President Donald Trump, playing the proverbial bull in the global China shop, has risked Middle East peace and the security of Americans by unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And he did so against strong advice from the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. The US allies were equally clear in their opposition to the controversial move. France, the UK and the European Union leadership deplored the move. So did a number of countries in the Arab and Muslim world. Pope Francis expressed deep concern. Saudi Arabia and Jordan, two of the closest allies of the US, minced no words in criticizing Trump for unsettling further the already fragile peace in the Middle East. Turkey and Iran were trenchant in rebuke of the US President for disrupting the status quo in the region.
Palestinian leadership was forthright in condemning the move while the Islamist group Hamas gave a call for a second Intifada against the West-blessed Israel. No doubt the Islamist groups operating under the radar of the established order in various national jurisdictions would get second wind following the uncalled-for provocation from the US. Trump, who so far in his presidency has made a mark more as a disrupter of the global order, be it his pull-out from the Paris climate accord or the abnegation of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, may have struck a huge blow against peace and security in West Asia, in particular, and the world at large in general, the last due to the long reach of the Islamist terrorists.
The US President, despite strong divisions in his own inner councils, went ahead with the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on the ground that this was one of his election promises. Several more worthwhile election promises with a direct bearing on the wellbeing of the Americans have, however, drawn scant notice of Trump. Major donors to the Trump campaign and the strong Jewish lobby, for long pressing the move to Jerusalem, encouraged him to take the controversial decision. The US statute calls for it to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, but due to the unsettled Israel-Palestine relations, successive presidents have periodically signed the waiver to get over the stipulation. Predictably, the Israel Government was happy, hoping that other countries too would follow Trump’s lead and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. An immediate fall-out of Wednesday’s decision can be the disruption of the Israel-Palestinian peace process under the US aegis.
The opposition to the US continuing to play the mediator in West Asia peace is set to grow following the Trump decision, simply because the US is no longer seen as an honest broker. The Palestinians have staked claim on East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, likely whenever the two-state solution to the longest-lasting conflict with Israel is resolved. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in the six-day war of 1967 and has not vacated the aggression since. Indeed, it has allowed Jewish settlements in the occupied territory with no intention of ever leaving the holy city in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Notably, Jerusalem occupies a special place for all the three monotheistic religions, that is, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The division of Jerusalem into two separate east and west parts, with the former reverting back to the Palestinians, has been a major bone of contention in the off-now, on-now peace process. While the resumption of the peace process is in jeopardy, with the Palestinians observing strikes and protests in West Bank and Gaza, it is the reaction of Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the trenchant words of Turkey and Iran which can cast a dark shadow on the already war-torn Islamic word. The internecine wars rage in Yemen, the Saudi-led alliance has sanctioned Qatar, Syria is still smoldering from the IS-Assad confrontation, Iran feels encouraged to go back to being a full-fledged nuclear power following Trump’s unwise threat to renege on the Obama-blessed deal. By triggering fresh trouble in the Israel-Palestine relations, he may have activated yet another theatre for armed hostilities whose impact will be felt far beyond their un-demarcated borders. In sum, Trump means Trouble, with a capital T for the fragile global peace.