By Kira Webster
The conflict between Israel and Palestine is one of the most sensitive and complex international issues of the century. Jerusalem’s history is deep, and considered sacred to three different religions. Every country in the world has avoided relocating their embassies since 1948. Palestinians have considered East Jerusalem (which has been occupied by Israel since 1967) as the capital of their future state, while Israel regards it as their “Eternal Capital.” Trump’s recent decision to move America’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is not only a rash one (like so many of his other policy moves), but also likely to be a highly destabilizing one regarding peace and security. The snowball effect that could come into play could do irreversible damage to America’s position in the world.
America has had consistently close relations with Israel, but this move stems from President Trump’s campaign promise to recognize the Jerusalem as the capital, and his receipt of large amounts of political support from Israeli right-wing extremists and evangelical Christians. Despite his public proclamations of never needing any donations during his campaign, Trump met with Sheldon G. Adelson and his wife to seek financial support. Sheldon G. Adelson and his wife have used their casino fortune to push the Republican party towards support of Israel, and have been leading donors to pro-Israel groups. In March 2016, Trump made a promise to “move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” Adelson then donated $20 million to Trump’s campaign, as well as $1.5 million to the committee that organized the Republican convention. Evidently, the time has come for Trump to deliver his promises to his donators.
Choosing not to handle this situation with care–despite advice given to him from his own administration–sends a specific message to the rest of the world, particularly to Islam, that the US doesn’t care about international law. The U.S. leaders simply do what they want to benefit their own campaigns and domestic political purposes, and they don’t plan on taking any sort of accountability for consequences that might arise. America has chosen to forfeit their role as a mediator between the two states, and instead become a “direct party of conflict.”
Dr. Rami Khouri, Senior Fellow and journalism professor at American University Beirut, states that “this is symbolism that is more important than anything . . . because it’s the last arena where Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, and even many Jews of good conscience hold out the hope that there can be a negotiated peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. . . this was the last thread of decency, legality, and good conscience behavior. And the United States just threw it in the garbage can.” It will only widen the trust gap between the government and citizens in Arab countries, and fuel propaganda against the US from religious extremists. The majority of Arabs have openly supported a peaceful resolution between Palestine and Israel, but due to Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem, the U.S. resolution feels like a huge slight to the Islamic population. Warnings of civil unrest have already been reported in Gaza and Istanbul.
On December 22, two weeks after President Trump announced his decision, the UN General Assembly called on the US to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying any decision regarding the status of the city are “null and void,” and must be cancelled. It was approved by 128 states. However, Trump did not concede to the vote, stated that he didn’t care about what the UN decided, and threatened to cut financial aid to countries who voted in favor of the action. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu also rejected the results of the vote, calling the UN a “house of lies.” This brazen decision to move the embassy is dangerous enough for the Middle East, but it also creates even more strained relationships between the US and our allies.
Those in favor of moving the embassy argue that it would have minimal security risk, despite what the UN, and journalists in the Middle East, have said. Trump’s Administration did point out that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would not rule out a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem; however, that detail was not made explicit, and the decision was regarded as the U.S. choosing one side over the other. The only thing that could potentially make this situation fair is if America simultaneously established an embassy to the “State of Palestine.” This resolution would be highly unlikely considering Israel’s stance towards Palestine. While the move to Jerusalem is only in “the beginning stages,” and relocating embassy members to a safe location will take time, it is unclear, yet simultaneously ominous, what will play out next in the Middle East. This arrangement is a bold highlight of corruption in government, and could easily lead us down a corrosive future.