Since the establishment of Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict has largely dominated Middle Eastern geo-politics. Israel has been expanding its settlements after defeating its Arab neighbours in several successive battles. But the status of a sovereign Palestinian state remained unresolved, and thus peace in the region, remained a central concern in international affairs.
The Israel-Palestine crisis lost its centrality in the regional geo-politics because of the first and second Gulf War, and more so because of widespread political crises and civil wars after the Arab Spring. Furthermore, the rise of IS and the rivalries and proxy conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran over regional supremacy have been dominating the regional narrative.
But the Israel-Palestine crisis has regained its centrality in Middle Eastern geo-politics after the recent unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the Trump Administration.
Jerusalem is theologically a very significant place. The city is the same piece of geopolitical real estate which is considered as a “holy city” by all the Abrahamic faiths.
Jews claim it as their chosen city by God. Prophets all the way from David to Moses settled here. The city is also the birth place of Jesus Christ. Finally, while Islam’s Prophet Muhammad was not from the city, according to Islamic tradition, he had been brought to Jerusalem by Gabriel from Mecca one night, signifying the prophet’s ascension to the heavens.
Thus, the city, the home of Al-Aqsa Mosque, is the third-holiest site in Islam, after Makkah and Medina.
Jerusalem also has a strategic significance because of its geographic location. The city is key to projecting power over the entire region -- whether from Egypt, or Turkey, or Iran, or the Arabian Peninsula -- as it is situated at the centre of these regional power blocs. Moreover, control over all of Jerusalem is also important for Israel itself to ensure its territoriality and defensive power projection.
Wars and power
Israel has gained control of West Jerusalem after the end of 1948-49 War. The country has been occupying Eastern Jerusalem after its victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. Since then, it considers Jerusalem as its capital, violating UNSC Resolution 242. At the same time, the Palestinians and the Muslim world want to see East Jerusalem as the capital of future the Palestine state.
The status of Jerusalem was left unresolved during both 1993 and 1995 Oslo Peace Accords. Both the parties widely agreed to address the status of Jerusalem at the end of the peace process due to the complexity and sensitivity of the issue.
Trump has conducted a diplomatic coup by declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital unilaterally and by ordering to move US embassy to the city. As a result, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and the status of Jerusalem has now become a more complex issue and the entire peace process has become further complicated.
After Trump’s announcement, it is now widely agreed that America’s monopoly on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has come to an end because Trump administration has blatantly given Israel a clear upper-hand among the two parties.
The Israeli-Palestinian crisis and the status of Jerusalem has now become a more complex issue and the entire peace process has become further complicated
To look forward and mitigate the existing problems and conflicts of interests that this pronouncement has brought forth, global and regional powers like EU, China, Russia, and Turkey can engage themselves more directly in the future peace process on Israel-Palestine crisis.
As Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Israeli foreign minister, said that future negotiations should be like the one that produced the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, with a group of countries.
He further added that “the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the US), including Germany, are working together to achieve results.”
Repercussions and reactions
Trump’s unilateral move has been rejected by the international community in general and the main pan-Islamic body, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has already held an emergency summit in Istanbul on Dec 13. The OIC member states have reaffirmed “the centrality of the cause of Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem) to the Muslim Ummah,” declared East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine state, and strongly rejected Trump’s declaration.
Saudi Arabia has not yet acted proactively after Trump’s pronouncement. But Riyadh will be pressured to take the leading role on the Palestinian issue because of strong public opinion throughout the Muslim world. Moreover, the Kingdom will not allow regional powers like Turkey or Iran to be the “flag bearer” of the Muslim world for this significant cause.
Israeli-Palestinian crisis has once again become a central issue in Middle Eastern geo-politics. Governments, regional powers, and world leaders have been compelled to allow the Jerusalem issue to take center stage in world affairs and global politics.
As a result, Jerusalem will be a key factor in reshaping Middle Eastern as well as international affairs in the upcoming days.
Taufiq-E-Faruque works at the Dhaka Tribune.