Jerusalem: A de­ci­sion of re­gional con­se­quence

Jerusalem is a place where deep be­lief and in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics col­lide.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - “Jerusalem: A De­ci­sion of Re­gional Con­se­quence” is re­pub­lished un­der con­tent con­fed­er­a­tion be­tween Fi­nan­cial Nige­ria and Strat­for.

Jerusalem is a place where deep be­lief and in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics col­lide. As a re­sult of this pow­er­ful con­ver­gence, it's easy to over­es­ti­mate the city's in­flu­ence on re­gional re­la­tions. U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump's re­cent an­nounce­ment that his ad­min­is­tra­tion would rec­og­nize Jerusalem as the Is­raeli cap­i­tal met with praise, scorn and warn­ings of im­pend­ing catas­tro­phe from var­i­ous cor­ners of the world. Many of the pro­posal's crit­ics ar­gue that mov­ing the U.S. Em­bassy to the city from Tel Aviv would cause vi­o­lence and un­rest, while dash­ing any hope of peace be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tinian Author­ity.

But fears that war and wide­spread vi­o­lence would fol­low the an­nounce­ment are overblown. Nev­er­the­less, the move will not be free of con­se­quences. Be­yond the man­i­fold se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions it en­tails, the de­ci­sion will pro­duce unwelcome dis­rup­tions for many and op­por­tu­ni­ties for a few, even if its reper­cus­sions fall short of apoc­a­lyp­tic.

Where In­ter­ests Col­lide

Since the U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Em­bassy Act in 1995, a hard-line pro-Is­rael fac­tion in the United States has pushed to rec­og­nize the holy city as the Is­raeli cap­i­tal in keep­ing with the leg­is­la­tion's pro­vi­sions. (Suc­ces­sive pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions had con­tin­u­ally de­layed the law's im­ple­men­ta­tion through waivers is­sued ev­ery six months.) But the United States' spir­i­tual ties to Jerusalem reach back nearly 200 years.

In the early 1800s, Boston mis­sion­ary Levi Par­sons urged Amer­i­cans to set­tle Pales­tine to com­pel Je­sus' re­turn. A group of Chicagoans flee­ing the Great Fire founded the Amer­i­can Colony of Jerusalem sev­eral decades later in 1881 as a Chris­tian utopia; to­day, the Amer­i­can Colony Ho­tel in East Jerusalem is a his­tor­i­cal land­mark. Though the city has lit­tle strate­gic im­por­tance to the United States, and though Amer­i­cans never con­sti­tuted a ma­jor con­tin­gent of its di­verse pop­u­la­tion, Jerusalem's en­dur­ing mark on the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion has given it a unique place in U.S. for­eign pol­icy.

Re­gard­less of the United States' spir­i­tual im­per­a­tives, how­ever, the fact re­mains that Jerusalem is also Is­lam's third-holi­est city. Its sym­bolic loss will res­onate through­out the Mus­lim world. The Pales­tinian Is­lamic party Ha­mas has called for a day of rage to

protest the U.S. de­ci­sion to rec­og­nize Jerusalem as Is­rael's cap­i­tal. And even af­ter all the demon­stra­tors have gone home, ac­tivists will keep the furor alive on so­cial me­dia.

The city is a prime mil­i­tary ob­jec­tive for ex­trem­ist groups as it is. Its change in sta­tus will of­fer var­i­ous ji­hadist out­fits, in­clud­ing the nearby Is­lamic State fran­chise Wi­layat Si­nai (for­merly known as An­sar Beit alMaqdis, or "De­fend­ers of Jerusalem"), a pro­pa­ganda op­por­tu­nity and ral­ly­ing cry to gal­va­nize dis­af­fected Mus­lims. On the heels of the Is­lamic State's de­feat in Iraq and Syria, more­over, the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion's de­ci­sion to move its em­bassy to Jerusalem will boost the ex­trem­ist group's re­cruit­ment.

Dis­turb­ing the Peace Process

The de­ci­sion will also jeop­ar­dize the United States' po­si­tion as a neu­tral bro­ker be­tween the Is­raelis and the Pales­tini­ans, as some have warned. By ac­knowl­edg­ing Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael, Wash­ing­ton will un­der­mine its role in the peace process and, in turn, dim the prospects for a res­o­lu­tion of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. No other coun­try or in­sti­tu­tion, af­ter all, is ready to step up in the United States' place.

Then again, the peace process has been mori­bund since long be­fore Trump an­nounced his in­ten­tions for Jerusalem on the cam­paign trail in 2016. Dis­cord be­tween Ha­mas and ri­val party Fatah has stalled ne­go­ti­a­tions and en­abled Is­rael to forge ahead with its set­tle­ments in the West Bank. Fur­ther­more, Ha­mas, as well as states such as Iran, have long doubted the United States' in­ten­tions as a me­di­a­tor. At most, Wash­ing­ton's re­vised stance on Jerusalem will only ex­pe­dite the in­evitable col­lapse of the peace process.

As the odds of re­al­iz­ing a two-state so­lu­tion be­come more re­mote, Pales­tini­ans may start push­ing for a sin­gle state in­stead. But rather than achiev­ing this goal through con­quest – the so­lu­tion Ha­mas has al­ways es­poused – Pales­tini­ans would ac­cept an­nex­a­tion by Is­rael with full cit­i­zen­ship. The plan so far has sup­port only among lib­eral Pales­tini­ans, and no ma­jor Pales­tinian lead­ers en­dorse it. With­out the pos­si­bil­ity of a two-state so­lu­tion, how­ever, the sin­gle-state al­ter­na­tive will be­come the only op­tion for Pales­tini­ans go­ing for­ward.

Is­rael, mean­while, will also move to­ward a one-state so­lu­tion. Giv­ing recog­ni­tion for Jerusalem as its cap­i­tal city has for decades been a valu­able bar­gain­ing chip for the United States. Now that the United States has sat­is­fied that de­mand with­out ask­ing for any fur­ther con­ces­sions, Is­rael will feel even less pres­sure to ad­dress the Pales­tinian is­sue. Its set­tle­ment process will con­tinue apace, bring­ing Is­rael closer, if in­ad­ver­tently, to a sin­gle-state model.

The one-state so­lu­tion has its draw­backs for Is­rael, though: Adding mil­lions of Pales­tini­ans to the voter rolls will doom the coun­try's Jewish ma­jor­ity, but deny­ing them suf­frage would spell the end of Is­rael as a democ­racy. So, though the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion may ap­pear to be a po­lit­i­cal vic­tory for Is­rael to­day, it will bring dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions down the line.

A De­ci­sion of Re­gional Con­se­quence

In ad­di­tion, the change in Jerusalem's sta­tus will com­pli­cate the bud­ding part­ner­ship be­tween Is­rael and Saudi Ara­bia. The United States' de­ci­sion will spur ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries around the world to band to­gether in out­rage against Is­rael and prompt the king­dom, as the cus­to­dian of Is­lam's holi­est sites, to dis­tance it­self from its would-be pub­lic ally. Oth­er­wise, Riyadh's deep­en­ing se­cu­rity ties to Is­rael would high­light the ex­tent to which con­cerns over Iran's power in the re­gion have over­shad­owed the ques­tion of Pales­tinian state­hood in Saudi pol­icy. The king­dom still will try to mit­i­gate pop­u­lar out­rage against Is­rael, but to re­tain its re­li­gious le­git­i­macy, it will have to halt or de­lay trade deals, of­fi­cial vis­its and changes to state cur­ricu­lum, which cur­rently de­picts Is­rael as an in­vader of Mus­lim lands.

Jor­dan, where Pales­tini­ans make up nearly half the pop­u­la­tion, will also have to deal with the fallout from Jerusalem's new des­ig­na­tion. Just five months af­ter a se­cu­rity guard at the Is­raeli Em­bassy in Am­man killed two Jor­da­ni­ans, one of them by ac­ci­dent, the United States' an­nounce­ment will fur­ther fuel out­rage in Jor­dan against Is­rael. Jor­da­ni­ans will take to the streets to try to force their king to jus­tify the ex­is­tence of the coun­try's 1994 peace treaty with Is­rael. At the same time, the pow­er­ful Jor­da­nian branch of the Mus­lim Brother­hood will cap­i­tal­ize on the in­ci­dent to gather strength in the coun­try's par­lia­ment while erod­ing the monar­chy's le­git­i­macy. Attacks on the monar­chy, in turn, could slow, if not re­verse, Jor­dan's ef­forts at struc­tural eco­nomic re­form.

Sim­i­larly, the threat of un­rest will com­pel Egypt to down­grade its re­la­tions with Is­rael and with the United States. Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi will face scru­tiny over his re­la­tion­ship with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu, over Egypt's peace treaty with Is­rael and over his ef­forts to pre­vent arms from flow­ing over the Gaza bor­der to Ha­mas. With elec­tions slated for the spring, al-Sisi can't af­ford to put his se­cu­rity cre­den­tials – the foun­da­tion of his plat­form – at risk.

Though the United States' re­vised po­si­tion on Jerusalem will com­pli­cate mat­ters for many coun­tries in the re­gion, oth­ers may turn the sit­u­a­tion to their favour. Wash­ing­ton's re­cent an­nounce­ment, for in­stance, will seem to vin­di­cate Iran's staunch anti-Is­raeli, an­tiAmer­i­can stance in the com­ing weeks. And in Turkey, it will give Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan an op­por­tu­nity to boost his im­age as a pan-Is­lamic leader by re­duc­ing or al­to­gether sev­er­ing re­la­tions with Is­rael, which he re­cently ac­cused of un­der­min­ing Jerusalem's Is­lamic char­ac­ter. Turkey, of course, has an un­der­ly­ing geopo­lit­i­cal in­cen­tive to res­tore diplo­matic ties with Is­rael even­tu­ally, but in the mean­time, sus­pend­ing them will help Er­do­gan as he con­fronts his coun­try's wob­bly econ­omy.

But Turkey and Iran are the out­liers. For most states in the re­gion, a change in Jerusalem's sta­tus is an unwelcome dis­trac­tion from more press­ing prob­lems. The de­ci­sion, in fact, will have un­de­sir­able side ef­fects even for the coun­tries that it os­ten­si­bly stands to ben­e­fit the most – the United States and Is­rael. Whether the reper­cus­sions live up to worst-case sce­nar­ios swirling around in the pub­lic dis­course is an­other story.

Though the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion may ap­pear to be a po­lit­i­cal vic­tory for Is­rael to­day, it will bring dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions down the line.

An aerial view of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque

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