Am­bigu­ous words

Did Trump al­lude to West or East Jerusalem in his an­nounce­ment?

The Hindu - - OPED - Garimella Subra­ma­niam

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.

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