United States President Donald Trump is expected to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a move that will spark controversy across the world. The announcement is expected this week which would fulfill a Trump’s campaign promise. Earlier such promises were made by previous presidents like President Clinton and George W. Bush but then set aside due to the regional concerns and Jerusalem’s contested status between Israelis and Palestinians because both the countries claim the Jerusalem as their capital.
The final status of Jerusalem has always been one of the most difficult and sensitive questions in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. If the United States declares Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it would be seen as cementing Israeli sovereignty over the city. And moving the embassy to Jerusalem could be very simple because there is already a US consulate in Jerusalem, while the embassy remains in Tel Aviv (a city near Jerusalem). It could be as simple as switching the names such as making the embassy in Jerusalem and a consulate in Tel Aviv.
Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, the US embassy must be moved to Jerusalem or the State Department will keep on facing the penalty of losing half its appropriate funds for the acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad. However every six months presidents can sign a waiver to avoid these penalties on national security grounds. But moving the embassy risks setting off diplomatic crises with Arab states that could include widespread protests outside of US diplomatic offices in those and other countries.
According to the Independent think tank Jerusalem Institute, 850,000 people live in Jerusalem while 37 per cent are Arab and 61per cent are Jewish. The Jewish population includes around 200,000 ultra Orthodox Jews, with the rest split generally between religious Zionist and Secular Jews. Another 1 per cent is Arab Christians.
The vast majority of the Palestinian population lives in East Jerusalem. Although there are some mixed neighborhoods in Jerusalem where both Israelis and Arabs live, most of the neighborhoods are split. Jerusalem’s Old City has the third holiest mosque of Islam and the holiest site in Judaism, making the city’s status a sensitive issue for Muslims and Jews alike.
Mr. Trump spent Tuesday morning explaining the policy change in telephone calls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Mohammed Abbas, Palestinian President and to Arab leaders. During a call ahead of a speech by Mr Trump on Wednesday, Mr Abbas warned Mr Trump that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would have dangerous consequences adding his name to a growing list of nations decrying the move that includes Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. As well as Mr Abbas, Mr Trump delivered the same embassy message in calls to Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, although no timeframe for the move was laid out. Both leaders urged the US President to avoid any statements that would undermine Middle East peace efforts while King Abdullah warned the embassy move would bring dangerous repercussions, perhaps fatally and could unleash a new wave of violence across the region. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the issue of Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims.
Upon making his decision public, Trump is now expected to sign a waiver to keep the US embassy in Tel Aviv for another six months to comply with the law. Even as he set in motion a plan to move it to Jerusalem. Officials said the process would take several years.
Such announcement would serve as propaganda fodder for extremists. Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland said, “It plays into the hands of every conceivable Islamic militant group. It plays into the hands of Iran, Making it harder for Gulf countries that might share security goals with Israel to openly cooperate. It makes the situation of each one of those governments tougher, let alone what it does to American troops stationed in the region.”