The history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict began with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
This conflict came from the inter-communal violence in Mandatory Palestine between Israelis and Arabs from 1920 and erupted into full-scale hostilities in the 1947–48 civil war. The conflict continues to the present day on various levels.
The recent conflict started when the President Trump officially declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and announced his plan to eventually relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and begin the difficult logistical work of building a new diplomatic facility in the contested city. He said that Israel is a sovereign nation with the right to determine its own capital and acknowledging this fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.
Although Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, he explicitly didn’t call it the undivided capital of Israel, leaving the door open for Israelis and Palestinians to divide the city during any final status negotiations between the two sides. In advance of the speech, White House officials repeatedly stressed that Trump’s announcement did not represent a change in US policy on the future borders of Jerusalem.
Historically, both the Palestinians and the Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city contains sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Though Israel’s Parliament and the prime minister’s home are in Jerusalem, they sit in West Jerusalem, on the side of the city Israel has controlled since 1949. Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed that half of the city.
The international community considers East Jerusalem occupied territory. But that half of the city also contains sites holy to all three major monotheistic religions, including the Western Wall, the holiest place in the world where Jews can openly pray, and Haram al-Sharif, Arabic for “the Noble Sanctuary,” a sacred site for Muslims that Israelis refer to as the Temple Mount.
The Palestinians want to officially divide the city and make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state. The Israelis, to put it mildly, disagree — and the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long made clear that it would not even consider making concessions over Jerusalem.
The decades-long political fight over the future of the city is what makes Trump’s new move so momentous — and so dangerous.
World leaders from France to Saudi Arabia to China had cautioned Trump against the decision. Pope Francis even weighed in, calling on world leaders to let “wisdom and prudence prevail” so as “to avoid adding new elements of tension.” The US Consulate in Jerusalem issued a security warning barring all US government employees and their families from traveling to Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank ahead of the announcement because “widespread demonstrations” were expected.
But even though Trump’s speech ultimately didn’t go quite as far as many had expected, it may be too late to change perceptions that the Trump administration has unequivocally aligned itself with Israel. In other words, the damage may already be done.
Trump is touching the third rail of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The status of Jerusalem has been a source of both division and contention for decades. During most of the 1990s — including during the creation of the Oslo peace accords between the Israelis and the Palestinians — negotiations over the final status of the city were left for the future to avoid derailing the rest of the talks.
In 2000, negotiations between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reportedly came close to dividing the city between the two peoples. The Israelis would have retained control over the Western Wall, and the Palestinians would have been given control of Haram al-Sharif, the third-holiest site in Islam.
Final negotiations reportedly broke down over questions of who would control a maze of underground tunnels that run beneath Jerusalem’s Old City.
There have been no recent negotiations over the city for a simple and grim reason: Despite the official US government line, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been largely on hold for years, with no indications that they’ll resume anytime soon.
In the meantime, Jerusalem has retained the uniquely strange status of a city without a country. Americans born in the city must put “Jerusalem” rather than “Israel” on their passports. That’s because the nationality of the entire city remains contested, which is a source of deep fury for many Israelis and American Jews.
The specific wording of Trump’s speech matters. Though Trump affirmed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he didn’t call it the undivided capital of Israel — suggesting the US would still support potentially dividing Jerusalem between the Israelis and the Palestinians as part of future peace negotiations. Indeed, he explicitly stated that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty and Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations of a future peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.
“We are not taking a position on any final status issues including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders,” Trump said. That matters. For years, official US policy has been support for a two-state solution, with the final status of Jerusalem to be decided as part of a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Had Trump chosen to go further and declare Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of Israel, it would have sent the message that the US has taken a clear position on Jerusalem’s final status.
“No issue seems to put Arab leaders more on the defensive than Jerusalem,” Middle East experts David Makovsky and Dennis Ross wrote in advance of Trump’s speech. “Because the administration needs these leaders to play a role in any renewed peace effort, it should avoid any moves that look like Washington is preempting negotiations and adopting Israel’s position on the city.”
Even though Trump exercised uncharacteristic caution in how he worded his speech, the damage may already be done. That is because news of Wednesday’s announcement leaked out several days earlier, immediately sparking fury in much of the Arab world.
Palestinian leaders called for three “days of rage” to protest the decision, and demonstrations had already broken out in the Gaza Strip and a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, before Trump even spoke.
This development came as part of the current U.S. Administration’s systematic policy of denying the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and attempting to close down the Palestinian cause. This policy started with supporting the settlement expansion and practicing huge pressures to deprive the Palestinians of resorting to the International Justice. And finally, it is now practically destroying the efforts for peace and two-state solution.
The U.S. President’s declaration and measures constitute complicity in two international crimes. The first crime is a crime of aggression against the Palestinian State as declaration supports and upholds the annexation of lands using force. The second crime is a war crime as the decision is considered as complicity in the Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, including Jerusalem.
Moreover, Trump’s statements and measures constitute a clear violation of more than 16 resolutions adopted by the Security Council; the most prominent of them are Resolutions No. (476) and (478) adopted in 1980. The U. S. President’s declaration also violates the General Assembly’s resolutions relevant to the Palestinian right to Jerusalem, including Resolution (303) adopted in 1949 and Resolution (2253) adopted in 1967. Furthermore, in its Advisory Opinion on the Annexation wall in 2004, the ICJ affirms that the territory seized by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem, is an occupied territory. This declaration also violates many resolutions adopted by the UNESCO relevant to the Palestinian right to Jerusalem and its holy places.
The official and popular reaction, which unanimously protested the U.S. President’s decision that undermines the peace process, affirms that the U.S. position is isolated from all the influential world countries, including the Permanent Member States of the Security Council and UN bodies. (by Rabia Saghar)