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Trump to Announce US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli Capital, Move Embassy

President Trump in a historic move can soon announce U.S recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital

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Jerusalem to be named Israeli capital
Palestinian protesters burn pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump at the manger square in Bethlehem, Dec. 5, 2017. Trump told Mideast leaders in phone calls that he would announce U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital (VOA)

President Donald Trump plans to announce Wednesday that the United States is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The decision is likely to cause an uproar throughout the Arab world. But the White House says Trump is merely recognizing what it calls a historic and modern reality.

To soften what could be a hard blow, Trump telephoned five Middle East leaders Tuesday to brief them on his decision — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

A White House statement gave few details of the conversations except to say, “The leaders also discussed potential decisions regarding Jerusalem.” It added that Trump reaffirmed his commitment to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

White House officials said late Tuesday that Trump recognized Jerusalem is not only the historic capital of the Jewish people, it has been the seat of the Israeli government since the founding of modern Israel in 1948.

The officials said the president would order the State Department to start making plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv. They said it would take years to find a site, secure funding and construct a new building. Until then, Trump will sign the usual waiver postponing the relocation.

Under a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the embassy must be relocated to Jerusalem unless the president signs a waiver every six months stating that moving the embassy would threaten U.S. national security. Every president since Clinton has signed the waiver, including Trump.

Dennis Ross was U.S. point man on the Middle East peace process under three presidents and worked with Israelis and Palestinians to reach the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1995. He said Tuesday that Trump appeared to be leaving a lot of room for both Israelis and Arabs to maneuver in the new environment.

“It’s very important for the president to create a lot of ‘handles’ or ‘hooks’ for our friends to say, fundamentally, this does not change the ability of Palestinians, the Arabs who tend to see Jerusalem not just (as) a Palestinian issue but a regional issue, that their position, their concern, their claim still has to be part of the negotiation process and that hasn’t been pre-empted,” Ross said in a briefing for reporters. “That seems to me to be the key to this.”

Some officials in Washington expressed concern about the potential for a violent backlash against Israel and American interests in the region as a result of Trump’s announcement.

Input from Tillerson

When asked whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “on board” with a decision that could put U.S. citizens and troops in the Middle East at risk, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the secretary “has made his positions clear to the White House. I think the Department of Defense has as well. But it is ultimately the president’s decision to make. He is in charge.”

In a security message released Tuesday, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, noting widespread calls for demonstrations this week, barred personal travel by American government workers and their families in Jerusalem’s Old City and West Bank, including Bethlehem and Jericho, until further notice.

U.S. embassies worldwide also were ordered to increase security.

White House officials said that in recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, Trump would be fulfilling a major campaign promise. They said the physical location of the U.S. Embassy was no impediment toward negotiating a final peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Jerusalem Old city
A framed photo of Jerusalem’s Old City hangs in a juice stand, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Dec. 5, 2017. The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem on Dec. 5 barred personal travel by American government workers and their families in Jerusalem’s Old City and West Bank, including Bethlehem and Jericho, until further notice.(VOA)

The officials said by moving the embassy, the president is not making a decision on any boundaries or sovereignty in Jerusalem. Those are matters to be negotiated as part of a two-state solution — something the officials say Trump believes is within reach.

The officials said Trump was encouraged by the progress made my his Middle East peace team, even if whatever progress has been made may not be apparent.

Seized in 1967

Israel seized control over Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed East Jerusalem. Israel has always said an undivided Jerusalem is its eternal capital. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Jerusalem is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest place in Islam. For Jews, it is the Temple Mount, the holiest site of all.

Arab and Muslim states have warned that any decision to move the U.S. Embassy could inflame tensions in the region and destroy U.S. efforts to reach an Arab-Israeli peace agreement.

Jerusalem as Israel Capital
Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, Jerusalem (VOA)

Senior Palestinian leader Nabil Shaath said Trump would no longer be seen as a credible mediator. “The Palestinian Authority does not condone violence, but it may not be able to control the street and prevent a third Palestinian uprising,” he said, speaking in Arabic.

Gerald Feierstein, director for Gulf affairs and government relations at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the level of anger the announcement might provoke depends greatly on how Trump presents the issue.

“If the president just says, ‘We recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,’ without trying to define it further and without actually beginning the process of moving the embassy, then it’s a big nothingburger,” he told VOA.

Donald Trump
FILE – President Donald Trump speaks on the phone in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Jan. 28, 2017.(VOA)

Feierstein, who served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen, and later as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs under former President Barack Obama, said if Trump went any further, it could trigger a backlash and deal a crushing blow to peace efforts.

“If what he says is perceived as, or is in fact, a recognition of all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and he is no longer maintaining the international position that Jerusalem is to be divided and that East Jerusalem is to become the capital of the Palestinian state once there is an agreement, then that is going to have a very negative effect on the peace process,” Feierstein said.

“So the devil is in the details about how significant this is going to be,” he said.

VOA’s Cindy Saine at the State Department contributed to this report.(VOA)

Next Story

Netanyahu Personifies The Corrupting Force Of Power

What is sad about all this is that Netanyahu has all along put his self-interest above the party and the nation

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Netanyahu
Having served as the longest prime minister in Israel’s history, insatiable hunger for power of Netanyahu and desperate need to escape the indictment was first and foremost in his mind. Wikimedia Commons

By Alon Ben-Meir

The long-anticipated indictment of Prime Minister Netanyahu has finally come to pass. For three years, Netanyahu spared no effort to scuttle three criminal cases against him, but failed. These charges and their implications have now become rather clear. They have occupied Netanyahu’s thinking as to how to save himself and maintain his position as Prime Minister. They have impacted Israel’s policies, in particular toward the Palestinians, and without a doubt the charges have adversely impacted Netanyahu’s efforts to form a government following the last two elections.

In the first case, Case 1000, Netanyahu is charged with receiving gifts from Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan in return for political favors. In the second case, Case 2000, Netanyahu was accused of striking a deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes to provide Netanyahu with favorable coverage in return for politically targeting a rival newspaper. In Case 4000, the third charge, Netanyahu took steps to benefit his friend Shaul Elovitch, who controlled Bezeq, in return for favorable coverage on Bezeq’s news site Walla. The first two cases charged Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust; the third case added charges of bribery as well.

Netanyahu made a supreme effort all along to have these charges dismissed, claiming in the first case that it is acceptable to receive gifts from friends. In Case 2000, he claimed that he and Mozes were basically fooling each other and had no intention of following through, and argued in Case 4000 that asking for favorable coverage is not bribery.

In April of this year, Netanyahu continued his effort by initially trying to reinstate a 2005 immunity law which gave the Knesset House Committee the power to reject the Attorney General’s request to rescind immunity of any particular MK. In May, Netanyahu planned to push through a new law that would allow the Knesset to protect his immunity. This would have allowed the Knesset to ignore any High Court ruling on administrative matters, including potentially revoking Netanyahu’s immunity.

Netanyahu
For three years, Netanyahu spared no effort to scuttle three criminal cases against him, but failed. These charges and their implications have now become rather clear. Pixabay

And in July, realizing that he couldn’t pass such laws, Netanyahu claimed “No one is changing the law, it doesn’t need to be changed, and I won’t need it at all… it isn’t necessary at all because there has never been anything and there won’t be anything.”

The three indictments were a menacing dark cloud that hovered over Netanyahu’s head, and have had a significant impact on his political decisions. He sought to demonstrate that the charges were largely frivolous and that he is the indispensable leader that will safeguard Israel’s national security.

But the greater impact of these charges on his behavior was more related to the Palestinians. He needed to show toughness and an uncompromising position – not only to cement his right-of-center base, but to demonstrate that he is the only leader who can pursue policies consistent with Israel’s presumed national aspirations to control all of the ‘Land of Israel, including the West Bank. Other than continuing to expand and legalize settlements, he announced more than once that following the formation of a new government, Israel will annex significant chunks of the West Bank, to continue to please his base.

Perhaps the most important impact of the charges was his inability to form a government twice this year, in April and September. Because as a sitting prime minister he would not be indicted, he insisted that under no circumstances would he relinquish that position, knowing that an indictment against him will force him to face trial. This was given an even greater urgency after the second election, when he and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz attempted to form a unity government.

For the same reason, Netanyahu insisted that in a rotating prime ministership which both sides agreed upon, he would serve as prime minister for the first two years. Since Gantz refused, especially given Kahol Lavan’s larger mandate and Netanyahu’s pending indictment, Netanyahu is opting to go for a third election within a year, hoping against hope that he will emerge as the winner with a greater mandate to form a new government.

What is sad about all this is that Netanyahu has all along put his self-interest above the party and the nation. Having served as the longest prime minister in Israel’s history, Netanyahu’s insatiable hunger for power and desperate need to escape the indictment was first and foremost in his mind.

For a man who professes to love his country and has dedicated all his life in the service of the state, he failed to grasp that in the final analysis, Israel’s survival has not and will never depend on a single individual. Had he indeed been concerned with the welfare and the security of Israel, he would have agreed to serve in a rotating unity government with Gantz on Kahol Lavan’s terms, and spared the country the pain of going through a third election. His failure, and the subsequent failure of Gantz himself to form a government, may well push Israel now toward its third election in a single year.

Netanyahu
Perhaps the most important impact of the charges was inability of Netanyahu to form a government twice this year, in April and September. Because as a sitting prime minister he would not be indicted, he insisted that under no circumstances would he relinquish that position, knowing that an indictment against him will force him to face trial. Pixabay

In an open letter to Netanyahu in October, I wrote “It’s time for you to go. There is nothing you can do that others cannot do just as good if not better. Resign your post; turn to the Attorney General to drop the charges against you. The nation will forgive you for your good intentions and some deeds… Unless you want to end up in jail just like your predecessor, spare the nation the humiliation and pain.”

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Sadly, he did not heed such advice, regardless of its source, and now he may very well end up in jail and stigmatize Israel for having been led by corrupt leaders who seem to have always put their personal self-interest above that of the nation.

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Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.