Dec 06, 2017

The decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its consequences

I, like many others I suspect, have grown tired and increasingly frustrated at trying to understand anything the Trump administration is doing.  So many of its decisions seem to be made with little forethought or analysis and appear to be taken in a ‘screw you’ kind of way.  What other interpretation can be given to the plan to downsize national parks and open them up to resource exploitation, not fill key State Department vacancies and the ongoing denigration of the FBI and other dedicated US government agencies?

Which brings us to the President’s plan to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital together with a probable move of the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The backdrop to this ill-fated scheme should be of surprise to no one.  It clearly is intended to please hardline Jewish and US evangelical/religious extremist desires, both groups which matter to the Trump team and both of which are among the few which like what they see of the administration to date.  The recognition of Jerusalem as the ‘eternal capital of Israel’ has long been a rallying cry in the US but has not been taken up by many nations.  The simple reason for most countries’ hesitancy is the unfortunate complication that the city has been divided and the eastern half ‘occupied’ by Israel since the 1967 war, plus the ‘inconvenience’ that the Palestinians want it for the capital of their state.  Hence most governments have left their embassies in Tel Aviv pending a resolution to these problems.

As with many current and historical conflicts there is a significant religious undertone to this one.  Jerusalem is holy to the world’s great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For the Jews it is the city of David and the site of the first temple; for Christians it is where Christ died; and for Muslims it is the location of the Dome of the Rock (al Aqsa) from which the Prophet Muhammad made his night journey to heaven.  All three are tied to the city and all three have fought to maintain or control it.  The Crusades were launched to free Jerusalem from its Muslim occupiers beginning in the late 11th century.  The religious significance of Jerusalem is what makes the US plans so dangerous.  People will kill and die to safeguard what they see, rightly or wrongly, as holy.

The US move is both unnecessary and will lead to more violence and terrorism.  Nothing has happened lately to give this decision any sense of urgency: no threat to Israel or the US calls for it.  It is merely a sop to special interests.  Furthermore it will incense many people, ranging from ordinary citizens to terrorist groups.  We only need to recall then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit in 2000 to the Temple Mount (which includes Al Aqsa) that lit the fuse for the second Intifada and led to the deaths of  thousands.  This move could very well ignite a third intifada – or worse.

For the record I have never seen myself as a specialist in Israel-Palestine.  I find both sides frustrating and worthy of criticism. As some have stated,  ‘a pox on both their houses’.  Neither side seems interested in true negotiation to find a peaceful end to decades of strife and death.

In the end the Trump statement, expected later today (I am in the UK as I write and hence ‘in the future’), will make matters much worse than they need to be.  Here’s hoping beyond hope that he will change his mind and/or, if he does not, that cooler heads will prevail.  I am not optimistic.