Jerusalem voices criticize U.S. recognition of holy city


As the UN Security Council prepares for discussions on the U.S. decision, WikiTribune spoke to members of the Jerusalem diaspora, who criticized U.S. President Donald Trump and said the move disrupts the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Trump said in a speech announcing plans to eventually move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The move reversed decades of U.S. policy, which avoided declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

More than 86 countries have embassies in Israel, and all are located in Tel Aviv. In April, though, Russia declared West Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, as noted in this story from The Times of Israel.

Trump’s move sparked international condemnation and protests across the Middle East: one was killed and scores hurt when thousands of Palestinians demonstrated on a “day of rage” on December 8. Ismail Haniya, the leader of fundamentalist group Hamas, is calling for a third intifada, or uprising, against Israel.

Israelis and Palestinians both lay claim to Jerusalem as their capital city, and the status of the city has been one of the most testing and sensitive issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace talks have been on the cards for years, but conditions aren’t ripe for both sides to negotiate a peace agreement.

The declaration isn’t going to improve the situation in the short term, and the international community shouldn’t interfere with peace in Jerusalem, said two Israelis and one Palestinians who spoke toWikiTribune after we were connected by a pro-peace organization that works across both societies.

Dawoud Zahran, 22, West Bank: ‘This came as a slap across the face’

It is the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, not the plan to move the embassy, that will affect the city the most, said Zahran, a Palestinian and peace activist from Ramallah, West Bank. He is studying for a master’s degree in public policy at Oxford University, England.

“It’s an important event, but there’s a lot of exaggeration when it comes to its effect,” Zahran said.

Recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is not in line with international law, he said. When Israel passed a law that declared Jerusalem the united capital of Israel in 1980, the United Nations Security Council declared it a violation of international law. “For those of us working for a peaceful solution, this came as a slap across the face.”

The backlash from other countries against the announcement was “reaffirming,” but it comes as a blow for those advocating for a two-state solution, he said.

A two-state solution foresees East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Of the 850,000 people who live in Jerusalem, 36 percent are Muslim and 61 percent are Jewish, according to the independent think-tank Jerusalem Institute in 2016.

Meron Guttel, 26, West Jerusalem: ‘We need to find a way to live together’

It was “nice” to hear Jerusalem recognized as the Israeli capital, said Guttel, a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who grew up and lives in West Jerusalem. “In the end that’s a reality for the Israelis,” he said.

“From my close circle of friends and family, most Israeli Jews took it not as a anti-Palestinian statement but as a pro-Israeli statement,” Guttel said, adding that Israelis “are feeling good about it.”

But when he met with his Palestinian friends after the declaration, they felt hurt and betrayed. One of Guttel’s colleague’s was “very upset,” he said. The “one-sided” declaration, that didn’t take Palestine into account, means the future doesn’t look optimistic, Guttel said.

Trump’s statement was a “win-lose” situation, said Guttel, who is optimistic and wants respect and understanding in Jerusalem because he is tired of  this “never-ending conflict.”

Ultimately, he thinks that not enough people on both sides are “willing to understand consequences of real peace process.”

“In the end we need to find a way to live together.”

Eran Nissan, 26, Tel Aviv: “We will have to suffer because of Trump’s reckless behavior”

“It will get worse before it gets better,” Nissan, a Peace Now activist, said on a Skype call from Tel Aviv.

From the Israeli perspective, the declaration doesn’t mean a lot, but Trump’s decision has hurt Palestinians because they see Israelis are pleased with the recognition, he said.

“They’ve seen the covers of newspapers in Israel, and they see this as Israel delegitimizing [the Palestinians’] claim for East Jerusalem.”

The majority of people in Jerusalem support a two-state solution, he said

Nissan doubts Trump’s ability to execute the move from Tel Aviv.

“When push comes to shove, Trump is not going to move the embassy,” he said. “They are very vague plans.”

Trump signed a waiver officially delaying the move of the embassy for six months, a National Security Council official said, according to CNN. The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act calls for moving the embassy, but the U.S. president can sign a waiver every six months, citing national-security concerns, to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, did so since Congress passed the law.

These administrations “resisted moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem for fear doing so could alienate Arab allies, trigger protests in the Middle East, and damage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, among other outcomes,” according to global-affairs website Foreign Policy.

But The New York Times reported that legal experts said there’s nothing to stop the U.S. “hanging a sign outside the existing American consulate in Jerusalem and calling it the embassy.”

Nissan also points out that Trump didn’t specify borders of Jerusalem in his declaration.

“He didn’t say what Jerusalem is, so it still leaves the door open to recognize East Jerusalem as a capital of Palestine in a future agreement,” he said.

Trump “acts in a very irresponsible way,” he added. “He will not have to clean up his mess. He will not have to deal with the consequences of his policies. We will have to suffer because of Trump’s reckless behavior.”

The international community needs to be involved in solving the conflict by creating a dialogue based on trust, goodwill and multilateral negotiations, instead of destabilizing the region, Nissan said.

“Because the people who pay the price are the Israeli and Palestinian society on both sides.”

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