Q&A: What will US recognition of Jerusalem mean for the peace process?
The peace process has been at death’s door since the former secretary of state John Kerry’s peace mission ended in failure in 2014. But the international community — apart from the US — is united in saying recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is disastrous for any hopes of reviving meaningful talks. The status of Jerusalem is one of the pivotal issues that diplomats and peacemakers have said must be agreed between the two parties in negotiations.
Palestinians will see Trump’s announcement as the end of their hopes and demands for East Jerusalem as a capital of a future independent state. While few want a return to violence, many will feel diplomatic efforts have got them no closer to a state of their own.
The Israeli government will be thrilled. Ever since it captured (and later annexed) East Jerusalem in the 1967 six-day war, Israel has claimed the city as its “eternal and undivided” capital, and has longed for international recognition. Some 200,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements will also celebrate.
The US will open its embassy in Jerusalem by the end of 2019, ahead of schedule, the vice-president, Mike Pence, has said. Arab-Israeli politicians were ejected from the Knesset at the start of Pence’s speech for heckling.
“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the US embassy in Jerusalem – and that United States embassy will open before the end of next year,” he said in a speech to roaring applause in the Israeli Knesset.
Speaking during a two-day visit, Pence said Donald Trump had “righted a 70-year wrong” by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“Trump and Israel want to end the Palestinian cause; they want to erase the idea of Palestinian refugees. They want to pressure Jordan, the Palestinians and others to give into the demands of an imaginary peace process that benefits only Israel, and that is unacceptable.”
— Abdul Rahman Qanas, 52, a resident of the Baqaa, the largest refugee camp in Jordan
Vice President Mike Pence met with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Sunday, telling reporters afterward that they had “agreed to disagree” on the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The meeting in Amman, on the second day of Mr. Pence’s visit to the Middle East, came as tension has increased between the two allies over President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem last month and his decision last week to withhold aid to the United Nations agency that serves Palestinian refugees.
Speaking before the meeting with Mr. Pence at Al Husseiniya Palace in Amman, King Abdullah reiterated his support for “East Jerusalem as a capital of an independent Palestinian state living side by side with a secure and recognized Israel,” Petra, Jordan’s official news agency, reported.
Jordan is also home to more than two million Palestinian refugees who could be affected by the cut in American aid to the United Nations agency.
Mr. Pence said the two leaders had a “very frank discussion.”
Trump has said he wants to revitalize long-stalled peace talks in pursuit of what he has described as the “ultimate deal.” Yet when Pence touches down in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, the US’s role as mediator in the conflict may be over for good.
It’s not the trip to the Holy Land that Mike Pence might have imagined. For a start, the US vice-president — an evangelical Christian — is no longer welcome in Jesus’s birthplace of Bethlehem.
Donald Trump doomed Pence’s chances of a visit to the West Bank when he reversed decades of US policy last month by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This broke a longstanding international consensus that the issue would be negotiated in peace talks with the Palestinians, who also claim parts of the city.
While Trump did not rule out a future division of Jerusalem, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, swiftly rescinded Pence’s invitation to meet him and visit Bethlehem, while senior Christian clerics in Egypt — where Pence arrives on Saturday at the start of his four-day trip — also cancelled planned events.
“When they talk about Christian minorities in danger, they talk about Iraq and other regions where ISIS is the threat. They never, ever address the issue of Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation. . . . Our mere existence as Christians here is inconvenient as it means this conflict can’t be framed as a religious war between Jews and Muslims. It’s not about religion. It’s a political conflict over land and resources.”
— Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem
Some of the festive cheer was missing this weekend at a public Christmas tree lighting near the site where Christians believe an angel proclaimed Christ’s birth to local shepherds.
“Our oppressors have decided to deprive us from the joy of Christmas,” Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the former archbishop and Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told the crowd in the town of Beit Sahour in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “Mr. Trump told us clearly Jerusalem is not yours.”
The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there has provoked widespread opposition among Christians across the Middle East. When Vice President Pence arrives next week on a trip touted as a chance to check on the region’s persecuted Christians, he will be facing an awkward backlash.