A risk to peace in the Middle East

Tuesday, 2018-05-15 12:33:53
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US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the dedication ceremony of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – Israel held an opening ceremony for the Embassy of the United States (US) in Jerusalem on May 14, despite strong opposition from the Palestinians and many other countries around the world. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Ivanka Trump, the daughter of US President Donald Trump, were invited to the event. However, the absence of most of the guests, who are envoys from numerous countries, at a reception hosted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, showed the cautious response of the international community to this sensitive event.

Moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been conducted following President Trump’s recognition of the shrine as the capital of Israel in December 2017. The head of the White House affirmed that he had implemented Washington’s policy commitments. However, in fact, the decision by President Trump goes against the Middle East policy of the previous US administrations. As the Middle East peace talks have been frozen since 2014, the international community is worried that the US move could add fuel to the fire, sparking a new spiral of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, while inflaming the unrest in the occupied West Bank and on the Gaza Strip border, where the Israeli military has been stepping up its crackdown on Palestinian protesters over the past few years.

The US administration declared that the embassy move did not aim to prejudge Jerusalem’s final borders. However, most other countries agreed that the status of Jerusalem, a sacred land for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, should be identified in a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, saying that the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem would harm any deals of such kind, as the Palestinians have always insisted on establishing an independent state with its capital of East Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Senior White House Advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin applaud during the dedication ceremony. (Photo: Reuters)

The absence of most of the diplomats that were invited to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem suggests that there must not be consensus among countries on this issue. Israel invited 86 ambassadors and diplomatic representatives to attend the event, but only 33 representatives confirmed their attendance, including delegates from Guatemala and Paraguay, which will follow the US in opening their embassies in Jerusalem later this month. There is a rift within the European Union (EU) over Trump’s Jerusalem move. Notably, attending the Israeli Foreign Ministry gathering were only representatives from Hungary, Romania, and the Czech Republic, but there were none from the western EU states. The EU mission in Israel tweeted that the bloc would “respect the international consensus on Jerusalem, including on the location of their diplomatic representations until the final status of Jerusalem is resolved”. Some other countries, including Japan and Iran, voiced their concern that the US’s embassy relocation in Israel could increase tensions in the Middle East, or make the stagnant peace process in the region even more difficult. Tokyo took note of Washington’s pledge that the issue of Jerusalem’s status should be resolved between the concerned parties. The Arab League also summoned an extraordinary meeting in protest of the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

A delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the US criticised that the US administration has chosen Israel’s exclusive claims of the sacred city with many religions. Meanwhile, approximately one million Palestinians planned to launch the largest rally ever in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on May 14, coinciding with Israel’s 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish state, to protest the US launch of its embassy in Jerusalem. The protests lasted until today (May 15), the Nakba Day (or Catastrophe) as called by the Palestinians, as 70 years ago, more than 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes or be axed after Israel announced the establishment of the Jewish state on May 14. Since March 30, a large majority of Palestinians have taken part in demonstrations as part of the “Great March of Return”, aiming to claim repatriation rights and fundamental rights, and oppose Israel’s blockade of the Gaza coastal land over the past 12 years. The clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have left 49 Palestinians dead and over 8,000 wounded.

The international community has been promoting diplomatic efforts to cool down the current tension between Israel and the Palestinians, and to stop a possible outbreak of a new conflict in the Middle East. The “Middle East peace ship” can only be restarted through dialogues on the basis of the “two-state” solution, in which the independent Palestinian state lives in peace and security with Israel, with the pre-1967 borderline.