Trump’s decision earlier this week to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to have the U.S. embassy moved there from Tel Aviv – a shift in a long-standing U.S. policy to not alter the status quo of Jerusalem – has enraged both friends and foes of the United States.
In a rare public rebuke of one of the world’s leading superpowers, 14 of the United Nations Security Council members condemned Trump’s actions regarding Jerusalem on Friday, and on Saturday, the Arab League adopted a resolution calling on the U.S. to reverse its decision. The resolution warned that the U.S. would only push the region towards chaos and violence, which has already been seen with the stabbing of an Israeli security guard on Sunday and a failed arson attack in a synagogue as far as Sweden.
In the days since, protests have erupted around the world, from capitals in the region such as Rabat, Cairo, Algiers, and Amman, to others as far away as Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian defense minister joined the chorus of condemnation by stating that the Malaysian Armed Forces are ready to “play a role” in Jerusalem, while also condemning the continued occupation of the city by Israel.
On Sunday, protests turned violent in Lebanon, a country that is home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees that do not have the right to return. Protestors tried to break through barriers at the U.S. embassy while the Lebanese foreign minister called on Arab nations to impose economic sanctions on the United States. In Palestine, violent protests erupted all across the west bank as Israeli occupation forces attempted to disperse peaceful protestors, hundreds of whom were injured. In Gaza, Israeli airstrikes killed two civilians as Hamas fired two rockets into southern Israel in response to Trump’s announcement and Israel’s occupation, both of which directly threaten the two-state solution and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.
Most importantly, however, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority announced the end of the United States’ role as a peace broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians due to its now blatant impartiality on such a complex conflict. Abbas, as well as other Muslim and Christian leaders, such as the head of the Coptic Church in Egypt, have announced that they will not be meeting U.S. Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region later this month.
Jerusalem is claimed by both Israel and Palestine and is symbolically representative of the entire history of conflicts between the two populations for over half of the last century. Israel claims Jerusalem in its entirety while Palestinians consider East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. Israel occupied the city in the 1967 war and later annexed it in 1980, a move that was widely condemned for its violation of international law and was never recognized internationally. The sensitivities surrounding Jerusalem is due to its history as the birthplace of the three Abrahamic religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
Some believe the city should be shared between the two states of Israel and Palestine, while others believe it should be under international administration. Israel claims it is exclusively Judaic and has been accused of aggressively expanding settlements in the holy city and illegally expelling native Palestinians. President Trump promised to recognize the city as Israeli and move the U.S. embassy there during his campaign, and by doing so this week, has fulfilled a major campaign pledge. He risks plunging the wider Middle Eastern region into further uncertainty at a time of unprecedented tensions for the purposes of domestic politics. Trump has only pleased the special interest groups of Washington, as opinion polls show that more than half of the U.S. public opposes U.S. interference in the status of Jerusalem.
The 1993 Oslo peace accords, which were brokered by the United States, states that the final status of Jerusalem is to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks between both sides. The last round of peace talks broke down in 2014 as Israel continued to expand its illegal settlements onto Palestinian territory and the illegal blockade of Gaza, despite multiple UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s position on the matter.
As speculation grew before Trump’s announcement, the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia – all U.S. allies – made personal pleas to Trump not to inflame an already volatile situation. Turkey threatened to cut ties to Israel and the United Arab Emirates stated that such a move would spread radicalization worldwide and be counterproductive to anti-terrorism efforts. Trump’s declaration carries no real legal effect and the actual movement of the embassy would take many years, leading allies to question why President Trump is purposely reinforcing the United States’ isolation on the world stage.
Nonetheless, the move comes as a victory for right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His policies of settler colonialist expansionism and violations of international and human rights laws are reminiscent of South Africa’s apartheid regime. In a bid to cement the symbolic powers that Trump bestowed upon him, Netanyahu has moved to pass a bill later this month in the Israeli Knesset that would allow him to declare war without the authorization or support of his parliament. Additionally, he hopes to enshrine a bill into legislation that would require a two-thirds majority in the Knesset to cede any part of Jerusalem, instead of the current simple majority requirement.
Trump’s hard-power approach to domestic politics seems to be backfiring when applied on the global stage, giving other world powers the opportunity to step into the leadership vacuum that the U.S. is creating. This will consequently realign the geopolitical balance of power that has been in place for decades.