On December 6, 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital and shall move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He described the move as "a long overdue step" to advance the Middle East peace process. The President said the US would support a two-state solution, if approved by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. President Trump said he had "judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians". For President Trump, the proclamation was an important way to make good on a pledge to his political base, which includes Evangelical Christians and pro-Israel Republicans eager for such a move. The announcement was a reversal of decades of American foreign policy, and differed sharply from the broad international policy on Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hailed Trump’s recognition as “historic” and a “courageous and just decision”.
As expected, President Donald Trump's has been met with a wave of near-universal disapproval. It was followed by severe global criticism and warnings that the move would jeopardize the regional peace and create unrest among the Muslim world.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said on December 7, 2017, that the United States has abdicated its role as a mediator in peace efforts and could no longer play the role of peace broker after Trump’s decision.“These deplorable and unacceptable measures deliberately undermine all peace efforts,” Abbas added.
The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas said Trump had committed a “flagrant aggression against the Palestinian people”. The decision would "open the doors of hell" on American interests in the region. Hamas has called for three days of protests and has urged Palestinians to abandon peace efforts and launch a new uprising against Israel in response to Trump’s decision. Meanwhile, Palestinian secular and Islamist factions have called for a general strike and rallies to protest the decision.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned President Trump that the move was “irresponsible” and was "throwing the region into a ring of fire“. The Turkish foreign ministry stated that the decision “may result in highly negative outcomes and to avoid uncalculated steps that will harm the multicultural identity and historical status of Jerusalem. It is against international law and relevant UN resolutions.” The issue will now be taken up at the emergency summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul on December 13, 2017.
On December 7, 2017, Saudi Arabia slammed the decision as “unjustified and irresponsible” as it goes against the “historical and permanent rights of the Palestinian people”, calling on President Trump to reconsider his decision. Saudi King Salman warned that “the declaration would harm the peace negotiation process and escalate tension in the region."
Jordan condemned President Trump’s move as amounting to a violation of international law and the UN charter. Jordan's King Abdullah called for joint efforts to counter any action that undermines the Palestinian people's aspirations for their own independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital". Jordan said President Trump’s action was “legally null” because it consolidated Israel’s occupation of the eastern sector of the Jerusalem.
Egypt rejected President Trump’s decision and said it did not change Jerusalem’s disputed legal status. President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt has warned against "complicating the situation in the region by introducing measures that would undermine chances for peace in the Middle East."
The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he “seriously condemns” the move as it violates U.N. resolutions and that the United States was trying to destabilize the region and start a war to protect Israel’s security.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said the Jerusalem decision was dangerous and threatened the credibility of the United States as a broker of Middle East peace. He said the move would put back the peace process by decades and threatened regional stability and perhaps global stability.
Iraq decried the Trump administration's move as "unjust", with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warning of "dangerous consequences" for regional stability and the world. He said the United States should "retreat from that decision to stop a dangerous escalation that leads to extremism and creates an atmosphere which helps terrorism."
The United Arab Emirates denounced the decision and expressed deep concern over the repercussions of this decision on the region's stability as it inflames the emotions of the Arab and Muslim people.
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani warned President Donald Trump that his decision would have “serious repercussions which would further complicate the situation in the Middle East, and negatively affect the security and stability in the region,”. Qatar´s foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, said Trump´s undertaking was a "death sentence for all who seek peace" and called it "a dangerous escalation".
The Arab League called it "a dangerous measure that would have repercussions" across the region, and questioned the future role of the US as a "trusted mediator" in peace talks.
Pakistan expressed its strong opposition to the announcement. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that it was deeply regrettable that pleas from states across the globe not to alter the legal and historical status of Jerusalem have been ignored, more out of choice than necessity. The Foreign Office spokesman said that Pakistan opposed the declaration as it would undermine the efforts of enduring peace in the Middle East. “It is a serious setback to the rule of law and international norms. It signals a severe blow to the Middle East peace process,” the spokesman added.
Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan said the United States was "exposing its colonial ambition in Muslim territory." Indonesia and Malaysia also denounced President Trump´s action. “This can rock global security and stability," Indonesian President Joko Widodo said.
The United Nations voiced alarm at the decision and its repercussions for any chances of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there was no alternative to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, and that Jerusalem was a final-status issue that should be resolved through direct talks. Pope Francis said, "I cannot silence my deep concern over the situation that has emerged in recent days. At the same time, I appeal strongly for all to respect the city's status quo, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions." He said new tension would further inflame world conflicts.
Russia expressed its concern that the move could lead to an escalation of tensions in the region. China’s foreign ministry spokesman said on December 6, 2017, that President Donald Trump’s plan would trigger an escalation in tensions. China now anticipates more conflict in the Middle East following the United States’ move. The European Union called for the "resumption of a meaningful peace process towards a two-state solution" and said "a way must be found, through negotiations, to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states, so that the aspiration of both parties can be fulfilled."
All major American allies came out against President Trump’s announcement. French President Emmanuel Macron said President Trump's decision was "regrettable “and “unilateral”. He said France did not support the move because it contravened international law and UN Security Council resolutions.Germany said Jerusalem’s status could only be resolved based on a two-state solution. Britain said the move would not help peace efforts, and Jerusalem should ultimately be shared by Israel and a future Palestinian state. India also expressed its displeasure on the announcement and declared its support of the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution.
As expected, Arabs and Muslims across the world strongly condemned the United States’ decision as an incendiary move in a volatile region. Meanwhile, protests are taking place in many cities in the Muslim world.
The United States is the first country in the world to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, was annexed by Israel after the Six Day War of 1967, but was not internationally recognized as part of Israel. The UN had called for the existence of an independent, sovereign and contiguous state of Palestine based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. The status of Jerusalem is home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. The city has an exalted status in the conscience of Arabs and Muslims. However, Israel deems Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital dating to antiquity.
The status of Jerusalem lies at the heart of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks. Several peace plans have unraveled in the past decades over the issue of how to divide sovereignty or oversee holy sites in Jerusalem. The last round of peace negotiations brokered by the United States collapsed in 2014.The United Nations Security Council is now meeting on December 8, 2017, to discuss the United States’ decision.
Today, President Trump's decision has raised doubts about his administration’s ability to follow through on a current peace effort aimed at reviving long-stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. President Trump’s decision is now prompting an almost universal diplomatic backlash and fears of new bloodshed in the Middle East. The announcement constitutes a clear violation of international law and UN Security Council resolutions. It also ignored decades of global consensus on this issue. Surely, the United States’ declaration shall result in more conflict in a region already reeling from crises and imperil Middle East peace efforts. The decision is indeed reckless and shall certainly have a negative impact on regional stability.
Dr. Sohail Mahmood is a faculty member at Oxford Higher Academy, UK and Professor & Board Member, Department of Political Science, Faculty UniVirtuelle, Methodologica Universitas.