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Why Jerusalem matters

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Today President Trump made the United States the first country to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jerusalem, of course, has been controlled by Israel in its entirety since 1967, and West Jerusalem has been administered by Israel since 1948. Israel itself is adamant that the undivided city will remain its capital. And yet, this decision could be one of the most destructive Trump has taken since coming to office. So how did this become such a debate, and why is this such a bad decision?

How did we get here?

 

 

Israel’s formation in 1948 was a messy affair which I won’t get into here, and it involved injustices on all sides. Jerusalem was just one issue. The UN has resolved that it should be a ‘corpus seperatum’ – a fancy word for a city that was neither Israeli nor Palestinian, but a holy place that should be internationally administered. However, in the 1948 war between Israel and the Arab states, Israel took West Jerusalem, and Jordan the East – the section which includes the Old City and some of the holiest sites to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Neither of these actions was legal under international law, and neither was recognised.

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Then, in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel took East Jerusalem as well, and immediately began treating the city as a reunited capital. The annexation was condemned by the UN Security Council, and has never been recognised by any state. The UN and all member states consider the status of all of Jerusalem an issue to be solved in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. All states have their embassy in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem, as that would imply recognition.

 

In 1995 though, the US Senate decided to get involved, so they passed a resolution that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that the US embassy should be moved there. Every president since has postponed moving the embassy every six months, as the resolution allows, and have not officially recognised it as the capital. Now, however, Trump has thrown this out the window. So why is this such a huge issue?

1. It cripples the chances for peace

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most difficult issues preventing peace between Israel and Palestine. It’s generally assumed that, in broad strokes, West Jerusalem could  become part of Israel, and East Jerusalem in some form the capital of Palestine, though the Israelis dispute this. However, an exact division always been an issue that would be up for discussion in a final settlement. The US siding with Israel makes a compromise far more difficult

2. It means the US can never again be an effective mediator in regional conflicts

For decades the US has tried to play a mediating role between Israel and Palestine – with not too much success. Despite the fact that the US is Israel’s strongest ally, in general they could at least present themselves as a fairly neutral partner in negotiations. However, by taking Israel’s side on such a vital matter to both sides, and in a way that no other country has, it will be almost impossible for the Palestinians to ever take them seriously again. Arab countries too will be infuriated – this is going to further damage the US’s position in the region.

3. It hurts the US’s relations with the world

The Trump presidency has not exactly been a success for the US on the world stage, with trust in the US plummeting. By rejecting a position that the UN and entire world have taken, Trump yet again shows that his administration is not interested in engaging productively with others. The idea that you cannot annex territory that you conquer in a war is so key to the way states interact – just look at how few states have recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea. For the US to recognise Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem weakens their position in every way.

4. It’s being done for stupid reasons

Let’s be honest, does anyone think Trump has deeply held positions on the status of Jerusalem? He did this because the evangelical conservative base of his party wants to see it happen, and he could do with a boost in the polls. The idea that this will somehow “advance the peace process” is a joke – the Palestinians are hardly going to roll over and accept that Jerusalem is no longer up for discussion.

This is a decision no one agrees with, and that will help no one except the right-wingers in Israel and the United States. The days ahead will already show whether the reaction is as bad as I expect, but it’s already another confirmation that when you elect a terrible person president, you get terrible policy.

 

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Hiatus

Due to the fact that I am currently a member of the board of United Netherlands, unfortunately I will be unable to continue updating this blog during this academic year. United Netherlands is a Dutch student organisation that – among other things – organises and teaches a 10 ECTS course at the Radboud University for around 30 selected students from different academic backgrounds. The course covers international politics, public speaking, diplomacy, and Model United Nations, with participation in international MUN conferences at Oxford and Harvard. Together with two others, I’m responsible for directly organising and teaching the course.

This is an amazing opportunity, and I’m greatly enjoying it so far. However, seeing as I’m also doing a Political Science masters on the side, I will be unable to update this blog, with the exception of some potential random posts. Hopefully I will be able to pick it up again in summer 2017! Until then, thanks for reading!

André

What is going on in Nagorno-Karabakh?

For most people in the West, even the name ‘Nagorno-Karabakh’ sounds stereotypically foreign and remote. For the people of the Caucasus, however, it’s another leftover conflict from the Soviet era that is still taking lives today. Over the weekend 30 people have been killed in fighting between the Azerbaijani army and ethnically Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh forces. While in recent hours the Azerbaijani president has announced a ‘unilateral ceasefire’, this is a conflict that is not going away. So what is it all about? And why are the consequences of a potential war as bad as ever?

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Continue reading

Fear in Europe after Brussels

I have a confession: After hearing of the Brussels attacks this morning, riding my bike past parliament to the The Hague Central and seeing a dozen Royal Marrechaussee armed with automatic weapons, and hearing that Hoofddorp station near Amsterdam had been shut due to an ‘incident’, I got on to a train. A young Middle Eastern man sat next to me, speaking in Arabic on the phone. He was wearing a thick coat, and had a big square bag between his legs. And for a moment I felt a flash of fear. I thought about the possibility of a bomb being in the bag, and images of Brussels ran through my mind. The moment passed very quickly, and I felt stupid and guilty, not believing that I really had been worried for a minute. But I did feel fear, for a brief moment.  Continue reading

Super Tuesday -Trump headed for victory

Super Tuesday – the biggest single day of primaries in the US election campaign – has come and gone, and Donald Trump has taken an even more commanding lead. Despite their optimism, his closest rivals look unable to beat him, and unless something in the campaign dynamic changes dramatically, Trump will be the Republican nominee for President this November. So how has Trump managed to do this? Is there really no hope for his opponents? And what happened on the Democratic side? Continue reading

Will the Syria ceasefire stick?

On Saturday the first widespread negotiated ‘cessation of hostilities’ started in Syria, and a day later it is still in place despite some violations – already a small victory. The deal has been brokered and supported by the US and Russia, two of the most powerful backers on each side of the conflict, and the UN has also backed it with a resolution. So what are the chances this ceasefire will succeed?

Here’s some background on Russian and American efforts in Syria, and for more info on Islamic State, see here. Continue reading

What happens if the UK leaves the EU?

After more than a year of promises, David Cameron has finally set a date for a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. After managing to make a deal with the 27 other states, Cameron will campaign for the UK to vote to stay on the 23rd of June. But what exactly does his ‘deal’ with the EU mean? What would happen if the British left? And is this the only threat to the EU? Continue reading