Alvin Jon Bayle and Henry Kincaid-
President Donald Trump recently announced on Wednesday the 6th of December, that the United States will relocate the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Along with this announcement came the act of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, defying decades of international foreign policy. This move sparked controversy among UN delegates, as they believed it would likely halt or ruin any peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel.
Why was Trump’s move so controversial?
Trump’s decision to move the embassy is somewhat understandable from an American political perspective; back in 1995, Congress passed legislation titled the ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’. The law was generally considered to be politically bipartisan by media and politicians alike, as delegates from both the Republican and Democratic parties came together to push the legislation forward. The Act itself calls for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to be moved to Jerusalem, saying:
“SEC. 2. FINDINGS (14) In June of 1993, 257 members of the United States House of Representatives signed a letter to the Secretary of State Warren Christopher stating that the relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem “should take place no later than . . . 1999”.”
This legislation means that the U.S. was previously instructed by the government to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem much earlier than it has been, in 1999, however; the act wasn’t executed due to presidential objections. It is surmised that the U.S. did not originally follow through with the legislation in order to respect the boundaries of both Israel and Palestine, thereby limiting any potential damage the U.S. could inflict upon the already strenuous relationship between the two. Previous presidents have had the ability to make an executive decision that would move the embassy, but decided, in the interest of US international relations with both countries, that they would defer the relocation.
The Presidential campaign promises
One of Trump’s many campaign promises was to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a promise that he has clearly gone through with. Due to the amount of time it took for the announcement to be made, many of his supporters thought that Trump was likely going to go back on this policy, however; while this move may likely have quelled many of his supporters, it was not anywhere near universally supported, with even King Abdullah II of Jordan urging Trump to reconsider this move, suggesting that a relocation would cause further strife between Palestine and Israel.
Trump is not the first modern president to run, at least partially, on a platform of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While Clinton, Bush, and Obama would all eventually come to take an oppositional stance against Israel’s monopoly over Jerusalem, all at one point in their presidential or candidate career would take a more positive stance towards the move.
In 1993, Bill Clinton stated that he supported ‘the principle’ of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, and, in the year 2000, said:
“I have always wanted to move our embassy to West Jerusalem. We have a designated site there. I have not done so because I didn’t want to do anything to undermine our ability to help to broker a secure and fair and lasting peace for Israelis and for Palestinians.”
Of course, in this quote, Clinton makes a point of noting the difference between ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘West Jerusalem’, partially establishing the ability for both states to call Jerusalem their capital.
Also in 2000 was a speech from the president at the time, George W. Bush, in which he stated not only an ambition, but a directive, to move the embassy:
“Something will happen when I’m president: as soon as I take office I will begin the process of moving the US ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital.”
Even Barack Obama voiced his support for the move. In 2008, the then-Democratic nominee for president made a speech in front of the AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in which he voiced his support for the embassy move:
“Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. […] The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper — but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. […] Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided. I have no illusions that this will be easy.”
As mentioned previously, all three would eventually take the opposite stance, however; Trump’s push for the US to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is clearly nothing new.
Carter and Obama
Former President Jimmy Carter previously urged Obama to recognize Palestinian statehood. By acknowledging their right to statehood, Obama would have potentially been able to secure a peace deal between the two nations, or at least have given Palestine more international recognition and power. This would also have confirmed that the U.S. does not tolerate the illegal, from an international law perspective, Israeli settlements in Palestinian lands.
The UN’s decision
As of publishing, the UN has condemned Trump’s move, saying that it undermines any peaceful resolution between the two countries. An emergency meeting was held by eight countries in the New York-based UN Headquarters. This was in response to the international concerns surrounding Trump’s move, as well as the growing issues in regards to the protestors and rioters that have occupied parts of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza strip to rally against President Trump’s decision.
The United Nations have also warned Trump about the dangers of recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli Capital, suggesting that it will continue a seemingly never-ending feud between the two nations.
If Trump is willing to make any peace negotiations in the future, he will have to consider the opinions of the Palestinians, a group that is now much less likely to convene with Trump given his recent proclamation.
Foreign political opinions
The leaders and representatives of foreign powers have generally not shied away from voicing their opinions on this matter, with many criticising the move, citing various geopolitical, cultural, and religious issues.
Turkey’s President Erdogan has been a vocal opponent of the move, claiming that the U.S.’s decision to move the embassy and respect Israel’s choice of capital crossed a “red line”. Erdogan has also called Israel a “terrorist state” that “kills children”; the Turkish president said that “Palestine is an innocent victim”, and that they will “not abandon Jerusalem to the mercy of [Israel]”.
The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, has also voiced his concern during a press conference with Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Macron stated that he, and France as a whole, has no intentions of breaking the previous policies regarding Israel and Palestine that were maintained by the previous French president, Francois Hollande, and former American president Barack Obama.
Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, took a similar standpoint to Macron, saying that Trump’s move was unhelpful to advancing peace deals in the region, and pushed for the U.S. administration to reverse the decision.
Not all of the responses were negative, however; with the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, suggesting that the country should follow in Trump’s wake, much to the dismay of Andrej Babiš, Czech’s new prime minister.
Protests in Jerusalem and beyond
There is currently massive unrest over Trump’s decision in West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, but the protests have not just taken place in these three regions, and have appeared all over the world; from neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, to cities far beyond, such as London and New York, protests, commonly being referred to as the ‘Day of Rage’, have been the site of widespread anger, dismay, and violence.
This agitation is nothing new, and has existed ever since Israel was established in 1948, if not long before, but the increasing levels of violence and confrontation are becoming an ever-developing problem.
Since Trump’s decision, rockets, from both sides, have been fired at the enemy, and riots between Israeli police forces and Palestinian protestors have been commonplace. An Israeli airstrike has killed two Hamas militants, and Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians after a heated confrontation between the two groups. An Israeli security guard was also stabbed and seriously wounded after a protester attacked him near a central bus station in Jerusalem.
Riots involving Palestinians and the Israeli police will likely continue for some time, and casualties are expected to rise. Tear gas, smoke screens, water cannons, firebombs, and guns, both with rubber and real bullets, have been used in the fights.
Featured Image Credits: AFP