Challenging the delicate status of the contested city and the international consensus, President Donald Trump has announced to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This unprecedented move over the holy place can have a disastrous impact on the stability and security of the region, hindering the peace process. Before expounding what is happening now, it is fundamental to comprehend why Jerusalem is so important and so controversial.
Jerusalem, located on a plateau that divides the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, is one of the oldest cities in the world. Universally known to be the Holy City of the three major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism, the old walls of Jerusalem enclose the most sanctified and venerated religious symbols, as the Temple Mount, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock. Claimed by the Jewish as the Promised Land, by the Christians as the land where Jesus Christ died and resurrected and finally revered by the Muslims as the third holiest place after Mecca and Medina, the conjunction of millennia of history, faiths and traditions bond in a sole city reflects its worldwide relevance.
Besieged and conquered, since the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, Jerusalem once again became the reason for many disputes and was so divided: East Jerusalem, inhabited by Arabs, under the control of Jordan and West Jerusalem proclaimed as the capital of the State of Israel. According to the armistice, an imaginary line called green line was constituted to mark the boundary.
In 1967, Israel won the Six-Day War and despite the supervision of the United Nations, it occupied several territories including the entire city of Jerusalem. Nonetheless, this unilateral annexation formalized by the Jerusalem Law in 1980 declaring that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” has been sharply condemned by the international community as a violation of the international law. In the following decades, the Israeli state implemented in the occupied Palestinian territories a series of repressive measures involving the confiscation of private lands and massive settlements.
Needless to say, hence, why the two states, Palestine and Israel, both claim Jerusalem as their religious and political capital and why the contested city is one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a pivotal topic for diplomats and international leaders.
On December 6, President Donald Trump announced at the White House that the US government is ready to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing the foreign policy of the previous American Presidents who declined this concession. The Israeli dream on which has actively worked for decades seems now to take shape, but so is the Arab nightmare. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.” In order to offer an exhaustive explanation, I should even mention that the Israeli legislative and judiciary powers, respectively the Knesset and the Supreme Court, are already located in Jerusalem.
Furthermore, President Trump proclaimed to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city, a process that in any case will require several years. In 1995, the Congress passed a law that allows the relocation of the Embassy of the United States to Jerusalem, but Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have every six months invoked a waiver for national security interests.
Hammering the policy on Jerusalem of the predecessor US Presidents as well as of other external actors in declining the recognition of the city as capital since the foundation of the State of Israel, the declaration immediately set off the disappointment of the rest of the world since the consequences could be detrimental to every peace effort that for decades leaders encourage and support. The triumph of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clashes with the long-held hopes of the Palestinians for East Jerusalem to be their capital. Describing the decision as a way to open “the gates of hell”, Hamas and President Abu Mazen seek external diplomatic support in order to persuade President Trump to change his mind, while Netanyahu is applauding and praising the President.
The move can threaten the already unstable balance of the Middle East region, exacerbating the political division, the spiral of violence and boosting even the desire for revenge. All Arab countries indeed strongly denounced Trump’s decision, menacing to cut the diplomatic ties with Israel, as promised the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Countries like Saudi Arabia that recently started a collaboration with Israel to counter the Iranian advance, described the move as “unjustified and irresponsible” and threatened to reverse the policy. As the status of Jerusalem drawn by the United Nations denies the sovereignty in the occupied territories, same objection and concern have been shared by the Western leaders. “President Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem has a very worrying potential impact. It has a very fragile context and the announcement has the potential to send us backwards to even darker times than the ones we are already living in”, stated the EU’s High Representative for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini. If the plan will go forward, the European Union will firmly maintain the position of the two-state solution and will take strong measures, for instance, by blocking the business deals with the Israeli companies. From Angela Merkel to Vladimir Putin, from Emmanuel Macron to the Chinese Foreign Minister, they have all joined the chorus of warnings and have sided together to sustain Trump’s verdict as reckless. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, criticized this unilateral decision by stressing that the Jerusalem issue must be solved through negotiations between the two parties. So did the Pope, raising his voice by appealing to respect the city’s status quo defined by the UN resolutions.
Despite the violation of the international law, the rights of Palestinians and the opinion of the rest of the world, President Trump is satisfying the will of Israel and enlightens his decision as “a long overdue step to advance the peace process”. Nonetheless, he did not mention how the peace negotiations can progress within a climate of disillusionment and anger.
By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Mr. Trump has reached the point of no return in the peace talks, destroying the US foreign policy efforts over the past 70 years, and has smashed the possibility to the United States to fulfil the role of primary mediator between Palestine and Israel. Taking Israel’s side, hence, could jeopardize the peace process, spark off a new outbreak of violence and most of all could deprive the power to perhaps the sole actor capable to find a solution.