Did Trump allude to West or East Jerusalem in his announcement?
U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise the disputed city of Jerusalem — revered by the Jews, Muslims and Christians — as the capital of Israel is a potentially provocative move. The controversial announcement, a major pre-election plank, has predictably attracted widespread international opposition, both from U.S. allies and leaders of the Arab world. The UN’s 1947 plan for the partition of Palestine between the Arabs and the Jews provided for the international governance of Jerusalem in view of the city’s centuries-old religious and cultural sensitivities. In more recent years, this historical context has fed into a hard-line religious nationalism in Israeli politics, one that Jerusalem has come to symbolise.
When Mr. Trump signed an executive order in June to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, his aides described the surprise move as a delay rather than a reversal of the proposal to relocate to Jerusalem. That defence was not enough to silence scepticism that the constraints of office would force Mr. Trump to defer the decision in much the same manner that it forced his predecessors since the 1995 law on the relocation of the embassy. There has been no indication so far of the factors that may have influenced the latest development. However, it is tempting to speculate that at the end of the first year of his presidency, and with little evidence of progress on the peace process in West Asia, Mr. Trump had to demonstrate some movement before the next six-month waiver on the location of the embassy.
A charitable reading of the announcement could plausibly be made from its ambiguity. To the extent that it makes a general reference to the historic city of Jerusalem, it leaves open the question whether the part alluded to is the east or the west of the city. A central aspect of the prevailing dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Israel revolves around the recent division of Jerusalem. Israel occupied West Jerusalem in the 1948 war, soon after the proclamation of a separate state. Following its conquest of the eastern part from Jordan in the Six-Day War of 1967, the entire city has been under Israeli control. Since the 1993 Oslo peace accord, the Palestinian Authority has pinned its hopes on negotiating a restoration of control of East Jerusalem, which it regards as its future capital. Even if President Trump’s pronouncement does not quite amount to prejudging the outcome of the stalled West Asia peace process, it has renewed long-standing anxieties over its shape and direction.
Washington has been hostile to the growing international support for the Palestine cause. It opposed Palestine’s elevation as a non-member observer at the UN in 2012, as well as its admission to the UNESCO. Similarly, the more recent U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris-based institution was in response to the growing protection accorded to Palestinian heritage sites, which it viewed as an anti-Israel stance. Mr. Trump’s moves would be watched even more closely.