In response to Clinton’s argument, the Congress made an amendment to the 1995 Act, giving the president the right to suspend the move for a period of six months. From then onwards, Clinton and his successors had been suspending the move on a regular basis, until Trump put an end to the debate on December 6 with the recognition of Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

Trump too had to sign the embassy waiver once on June 1, 2017.

Czech Republic & Philippine support Trump’s decision

Following Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, the Czech Republic recognised “Jerusalem to be in practice the capital of Israel”. The Czech foreign ministry said its recognition covered only West Jerusalem “in the borders of the demarcation line from 1967”.

Last week, another European leader, Geert Wilders, the chairman of the Party for Freedom or PVV from the Netherlands, tweeted that Jerusalem was the “undivided, eternal capital of Israel.”

A day after Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte too expressed interest in moving his country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

European leaders’ reactions largely against the announcement

On December 6 – same day of Trump’s announcement – Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban blocked a planned European Union (EU) statement that was supposed to be issued on behalf of all 28 member states criticizing Trump’s decision and voicing “serious concern”. The statement was later downgraded to a statement by EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini.

This scenario gave rise to the speculations that Hungary is interested in moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But PM Orban said later on Monday (December 11) that Hungary will not move its embassy.

The EU as an international body, the UK Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised on a two-state solution and on negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states. Theresa May further said that the UK regards East Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, while French President Emmanuel Macron called Trump’s decision “regrettable” and a breach of international law.

Before he left for meetings with European leaders on December 9, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he wasn’t ready to accept double standard from European leaders. He expressed his astonishment for European leaders’ silence over the rockets fired at Israel, when the same leaders voiced their condemnations for Trump’s decision.

Reactions at the UN

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, said Jerusalem was “a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties”, taking “into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinians and the Israeli sides”.

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on December 7, fourteen out of 15 members viewed Trump’s announcement was a violation of UN resolutions and international law, but fell short of issuing a formal statement in this regard.

But US ambassador Nikki Haley said that the UN has been one of the world’s foremost centres of hostility towards Israel and that the US was still committed to finding peace.

Netanyahu finds the decision historic

Trump’s decision has been faced with opposite reactions from two opposite camps – the Israelis and the Palestinians – and their leadership.

Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the decision as a historic landmark, courageous and just. He has expectations that other nations would follow the US’s lead. The Israeli PM said, “there is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel”.

Infuriated Muslim leaders

The communique issued after a session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul yesterday (December 13) declares Trump’s decision unlawful. The OIC added that it remains committed to a comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.

In a speech at the OIC meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said – reiterating his previous remarks on another previous occasion – that it the US’s mediator role would be “unacceptable” in the Israel-Palestine peace process “since it is biased in favour of Israel”.

Convening the aforesaid OIC meeting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who previously said Jerusalem’s status is a “red line” that could prompt Turkey to cut ties with Israel, vowed to “stand up to American bullying”.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman earlier told Trump by telephone that the announcement was a “dangerous step” that would “inflame” the Muslim world. The Saudi royal court described the decision as “unjustified and irresponsible” and “a big step back in efforts to advance the peace process.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned against complicating the situation in the region, while Jordanian King Abdullah too voiced deep concern over the announcement.

On December 9, the Arab League resolution – backed by a number of US allies, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan – was agreed after an emergency meeting in Cairo. Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the secretary-general of the Arab League, said Trump’s decision “raises questions over American efforts to support peace” between Palestine and Israel.

Protests & violence

Demonstrations against Trump’s decision were held in the Muslim-majority Arab and non-Arab countries and beyond.

In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, thousands of protesters mounted a demonstration outside the US Embassy based in Jakarta. Protests also took place outside the US embassy in the German capital, Berlin and flags were set on fire outside the embassy.

In Lebanon, the Lebanese and Palestinian protesters hurled projectiles at the US Embassy in Beirut and burned Trump in effigy, along with US and Israeli flags, while other protests took place in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kashmir, Malaysia, Pakistan, Somalia, Tunisia, Turkey, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. The Lebanese security forces outside the US Embassy in Beirut had to fire water cannons and tear gas to contain the protesters.

On Friday, Israel carried out air strikes, which, according to Israel, was conducted in response to three rockets that were fired towards Israel from Gaza. Israel said that the airstrikes hit military sites belonging to the Islamist group Hamas, killing two of its members.

A spokesman for Hamas, the Islamist group in Gaza, said Trump’s decision would “open the gates of hell on the US interests in the region”. By such warnings, Hamas had indicated that any actual step to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be met with chaos against the US interests in the region, in the sense that Hamas and Iranian terror machine, Hezbollah, might go as far as attacking the US businesses, embassies and citizens throughout the Middle East.

Meanwhile, China and Russia too expressed their fear of escalation of tensions in the region.

Security alerts for US citizens & embassies

Following Trump’s announcement, the US embassies in Turkey, Jordan, Germany, and Britain issued security alerts for US citizens travelling or living abroad in those countries. The US also issued a general warning for its citizens abroad about the possibility of violent protests.

The employees at the US consulate in Jerusalem and the US embassy in Jordan have been warned about potential deterioration of the security condition.

How the move benefits Trump?

Recognizing Jerusalem formally as the capital of Israel might bring positive results for Trump.

The latest move on Jerusalem might give him the leverage to negotiate what he has dubbed “the ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians. Trump, who just gave enough to the Israelis, would ask the Israelis to offer some concessions to the Palestinians in the peace process. Palestinians, who now are thinking to have lost the peace process, is likely to accept those concessions to resume the peace process despite the rhetoric from their leaders and their protests.

Furthermore, the announcement would boost Trump’s standing at home among the conservatives, to whom Trump would appear as the president who lives up to the promises he made during the presidential election campaign: first, attacking the Iran nuclear deal, and now, recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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