Turmoil over Jerusalem

PRESIDENT Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has met with universal opposition and concern. All the major European allies of the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom have spoken out. All Arab countries have opposed the step. In the United Nations Security Council, all the fourteen members apart from the US, deplored the decision. The only State to hail the move is naturally, Israel, because its illegal occupation of East Jerusalem has been legitimised by the United States.

When Israel was carved out in 1948 out of the Palestinian Arab territories, the United Nations had declared that Jerusalem should be an international city as it is the site of the holiest places of three religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Temple Mount and Western Wall sacred for the Jews, the Church of Holy Sepulchre for the Christians and the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque for the Muslims are all situated in Jerusalem. After the first Arab-Israel conflict in 1949, Jerusalem was divided with West Jerusalem controlled by the Israelis and East Jerusalem by Jordan. In the 1967 war Israel annexed the West Bank and captured East Jerusalem from Jordan. Since 1980, Israel had declared the united Jerusalem as its capital. Since then, Israel has been using various means to extend its presence and claims over all the occupied territories in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Throughout the efforts for a political settlement of the Palestinian issue, the stand endorsed by the United Nations has been that the status of Jerusalem would be decided in the final stages of the negotiated two-State agreement between Israel and Palestine.

By unilaterally declaring American recognition for Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, Trump has undermined any possible negotiation for an independent Palestinian State. He has placed the United States firmly on the side of Israel, which is the aggressor and occupier of Palestinian territories for the past fifty years. By doing so, Trump has also signalled that America would back the illegal settlements which are proliferating in the West Bank.

Trump has targeted Iran as the main enemy for American interests in the region and the Jerusalem move will encourage Israel to adopt a more aggressive posture against Iran and its allies like Hezbollah.

The response to this brazen provocation is being seen by the outrage expressed by protests by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Big demonstrations have taken place in Beirut, Istanbul and other cities in the region.

This heralds a new phase of conflict and turmoil in West Asia. Whatever the motive Trump had for taking this egregious step, it has only contributed to the isolation of the United States in West Asia. Turkey, its NATO ally has vehemently denounced the decision and this will accelerate the process of its greater cooperation with Russia which is being seen on Syria.

What has stood out, internationally, in the Jerusalem affair is the silence of India in not criticising the Trump decision. The Modi government has studiously avoided making any critical remark. Privately, Modi and his cohorts would be pleased with the Israeli success in getting US recognition for Jerusalem. In the communal Hindutva world view of the BJP and the RSS, Jerusalem is Israel’s Ayodhya. For them, Israel is successfully reclaiming the religious heritage of the Jews symbolised by Jerusalem by denying the historical legacy of Islam and Christianity. For the Hindutva warriors this is one more triumph over the Islamic past.

(December 13, 2017)

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