On the 6 December, US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, causing widespread controversy and anger across the world. Whilst the announcement was nearly unanimously rejected by the international community, it has had severe implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the US’ relationship with the region as a whole.
100 days after the announcement, Trump’s decision continues to dominate headlines as the fate of the Palestinian people hangs in the balance.
- Since the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, the heads of both political parties in the US have signed a waiver every six months to prevent the American embassy being moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
- Under international law, Jerusalem’s sovereignty is in abeyance, meaning in a state of temporary disuse or suspension. Israel’s annexation of West Jerusalem since 1948 was a violation of the UN resolution 181 which partitioned Palestine, under which the city was supposed to be internationally administered.
- East Jerusalem is considered occupied territory since Israel took control of the area in 1967, as recognised in the UN resolution 446 adopted on 22 March 1979, rendering all Israeli claims to the area as illegal, null and void.
- Prior to attaining office, Donald Trump promised that the US embassy would be relocated to Jerusalem as part of his election campaign, telling the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in 2016: “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
- After the election, the pro-Israel lobby in the US and the settler community in Israel pushed for Trump to abide by his campaign promise and recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
- The Trump administration initially attempted to evade signing the waiver in December and relocate the American embassy without a formal announcement on the city’s status, but given the lack of adequate diplomatic facilities in the city, then chose to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to appease the public.
- On Wednesday 6 December, President Trump announced that the US would formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would start preparations to move the embassy to the historic city.
The Palestinian response
- The aftermath of Trump’s announcement saw all Palestinian parties unanimously reject the decision, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) pledging to cut all contact with the US and calling for Palestinian unity. Hamas called for a new intifada to counter the decision.
- Protests took place across the occupied territories the following day, and Palestinian leaders called for three “Days of Rage” to begin after Friday prayers the next day.
- Demonstrations took place across the occupied territories over the following weekend, with thousands of Palestinian taking to the streets in Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, Tulkarm and in the Gaza Strip.
- Over the next four days, Israeli occupation forces killed four Palestinians and wounded 1,632 others. One week later the number of those injured had risen to 3,400, with over 340 Palestinians having been arrested.
- As of 12 March, 14 people have been killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by Israeli forces since Trump’s announcement, with at least 5,293 injured as a result of inhaling tear gas, enduring beatings or being fired upon with rubber bullets or live ammunition, according to UN OCHA.
- As of 11 March, 19 people in Gaza have been killed and at least 1,083 injured as a result of Israeli occupation forces’ heavy-handed response to unarmed Palestinian protesters.
- At least 2,182 Palestinians have been arrested or placed under administrative detention since 6 December, many during protests and others during the regular night-raids conducted in towns and villages in the occupied West Bank.
- Some ten days after Trump’s announcement, Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi was filmed forcing Israeli occupation soldiers off her family’s property, after they invaded her home and shot her cousin in the head. She was arrested after the video went viral four days later and is currently awaiting trial in a military court. Her case has gained international support with NGOs and British politicians calling for her release.
- The following weeks also saw an escalation of violations against Al-Aqsa Mosque, with over settlers storming the compound over 200 times after the announcement, accompanied by a heavy armed police presence.
- Weekly protests have continued to take place in the Palestinian territories, with Israel regularly dispersing demonstrators with tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets and live ammunition.
- Trump’s decision was met with condemnation from the international community, with protests taking place across the Middle East, as well as in Malaysia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and South Africa. Much of Europe saw large protests, including the UK, Germany, Macedonia, Austria and France, as well as demonstration in major US cities.
- World leaders also expressed their disapproval, with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both emphasising that their countries did not support the move, whilst EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini voiced “serious concern” over the decision.
- British Prime Minister Theresa May also stated that she disagrees with the US’ plan, labelling it “unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region”.
- The Russian foreign ministry said US recognition risked “dangerous and uncontrollable consequences”.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan slammed Israel as a state of “occupation and terror”, stressing that the “decision does not comply with international law, diplomacy or humanity.”
- Numerous Latin American countries including Venezuela, Cuba and Argentina emphasised that the announcement was a violation of international law and would derail peace efforts.
- Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki Al-Faisal criticised Trump in one of the most vehement reactions from the Kingdom, which otherwise remained notably silent in the aftermath of the announcement.
- Dozens of prominent writers, actors and musicians, including Tilda Swinton, Mark Ruffalo, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno also condemned Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in a letter sent to the Guardian.
- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was “a moment of great anxiety” and urged the US to reconsider.
Global forums reject the move
- On Friday 8 December, two days after the announcement, the UN Security Council convened in New York to discuss President Trump’s announcement. When voting to condemn the decision, the US vetoed the resolution, accusing the UN of violating its national sovereignty.
- The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also held a meeting in Istanbul the week after the declaration, with leaders from some 57 Muslim countries in attendance, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas called on world powers to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and said that the US had discounted itself as an honest broker in the peace process.
- Two weeks after the announcement, the UN General Assembly convened at the request of a block of Arab nations and Turkey, to vote on a non-binding resolution condemning the decision.
- Prior to the vote, Trump threatened to cut funding to the countries that would vote against them, with US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley sending threatening letters to member states, urging them to vote against the motion. Haley further tweeted that the US would be “taking names” of those who chose to criticise its decision.
- A total of 128 countries voted in favour of the resolution, thereby rejecting the US’ decision. Nine members voted against the motion, including the US, Israel, Guatemala and Honduras, and 35 countries abstaining, including five EU states, Australia and Canada.
- In January the Arab League further announced that it would embark on a diplomatic drive to persuade the United Nations to recognise a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
- Whilst Trump had opted not to move the US embassy to Jerusalem due to lacking a suitable location, the move was once again proposed following the recognition of the city as the Israeli capital. The embassy is now due to be moved in May and will temporarily be hosted in the Arnona neighbourhood, recognised as occupied territory under international law, whilst a future building is constructed.
- Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay have also announced that they will follow he US’ example and move their embassies to Jerusalem.
- Following the announcement, the US declared that it would be cutting $65 million worth of aid from the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, plunging the organisation into a funding crisis. So far, the Trump administration has not indicated it will fulfil its pledge to the agency of $300 million for this year.
- UNRWA has since launched an international fundraising campaign to reclaim its lost finance, estimating its deficit to amount to some $446 million.
- The US has also been more vocal in criticising what it considers is an anti-Israel bias in the UN. In her speech at the AIPAC conference in 2018, UN envoy Haley stated: “The UN spends more than half of its time singling out one country. We will not stand for it any longer.”
- The peace process has also been severely impacted by the decision, with the PA initially cutting all contact with American officials, but later clarifying that some channels of communication had remained open. The PA has since stated that the US may be part of the negotiations, as long as other parties are involved as part of a multilateral peace process. It has called upon European states as well as countries such as China and India to play a role in the dialogue.
- The US is reportedly making progress on a peace deal, with Haley stating that whilst the Trump administration was “ready to talk peace”, they would not “chase” the Palestinians.
- Preliminary reports indicate that the peace deal will not call for a two-state solution and will not urge a “fair and just solution” to the issue of Palestinian refugees looking to return, as previous proposals have done.