Inciting unrest in the world’s most unstable region via Twitter is apparently not enough for America’s increasingly rogue president. Within weeks of provoking global rebuke for reposting falsified anti-Muslim videos made by an extremist group, Donald Trump is prepared to wreak unquantifiable offline havoc on Middle East nations by recognizing a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
This action will be perceived as highly aggressive in a historical context and will undoubtedly cause a ripple effect of escalation among the various Middle East powers and alliances.
During his controversial presidential campaign, Trump promised to consider the possibility of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to the de facto capital of Israel in Jerusalem. The issue is rooted in a 1995 law, in which the U.S. Congress designated the transfer of the country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Due to the disputed status of the city and the sensitivity of this problem to relations with the Arab-Muslim world, all U.S. presidents have signed a document every six months postponing the implementation of this decision. During Trump’s first year in power, he has already signed the delay once, like his predecessors. He explained this decision by stating that he was protecting the national security of the United States. The current decision will soon expire, and the consequences could be catastrophic for the Middle East.
When Israel first declared its independence at the end of 1940, it belonged only to the western part of Jerusalem. However, during the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israelis captured the eastern part, along with the historic Old Town. The international community did not recognize this annexation. It was condemned by the UN Security Council and General Assembly, who described it as an annexation in violation of the rights of the Palestinian population, per UN General Assembly resolution 181 (II). Passed on November 29, 1947, the resolution provided for the full territorial internationalisation of Jerusalem. There is still no foreign embassy in Jerusalem. Under Trump, the U.S. would become the first country to decide to break this rule.
Representatives of the Middle East countries reacted aggressively to this threat to the status of Jerusalem. President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas has stated that the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will represent a threat to the future of the peace process. The Turkish Deputy Prime minister said it would cause catastrophe. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation cautioned Trump against the action; the organization noted that 57 of its members will have to sever all ties with any state that transfers its embassy to Jerusalem or recognizes Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem. They also pointed out that such a step would demonstrate “naked aggression” against all countries of the Arab and Muslim world. Jordan also called on the U.S. not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and convened an emergency meeting with the participation of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. A surge of tension in the region and aggravation of relations between the allies cannot be avoided.
Trump’s contradictory decision will not only stop talks between Palestinians and Israelis on a peaceful settlement. A new spiral of violence may erupt in the region. The Palestinian factions are already calling for the resumption of revolts against Israel. In addition, if the move is implemented, we will likely see an increase in anti-American sentiments in the region.
For decades, the U.S. had to balance the interests of its key allies in the Middle East region: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Promises to move the embassy to Jerusalem sounded from previous American presidents, but they never came to fruition. There is some speculation that Trump has once again become a hostage of his populist campaign statements, and is trying to appease his base by making grandiose announcements. Some thought leaders have also suggested that a focus on West Jerusalem only could alleviate some of the fallout. Regardless, it is becoming clear that the current administration sympathizes with Israel more than its Arab partners.
The U.S. would be much wiser to continue its policy of balancing in this very dangerous region. Sharp and erroneous steps can lead to large and serious losses. Let’s not forget that the influence of other strong competitors, such as Russian and China, continue to vie for a leadership role in negotiating the peace process. Trump should be careful. This region does not forgive big mistakes.