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Sunday December 17, 2017 02:20 PM

Trump’s Jerusalem move brings little change, big risk

Trump’s Jerusalem move brings little change, big risk
A Palestinian protester prays during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 7, 2017REUTERS

A series of clashes and protests erupted in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the wake of the decision on Thursday, while armed Islamist movement Hamas called for a new intifada, or uprising

US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may bring little immediate concrete change but risks sparking another round of violence in a conflict that has lasted decades.

While Trump waded deep into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Wednesday’s declaration on Jerusalem, many analysts said his main audience was the president’s right-wing Christian political base in the United States.

Still, the recognition, though it came with pledges of pursuing peace, risks igniting yet another round of violence in the region.

A series of clashes and protests erupted in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the wake of the decision on Thursday, while armed Islamist movement Hamas called for a new intifada, or uprising.

Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Authority minister, said he did not believe a full-blown intifada would result, but it was too early to know to what degree unrest will occur.

“I think there will be a wave of popular protests,” he said. “I don’t know for how long. It depends on several factors, including how Israel responds to it.”

Trump’s move also drew global condemnation, including from traditional US allies who insisted on what has been the consensus in the international community: Jerusalem’s status must be negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians.

Jerusalem remains a strong rallying cry for not only Palestinians, but also Muslims worldwide as the location of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest site.

The compound is located at the site that is also the holiest in Judaism, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, and the city is considered by Jewish Israelis to be their 3,000-year-old capital.

‘Licence to run amok’

Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most difficult issue to resolve in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, with both sides claiming it as their capital.

“Nothing is ever sure in the Middle East, so it’s unclear whether he is completely discrediting himself as mediator in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Yossi Alpher, an adviser to former Israeli premier Ehud Barak.

“But it is certain that the recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel is detrimental to the process.”

Whether unrest would eventually spiral, either in the Palestinian territories or the wider region, was being closely watched, while questions were also being raised over whether a peace process is still possible.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Trump had disqualified the United States from its role as traditional peace broker in the Middle East conflict, while others went further.

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and longtime chief negotiator for the Palestinians, said he had destroyed the two-state solution — the focus of years of international peace efforts.

Nahum Barnea, a columnist for Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonot, said “it would be ill-advised to overstate the importance” of Trump’s speech since it was done for domestic political reasons.

But he noted, like many others, that reactions to it could spin out of control, with extremists on both sides encouraged.

“The impact of the speech won’t lie in the words comprising it, but in the way that the parties interpret it,” he wrote.

“The Palestinians might despair and resort to violence; the right-wing parties in Israel might seek to accelerate annexation (of the West Bank)… Trump, they might think, has given them licence to run amok.”

 

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