President Donald Trump’s quite literal bombshell decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem threatens to destabilize a region already teetering on the brink of chaos.
Such choice may just spark the final fire in the Middle East.
Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has long since been in Mr. Trump’s wish list. He even made a campaign pledge out of it. Israel supported the idea all along, but previous US presidents had enough common sense to defer such move, recognizing the potential for catastrophic consequences in the region if it came to pass.
Trump’s decision has been received with dismay, widespread condemnation, and fierce criticism worldwide. Palestinian organization Hamas has gone a far as saying that Trump ‘has opened the gates of Hell’ by publically and internationally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Elsewhere, Iran has issued a statement to say that it is likely to spark a fresh uprising.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile referred to the decision as a ‘historic landmark’.
Jerusalem is, and has been for a long time, a divided city.
Jerusalem’s east side -the Old City- had been under Jordanian rule up to 1948. Israel occupied it by force during the Six Day War in 1967, and annexed in 1980, in a move that sparked international outrage. The issue remains that, under the laws of the Geneva Convention, any territory that is occupied by military means does not have international recognition of ownership. Therefore, controversy still rages about which side owns Jerusalem’s east side.
Why Jerusalem is at the center of such division? Both Israelis and Palestinian claim the city as their capital. This has been a source of tension for generations. There are deeply entrenched fracture lines running just beneath an uneasy truce that Mr. Trump’s decision threatens to shatter with a single stroke of the Presidential pen.
Officially endorsing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will have several, quite severe and far reaching consequences. It will put a swift end to the protracted peace process in the region, for starters, which will likely lead to renewed waves of violence.
Also, it will mean that President Trump has taken it upon himself to determine the fate of such troubled city, ignoring the plight of millions, and unileraterally blasting decades of careful negotiations. Eighty six countries have embassies in Tel Aviv. None in Jerusalem.
Almost 900,000 people live in this contested urban enclave, roughly split in 37% Arab and 61% Israelis. They live in the knowledge that their version of peace rests on a knife’s edge, and Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is likely to cause that dormant blade to cleave the region for good.