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No deal
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 07 - 12 - 2017

In an attempt to partly fulfil an election campaign pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, US President Donald Trump was expected to deliver a speech yesterday, Wednesday, announcing that the United Sates has decided to officially recognise the occupied city as Israel's “eternal capital”.
For the Palestinians, Egypt and nearly the entire international community, there is no dispute that East Jerusalem is part of the territories that Israel illegally occupied following the 1967 War, similar to Sinai, the rest of the West Bank, Gaza and Syria's Golan Heights. The core of any peaceful settlement for this long-enduring conflict has been Israel's withdrawal from all territories it occupied on 5 June 1967 in return for Arab recognition, enduring peace and normalised relations.
Even by US standards, the fate of East Jerusalem is one of the main issues that were to be decided in final settlement negotiations, similar to the return of Palestinian refugees, borders and water resources, according to the 1993 Oslo peace deal that was signed in the White House by late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
White House officials imply that Trump would still sign a waiver to delay moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for six months, like all former US presidents have done, but would seek to sweeten the decision for Israel by issuing this extremely dangerous statement that Washington recognised East Jerusalem as its capital.
All former US presidents, since 1967, have recognised that the consequences of a unilateral decision by the United States to side with Israel in its claim over East Jerusalem would be disastrous, and would end once and for all any prospects of a US role in brokering a peace deal between the Palestinian people and Israel.
In present circumstances, when the region is already suffering several volatile wars, human disasters, disintegrating states, sectarian divisions,and an open fight against terrorism, President Trump would be adding fuel to the fire if he committed such a huge mistake and took a biased stand in the very sensitive dispute over Jerusalem, considering not only the nationalist and legal aspects of the conflict, but also the religious significance of the city.
Muslims, Christians and Jews all have a spiritual connection to Jerusalem, and therefore it is not going to be acceptable for billions worldwide that one party claims and dominates the city. Israel, in its claim over East Jerusalem as its eternal capital, did not only utter words and prayers, but built hundreds of thousands of homes in illegal settlements, changed borders and illegally confiscated Palestinian territories to assure its control over the city.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quick in making moves to warn against the consequences of US recognition of East Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He contacted nearly all influential Arab leaders, the European Union and many other countries to put pressure on Trump in order to reconsider his expected announcement.
“Any American step related to the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, represents a threat to the future of the peace process and is unacceptable for the Palestinians, Arabs and internationally,” Abbas was quoted as saying.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement that the move would create “international anarchy and disrespect for global institutions and law”. He warned that the United States would be destabilising the region, discouraging supporters of a peaceful solution and “disqualifying itself to play any role in any initiative towards achieving a just and lasting peace”.
The most bewildering aspect of this sudden decision by the US president is that it coincided with other reports that his administration, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, is working on an “ultimate deal” to settle the Palestinian-Israel conflict. If this is the opening shot in the deal, there will certainly not be a deal. On the contrary, Trump would be offering a New Year gift for extremists to claim that the fight had to go on against the “US enemy” for its “blind” support of Israel, and backing its false claims over holy Muslim sites in East Jerusalem.
Robert Wexler, president of the S Daniel Abraham Centre for Middle East Peace and a former Democratic congressman from Florida, told The New York Times that Kushner and his team “had earned respect for their serious efforts and for making peace a priority”. He added, “they deserve credit for that, which makes it more bewildering why they would seemingly put all that in jeopardy by a premature announcement.”
It will not simply be a “premature announcement”, in our view, but a trigger for catastrophe and a possible long round of violence in a region that primarily needs nothing more than peace.


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