Though many previous US presidents contemplated the idea of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, they didn’t see the move through. Whether it is out of recklessness and irrationality, lack of diplomatic experience and perception, pressure from the Israeli lobby, or wanting to be different from previous US presidents who passed the decision over to following presidents, we may never know, but President Trump defied the world and did it.
For a brief moment, the world stood still in disbelief. You see, it hasn’t happened before that an occupier is given the green light and the nod of approval to continue with aggression and occupation. This is exactly what President Trump did.
Since then, the decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital has triggered a dynamo effect of reactions, a trajectory that the US must have expected but didn’t think much of, even if it prompts widespread international criticism and fury.
The Arab and Muslim worlds were swift to denounce the decision. In Turkey, delegates from various Muslim countries convened in a summit of Islamic nations where President Erdogan stated that Israel is “an occupying state, a terrorist state,” straining ties between the two countries, ties that had just been restored last year.
The United Nations voiced dismay; Britain said the move would not help peace efforts as Theresa May called it a mistake; and Canada’s government stated that it will not move its embassy to Jerusalem saying that Canada still does not recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.
Thousands took to the streets and gathered outside US embassies is Indonesia, Yemen, Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco, and the West Bank.
Still, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, emboldened by Trump’s move, visited France only to hear President Macron’s disapproval openly of the decision: the US had "unilaterally recognised something that is not complying with international law,” said Macron.
And from there off Netanyahu went on his first-ever official visit to the European Union’s capital, Brussels, with, as The Wall Street Journal says, “wind in his sails.” But the EU bloc's diplomatic chief, Frederica Mogherini, berated him for suggesting that the EU follow the same path the US took saying, “Netanyahu can keep his expectations for others” since there would be no change to the EU’s stance on the holy city.
Mogherini also said: "The EU and member states will continue to respect the international consensus on Jerusalem until the final status of the holy city is resolved, through direct negotiations between the parties.”
Palestinians raged. Four protestors died in clashes with Israeli soldiers or from Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets fired at southern Israeli communities from Gaza.
Palestinians also concluded that Trump’s administration, having taken this step, will not submit an impartial peace plan in the future and cannot remain an unbiased mediator in the peace process. President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed this notion saying that the US abdicated its role as a peace mediator.
The above is all cursory talk. but real ramifications of Trump’s decision exist.
According to The Times of Israel, almost half — or 45 percent — of Palestinians believe the Palestinian Authority should cut all contacts with the US, submit a complaint to the International Criminal Court and launch an armed uprising.
Ismail Haniyeh called last week for a new Palestinian uprising against Israel. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, reiterated the same thought on BBC Arabic, calling for a third Intifada.
Still, analysts believe that another Intifada cannot be sustained as the Palestinians right now are fatigued. “Many Palestinians who went through the second Intifada don't want to repeat it,” says Ghaith Al-Omari, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute. The Intifada killed over 3,000 Palestinians and left thousands others wounded.
Unfortunately, the Arab world is not in a position to support retaliatory measures. It has a lot of other challenges and conflicts on its plate, and many Arab countries are working on their internal conflicts with Daesh (the Islamic State group). Despite its dismay at the US decision to move the embassy, the Arab world can do little to effect change.
Even peaceful efforts, such as cutting ties with the US, are unlikely. Though President Abbas has not called for a third Intifada, his announcement to no longer work with American peace negotiators is the first major upshot of the decision.
What is most worrisome is the retaliatory rage that may take place at the grassroots level. Al-Omari says: “When there is despair, there is no way to predict what will trigger people.”
During a Friday sermon, Ayman Elkasaby, a New Jersey mosque imam, raged against Israel calling for genocide. Elkasaby closed his sermon with this prayer: "Allah, make us among your armies ... Allah, we ask you to grant us martyrdom on the threshold of Al-Aqsa Mosque ... Count them one by one, and kill them down to the very last one. Do not leave a single one on the face of the Earth."
In Beirut, at a march led by Hizbullah, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets. An announcer leading the crowd called out “Death to America! Death to Israel!”
Hamas called for a new Intifada against Israel encouraging Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers and allowing thousands of Gazans to confront Israeli troops at the Gaza border. Its leader, Haniyeh, praised the “blessed Intifada,” hoping to intensify violence.
And many will literally take these spokespersons up on their words, sparking violence, rage, even terrorism across the world.
Trump’s unilateral decision will not change facts: Jerusalem remains occupied territory.
And the struggle continues.
The writer is an academic, political analyst, and author of Cairo Rewind: The First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.