Jerusalem. Al Quds. Temple Mount. Al Aqsa. Israel. Palestine. Regarded by members of all three Western religions as one of the most holy cities in the world, the piece of land has been fought over for eons. President Trump’s decision earlier this week to officially declare the coveted city as the “capital of Israel” was supposedly a step to bringing peace to the area. He stated that the declaration was needed in order to improve the situation between Israel and Palestine. But was it really? Would the region be better off with this presidential choice or the maintenance of the status quo? After having conducted research and gained first hand perspectives, I personally feel that President Trump’s decision was a controversial, inconsiderate move which will be detrimental to American foreign relations as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole.
The President, as per the Constitution, is the “top diplomat” of the nation, meaning that he can make major foreign policy decisions independently. Trump’s decision was one of the long list of actions he promised to voters while campaigning. As he himself states, many conservative candidates made similar promises in the past; this, however, is the first time that someone has delivered. While the president’s declaration may have pleased his passionate voters, the decision was made with little to no input from the rest of the world.
The presidential decision was widely condemned by members of the international community. Palestinian head of state Mahmoud Abbas advised strongly against the decision, followed by governmental statements from many of Palestine’s Middle Eastern allies including Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and others. Furthermore, even many of the United States’ closest allies such as Germany, France, Italy, and Sweden denounced Trump’s declaration. The United Nations, which had actively warned America of the great risk of taking this step, condemned the decision. All nations who spoke against Trump’s choice highlighted the fact that it was contrary to the peace process and would hurt any efforts to ameliorate the situation. No nation has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel before, and the closest nation to do so was Russia, who specifically referred to West Jerusalem, while maintaining East Jerusalem as a disputed region, in accordance with the UN. All nations that have diplomatic relations with Israel, house their embassies in Tel Aviv; the United States will be the first and only nation to move their consulate to Jerusalem. Although international law is generally non-binding, it is customary for nations to uphold or at least honor it to some degree. Trump’s designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a blatant disregard of the agreements established by the very United Nations in which the US plays a pivotal role.
Not only did the presidential decree fail to consider international law, or the statements released by several nations across the world, it also exacerbated an age-old conflict by polarizing the issue further. The struggle for Jerusalem is nothing new. For thousands of years, the Holy City has been fought over because of its religious significance. The United States has long positioned itself as the “neutral mediator” between the two groups. While Trump’s spokesperson at the UN argued that the decision did not determine America’s position on boundaries and borders in the nation, critics say that the controversial nature of the decision made it evident that he was taking clear sides with Israel. President Trump claimed that the step he took was necessary to making peace in the region. However, as tensions in the Holy City rise, it is clear that his decision was several steps in the wrong direction. The past few days have been marked with rallies, protests, and more violent uprisings, in which hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded by Israeli law enforcement. By making such a radical declaration, Trump has fueled a fire that has been burning for years on end, rather than promoting the peace that he claims to be working towards.
The decision was negative to the Arab-Israeli conflict; however, its greatest failure was the impact it has had on American relations with nations in the Arab world, as well as other Muslim countries outside the Middle East. Angry citizens from the entire region, as well as countries with large Muslim populations such as Pakistan and Indonesia have taken to the streets to protest- not just against Israel- but against President Trump and the United States itself. In some nations, the anger against the United States may have a severe impact on its relations with America. Take Jordan, for example, one of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East. Protesters from all across the country are demanding the closure of the U.S. embassy in Amman, as well as a severance of diplomatic ties between the two nations. Due to the proximity to Jerusalem, the religious connection to the city, as well as the key fact that a vast majority of Jordanians are originally from Palestine, the American president’s choice has hit a raw nerve.
Personally, I find it interesting that just months ago, I was living the life of an exchange student in Amman, Jordan. Although I was known to be a foreigner, I was treated as family and was accepted by all people in my host community. On my first day with my host family, my host mom’s friend, without even knowing me, came and kissed me on my cheeks (a traditional greeting) after I explained to her that I was an American student learning her language. At markets and malls, we were surrounded by people who would marvel at the fact that we were American. They would greet us enthusiastically and welcome us to their country. Would they have the same reaction now? Or would their excitement instead be replaced by a sense of apprehension?
When I was in Jordan, I had the privilege of speaking to my host family about sensitive issues such as the regulation of the Al Aqsa mosque, and I found them to be kind and understanding. Now, months later, even after such a radical declaration by the president, they have remained the same. After Trump made his decision, I made sure to communicate with my host parents about the issue. Despite our different backgrounds and nationalities, I realized once again that we were bound by the common will for peace, love, and understanding. They told me that after talking about these issues they “loved me even more” and they hoped that “God would stop all the wars”. I also messaged many of the host cousins my age, to tell them that not all Americans wanted more problems in the region, and that there are many who are hoping for peace between the nations.
President Trump’s decree on Jerusalem this week was a failed foreign policy decision at many levels; however, I hope, as do many of the Jordanian-Palestinians I know, that there may be peace in the region someday.
As they say in Arabic, “Inshallah”, or “God Willing”.