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Explainer: Why Ireland and many others are against Trump recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Simon Coveney said he shares Emmanuel Macron’s concerns about Trump’s proposals, which could be destabilising in the region.

UPI 20171202 Source: Shawn Thew UPI/PA Images

DONALD TRUMP HAS been warned that he’d be making a historic misstep, and create widespread unrest, if he were to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and move the US Embassy there.

He has delayed announcing his final decision on the matter, and French President Emmanuel Macron issued a statement yesterday expressing concern over these proposals, hinting that it could disrupt peace negotiations with Israel and Palestine.

Tánaiste, and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney tweeted his support for Macron’s stance this morning, and said that “Ireland shares President Macron’s concerns on this issue”.

So, what’s this row all about? Why would Trump do this in the first place? And why are France, Ireland and others against it?

Historical tensions

UPI 20171204 A general view of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Source: Debbie Hill UPI/PA Images

For decades, uneasy peace between Israel and Palestine has often turned into outright armed conflict.

The status of Jerusalem is a key issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both Israelis and Palestinians claiming the city as their capital.

Israel seized the largely-Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, claims both halves of the city to be its “eternal and undivided capital.”

But the Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their promised state and fiercely oppose any Israeli attempt to extend sovereignty there.

Several peace plans have come unstuck over debates on whether, and how, to divide sovereignty or oversee the sites holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Due to this contested status, all foreign embassies are located Tel Aviv, with consular representation in Jerusalem.

A recognition from the US that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel by putting its Israeli embassy there would send shockwaves throughout the Middle-East, granting the Israeli government further legitimacy to its claim on contested areas and risking further instability and conflict in the region.

Why would Trump do it?

First of all, it is important to note that there is currently US legislation ready to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

This law was actually put in place during Bill Clinton’s administration. In 1995, the US Congress passed the so-called Jerusalem Embassy Act recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and stating that the US embassy should be moved there.

UPI 20171202 Runners pass the US Embassy in Tel Aviv Source: Debbie Hill UPI/PA Images

An inbuilt waiver into the bill, however, allows the president to temporarily postpone the move on the grounds of “national security”.

This waiver has been invoked by Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama, meaning that the law has never actually come into effect. Trump himself has signed the once-every-six-months waiver already during his presidency.

Not one to follow anyone else’s example, the current US President may break with precedent, and the international community, in recognising Israel’s sovereignty of Jerusalem.

This is a move that would be supported by donors and sections of his conservative supporter base. It was also one of his pledges during the presidential campaign.

“The president has been clear on this issue from the get-go. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, who said a declaration on the move would be made “in the coming days”.

Amid internal White House disagreements, several US administration officials were unable or unwilling to say with certainty what Trump would decide.

“The president’s going to make his decision,” his Middle East peace envoy and son-in-law Jared Kushner said.

“The president is still considering options,” a State Department official said when asked about a possible move.

Israeli’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, urged Trump to grasp a “historic opportunity”.

“Completely destroy the fragile peace process”

Both local and international figures have urged Trump not to press ahead with these plans.

Palestinian leaders have been lobbying regional leaders to oppose any shift in US policy and the armed Islamist movement Hamas has threatened to launch a new “intifada.”

Saeb Erakat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, warned that a change in the US stance on Jerusalem would spell disaster, and would amount to an own goal for US peace efforts in the region.

He said in a statement that Washington would “be disqualifying itself to play any role in any initiative towards achieving a just and lasting peace”.

“If the status of Jerusalem is changed and another step is taken… that would be a major catastrophe,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said.

It would completely destroy the fragile peace process in the region, and lead to new conflicts, new disputes and new unrest.

The Arab League said it was closely following the matter, with leader Abul Gheit warning any such move would pose a threat “to the stability of the Middle East and the whole world.”

“It will not serve peace or stability, instead it will nourish fanaticism and violence,” he said on Sunday, noting that the League was closely following the issue and would coordinate a joint position with Palestinian and Arab leaders if Trump took the step.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi also warned that any change to the status of Jerusalem would have “grave consequences”, in a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday.

Coveney and Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron meets with US President Donald Trump - NYC Macron meeting Trump in New York in September Source: Pool/ABACA/PA Images

In a statement, French President Emmanuel Macron strongly urged the Trump administration not to take these measures. This came after a telephone conversation between the two leaders.

“The French President expressed his concern over the possibility that the United States would unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” a Macron spokesperson said.

Mr Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed that the question of Jerusalem’s status had to be dealt with in the framework of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, with the aim in particular to establish two countries, Israel and Palestine, living in peace and security side by side with Jerusalem as capital.

As previously stated, Minister Simon Coveney has said Ireland shares Macron’s concerns.

Since Trump has taken office, the Department of Foreign Affairs has shared this stance.

Before St Patrick’s Day, a number of TDs asked then-Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan about Ireland’s stance on the issue. This included Richard Boyd-Barrett, Eamon Ryan and Paul Murphy.

In February, Flanagan told the Dáil: “Ultimately this is a decision for the US, but I hope there will be no change in the previous policy.

Ireland and our EU partners remain fully committed to a two state solution which will see Jerusalem accepted by all as the capital of two states. Until then, our own Embassy will not be moving.

When he was quizzed by Paul Murphy if then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny would raise the matter at the annual St Patrick’s Day meeting, Flanagan said that, “at EU level, we will continue to be a strong voice on the issue”, and added that the two-state solution is still the “only viable option”.

Coveney’s short statement today would appear to reiterate this stance. TheJournal.ie has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs for a statement on the current events taking place.

Next steps

UPI 20171018 Graffiti of Trump writing a letter to Eminem in the West Bank Source: Debbie Hill UPI/PA Images

The speculation in Washington is that while Trump will indeed sign the waiver to retain the embassy in Tel Aviv for the time being.

He is also expected, however, to make a speech tomorrow supporting Israel’s claim to Jerusalem.

Trump has previously said that he wants to relaunch peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in search of the “ultimate deal”.

Taking these steps, however, could have the opposite result and send any chance of peace back a long way.

With reporting from AFP

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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