France has rejected Trump’s unilateral and illegal decision. French President Emmanuel Macron said the move contravenes international law and UN Security Council resolutions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would stand by the UN resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We are sticking to the relevant UN resolutions – they make clear that the status of Jerusalem needs to be negotiated as part of wider negotiations on a two-state solution.” She said. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May said her government disagreed with the US decision, which is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region. She added that Jerusalem should ultimately be shared by Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu said in a statement: “God is weeping over President Donald Trump’s inflammatory and discriminatory recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is our responsibility to tell Trump that he is wrong. God does not discriminate between the people of various religions and those who claim divine rights for themselves to physical property on earth are false prophets.” The leader of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, cancelled an upcoming meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence, in protest against Washington’s move to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
Condemnation from the Muslim World
Muslim countries from Turkey to Iran and from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia have strongly condemned Trump’s announcement. On December 10, foreign ministers of 22 Arab countries condemned the US move and demanded that the US rescind the decision. They called the move “a grave development that puts Washington on the same side as “occupation.” A resolution approved at the Arab foreign ministers’ meeting said that Trump’s declaration was illegal and a dangerous violation of international law. The resolution said Mr Trump’s move “deepens tensions, ignites anger and threatens to plunge the Middle East into more violence and chaos.” The resolution was backed by US’s close Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and UAE. Arab League foreign ministers said it means the US cannot be relied upon as a mediator in the peace process in the Middle East. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said, “the US has disqualified itself from future Israeli-Palestine peace talks after proving its bias in favour of Israel.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Trump’s decision was dangerous and threatened the credibility of the US as a broker in the Middle East peace process. Lebanon’s foreign minister Gebran Bassil suggested that Arab nations should consider imposing economic sanctions against the US. A Jordan government spokesman said the US move was “false and illegal because it consolidates the (Israeli) occupation of Jerusalem.” Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has strongly condemned the US move and called it a violation of United Nations resolutions. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Trump that he was “throwing the region into a ring of fire.” He called Israel “a terrorist state.” Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said in a statement, “I repeat the kingdom’s condemnation and strong regret over the US decision on Jerusalem, for its relinquishment of the historic rights of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem.”
At an emergency summit held in Istanbul on December 13-14, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) rejected the US move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, declared East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and called on the international community to recognise the State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. The resolution approved at the summit stated that the OIC remains committed to a “just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.” It also called on the United Nations to “end the Israeli occupation of Palestine “and declared that the Trump administration would be liable for “all the consequences of not retracting from the illegal decision.”
Massive protests were held against the US move across many parts of the Muslim world. Violence erupted near the US embassy in Beirut on December 10 after large-scale demonstrations by Palestinians. Protesters torched US and Israeli flags on the streets and threw projectiles at security forces. At least 16 Palestinians were wounded in clashes in the occupied West Bank, during protests against US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza on December 15 as thousands of Palestinians protested in the occupied Palestinian territories over the US move on December 16. Protest rallies were held in many cities around the world on December 16, including Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo.
Jerusalem: The Historical Backdrop
Jerusalem came under the control of the Ottoman Empire in 1517 and remained a part of the Empire until 1917.
Faced with rising stigmatization and discrimination and the dwindling prospects of integration into European societies, many Jews began migrating to Palestine in the 1880s. This migration formed part of an emerging political and ethnic movement that came to be known as Zionism. In 1897 the First Zionist Congress held in Basel, Switzerland called for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, thus spawning the Zionist movement.
Arthur Balfour (1848-1930), the author of the controversial Balfour Declaration, was the prime minister of the United Kingdom and later foreign secretary in the government of the then prime minister David Lloyd George. The Balfour Declaration stated that the British government supported the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and added that the British government would pursue its “best endeavour to facilitate the achievement of this object.”
Following the end of World War I, the British government acquired mandatory power in Palestine in 1920. Soon after acquiring control over Palestine, Britain began to facilitate the immigration of European Jews to Palestine. Spurred by the British promise of the creation of a ‘national homeland’ for the Jewish people in Palestine and the rise of Nazism in Germany in 1933, the Jewish population in Palestine swelled to 368,845 between 1921 and 1945. In Jerusalem alone, the population of Jews rose from 53,000 in 1931 to 70,000 in 1935. The Balfour Declaration and the British support for the creation of an independent Jewish state in Palestine engendered a great deal of resentment and anger among the Palestinians, who formed more than 90% of the population at that time and who had lived in Palestine for centuries. In 1920 the Third Palestine Congress held in Haifa condemned the British government’s support to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine and rejected the Balfour Declaration, calling it a blatant violation of international law and the rights of the native Palestinian population.
On 29 November 1947, the United Nations recommended the partition of Palestine into two independent states – one for Palestinian Arabs and the other for Jews. David Ben-Gurion, one of the founders of Israel and the first prime minister of the Jewish state, and other Zionist leaders accepted the UN resolution while the Palestinians rejected it. Meanwhile, violent clashes between Palestinians and Jewish immigrants and settlers intensified. On 14 May 1948 David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in Palestine. Approximately, 20,000 out of 27,000 square kilometres of the Palestinian land came under the control of the new state. Only the West Bank and the Gaza Strip remained under the control of, respectively, Jordan and Egypt.
In the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, Jerusalem was granted special status in view if its sacred character and its enormous religious and cultural importance for Jews, Christians and Muslims and was declared an international city. The Jews accepted this plan and David Ben-Gurion, the founder of Israel and its first prime minister, noted that the loss of Jerusalem as part of sovereign Israel was the “price we have to pay” for the creation of a Jewish state in the rest of the territory. On December 5,1948, Zionist forces took control of West Jerusalem and declared it a part of the Jewish state a week later. During the 1967 war, Israel captured East Jerusalem, which was at that time under Jordanian control. Israel has described Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish state.” The 1993 Oslo Accord led to the creation of an autonomous Palestinian Authority and left the status of Jerusalem as a “final status issue” to be settled in a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Since 1967, when Israel annexed East Jerusalem, the United States and the international community have rejected as illegal Israel’s attempts to expand Jerusalem’s boundaries b1y constructing a ring of Jewish colonies on occupied Palestinian lands. Over the years, Israel has moved nearly all of its government offices to Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of Jewish colonies have been built in East Jerusalem. United Nations Resolution 242, passed on November 22, 1967, states that Israel must withdraw from the territories it seized in the 1967 war. Israel, however, rejected the resolution and has entrenched its occupation of Palestinian territories by evicting Palestinians from their ancestral homes, by demolishing Palestinian homes and by expanding Jewish colonies. Roughly, 11% of Israel’s 6.6 million Jewish population today live on occupied Palestinian lands. Since 1967, Israeli authorities have demolished over 27,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories.
The number of illegal Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories is estimated to be between 600,000 and 750,000. Nearly 42% of West Bank is occupied by Jewish settlers while 86% of East Jerusalem has been earmarked for the Israeli state and for Jewish settlements. Some 420,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem along with 200,000 Jewish settlers. Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem are not granted Israeli citizenship. They have “permanent residency” ID cards. Many of them also carry temporary Jordanian passports without a national identification number. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are treated as foreign immigrants. They are required to fulfil certain requirements to maintain their residency status and live in constant fear of their residency revoked. Since 1967, Israeli authorities have revoked the residency status of over 14,000 Palestinians.
Unfortunately, the response of many Muslim countries, particularly Arab nations, to the US move has been rather tepid and half-hearted, thanks to the pervasive ideological, political and sectarian disunity and dissension in the Muslim world. The extraordinary summit called by OIC in Istanbul was attended by just over 20 heads of Muslim nations. Saudi Arabia, where the headquarters of OIC are located, sent only a senior foreign ministry official. Other Muslim nations, including Egypt, sent only their foreign ministers. It is a matter of shame that Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi is scheduled to meet US Vice President Mike Pence in Cairo the next few days while the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, cancelled an upcoming meeting with Pence, in protest against Washington’s move to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel.