Hamas is on the warpath again after US President Donald Trump officially recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced the decision to move the US embassy to the holy city. For Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, Trump’s decision is a declaration of war against Palestinians and it needs to be confronted with a new intifada or uprising. Haniya believes Trump’s decision has killed the peace process. Hours after his intifada appeal, Palestinian protesters vented their fury by chanting slogans and burning tyres in the streets of occupied West Bank cities and Gaza Strip.
For Trump, the decision was the fulfilment of an election promise, especially to pro-Israel evangelical Christian voters who constitute a big chunk of his vote bank. The Jerusalem Embassy Act, which the US Congress passed in 1995, urged the federal government to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and to recognise that city as Israel’s capital. He had promised his voters to implement the act. For him, the decision also goes beyond electoral concerns. Achieving a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is his ultimate dream. His son-in-law Jared Kushner and close aide Jason Greenblatt are making efforts in realising that. Just like he delivered on the election promise, he wants to deliver peace to Israelis and Palestinians.
What has led to the outpouring of criticism against Trump after his Jerusalem decision on Wednesday? Do Arab and Muslims leaders think that he is imposing a solution for one of the core issues in the conflict? It seems they have not properly followed his speech which clearly says the US is not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved to resolve. He says the US would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital while Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future independent state. These rival claims lie at the heart of the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict. Trump’s announcement leaves these contentious issues to be resolved by the parties concerned.
Trump raises one pertinent question: in what way the 20-year delay in recognition of Jerusalem helped in advancing the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians? He calls the Jerusalem decision a new approach to the old conflict. Israel has the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital and acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace, Trump argues. Jerusalem is home to three ancient religions of the world and its Old City, in particular the hilltop compound, represents some of the holiest shrines. Jerusalem is also the heart of one of the successful democracies and the seat of government which receives dignitaries from across the world. Despite all this, the world has declined to acknowledge any Israeli capital at all. Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be an acknowledgement of this “historical and current reality” rather than a political statement, according to Trump.
Those fighting for the Palestinian cause have a point. Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving US embassy there before solving the Palestinian issue amounts to Washington recognising Israel’s hostile military occupation. Trump may deny it but that is the reality. While it is true that Israel’s government is based in Jerusalem, the world has not recognised its annexation of east quarter. World leaders, who are condemning Trump’s decision, believe that the final status of Jerusalem should be resolved through negotiations.