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Jerusalem: The Epicenter of Crises in Middle East

Jerusalem

The earliest manifestation of faith is the sacred geography, and Jerusalem, the holiest of the holy cities, enjoys the status of sacred geography for Abrahimic religions. All three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – consider Jerusalem central in their theological belief system. Jews trace the centrality of this city from Biblical historicity and cite the occupation of Canaan valley by Joshua, and subsequent conquering and establishing Jerusalem as the capital of the kingdom of Israel by Hazrat Daud (AS). The Mount Temple, the Western Wall or Wailing Wall that is considered the imposing remnant of the Second Temple which was destroyed by Romans, Mount Zion and dozens of other Jewish sacred places make the Jerusalem a sacred geography for the Jews. As for Christianity is concerned, Jerusalem is the birthplace of Jesus (AS) and it is where he preached and showed his miracles and was crucified (according to Christian beliefs). The Sepulchre of Christ and Via Dolorosa, the road where Jesus was forced to walk towards his crucifixion give this city the centrality in Christianity. The Muslims revere this city as it was the first Qibla (prayer direction) of Islam and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) offered prayer in Masjid-ul-Aqsa and embarked upon the second leg of his journey of Miraj. 

The city of Jerusalem has long been a city contested by all Abrahimic religions. The City was ransacked, looted and demolished over and again by different communities and sub-communities due to religious and political reasons. Ever since its establishment by Hazrat Daud (AS) in about 1000BC, Jerusalem has been facing wars and besieges. In 586 BC, the Babylonian forces destroyed this city and demolished the First Temple built by Hazrat Suleman (AS). Later, in 70BC, the Roman forces under Titus occupied this city, exiled Jews and demolished the Second Temple constructed by Persian emperor Cyrus the Great. The Christian emperor, Constantine constructed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in order to give legitimacy to his rule and boost Christianity.

Jerusalem came under Islamic rule during the caliphate of Hazrat Umar (RA) in 638CE. This city remained under the Muslim control till 1917 – save a brief and bloody occupation made by the Crusaders from 1089 to 1187. First World War (1914-1918) resulted into the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the British occupied Palestine including the city of Jerusalem in 1917.

The modern history of Jerusalem is brimmed with treachery, imperialist conspiracies, religious persecution, civil wars, revolts, acts of terrorism and flagrant violation of international laws and conventions by colonizing powers as well as the Jews. The story began with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that promised national homeland for Jews in Palestine and social and religious rights for non-Jewish communities. The Balfour Declaration spurred mass immigration of Jews from across the world into Palestine that would lead to a drastic change in the local demography. The Rothschild family –the most famous of all European banking dynasties s, which for some 200 years exerted great influence on the economic and, indirectly, the political history of Europe – and World Zionist Organization bore the expenses of this planned immigration. The immigration from 1917 to 1948 had far-reaching political, social, religious and demographic impact on the Palestinian society: Jewish population jumped from mere 7.6 percent of total population in 1914 to 33 percent in 1946. The centuries-old interfaith harmony shattered and the Arab took up the arms against the British Empire and began targeting armed Jewish communities; the Great Arab Revolt during 1936 to 1939 had deprived the Arab world of effective leadership and they were left directionless and unvoiced during the critical decade of 1940s that culminated into the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Approval of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union through General Assembly Resolution 181(II) dated 29 November 1947 which allowed for the establishment of Israel will always be considered the most unjust, discriminatory and biased decision by the United Nations. It is unprecedented that the occupying people were given the right to have their national state and the oppressed and occupied indigenous people are still struggling to have a country of their own. Jerusalem was declared an international city and its control and sovereignty was given in the hands of the world community. The war broke out and in subsequent year i.e. 1948, Israel occupied the West Jerusalem and Jordan held the control of East Jerusalem. This status quo was maintained until the Arab-Israel War, also known as the Six-Day War, broke out in 1967. Israel captured the whole of Jerusalem in 1967 and extended the city’s municipal boundaries, putting both East and West Jerusalem under its sovereignty and civil law. In 1980, Israel passed the Jerusalem Act making its annexation of East Jerusalem explicit. After the enactment of this Act, the jurisdiction of Israeli laws was extended across the city and Jerusalem was declared the capital of the state of Israel. That move remained internationally unrecognized and no country moved their embassies in Jerusalem out of its illegal occupation. 

Until recently no country except Russia had recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but the earth-shaking victory of Donald Trump jeopardized the prospects of a peaceful settlement of this burning issue. And, with his announcement of formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and starting the process of moving US embassy from Tell Aviv to Jerusalem, has torpedoed the whole peace process. This dangerous development is in sheer violation of international laws and conventions. As was expected, this announcement sparked anger and violent demonstrations across the Muslim world. From Nigeria to Turkey, from Pakistan to Iran, from Malaysia to Indonesia, Muslims all over the world are fuming and denouncing the Trump-led legalization of Israeli usurpation, occupation and crimes against the humanity. This potentially destabilizing announcement has far-reaching implications and repercussions for the Middle East.

The immediate impact of US decision is that it has marred the prospects of a peaceful resolution of the decades-old Israel-Palestine conflict. The two-state solution enshrined in Oslo Accords of 1993 seems dead as the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is tantamount to depriving Palestine from its future capital. Another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution is the expanding Israeli settlements that aim at gradually engulfing the lands of the West bank and East Jerusalem – the internationally recognized territories of future Palestine state. Exhorted by Trump’s victory in US presidential elections, Israel hastened its plan of gradual usurpation and Trump’s unilateral decision has further emboldened the Israeli government and it has announced to build 14,000 new settlement units in occupied territories.

The United States has now lost all its credibility of being a broker and guarantor of peace deal between Palestine and Israel. It can no longer influence the parties concerned to show lenience in their stances as it has now categorically sided with Israel. The much-touted Oslo Accords of 1993, brokered by the US, envisioned an autonomous Palestinian Authority side by side with Israel and left Jerusalem as the final issue to be settled by the direct negotiation between Israel and Palestine. Now that USA has formally accepted the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it virtually means the withdrawal from the Oslo Accords.

The already fragile peace in the Middle East is now facing another threat. Trump’s decision has discredited Mahmoud Abbas and all those who want to resolve issues through negotiation and dialogue. His party Fatah has announced to review Oslo Accords while Hamas is again resorting to the armed struggle by launching missiles into Israel; widespread protests and demonstrations on the Day of Rage and its ruthless suppression by the Israeli Army have cost lives and has also injured hundreds of Palestinian youth and children; and Jordan parliament has decided to review Wadi Araba Peace Treaty with Israel. The sheer departure from stated policy and exposed hypocritical treatment of US would fuel the extremist ideologies and Al- Qaeda-like terrorist organizations would come to the fore as they will regain strength among disgruntled Palestinian youth.

Trump’s move would further expand the Iranian influence in the Middle East. The mysterious silence on this issue on the part of Saudi officials would further infuriate the Muslims. Moreover, it will make it harder for the Saudi Kingdom and its allies to side with Israel in order to counteract the ever-increasing Iranian dominance. Many analysts believe that Trump’s decision was made after taking Egypt and Saudi Arabia into confidence. In this regard, the directions issued to local media by Saudi Royal Court to limit coverage on this issue and suggestions floated by Saudi officials to accept a small village on the outskirts of Jerusalem as the future capital of Palestine greatly substantiate the widely-held allegation of Kingdom’s tacit approval of Trump’s decision. Moreover, Russia and China would find themselves in better position to exert themselves as world leaders by maintaining neutrality in world affairs.

Muslim World has reacted angrily to this decision. OIC held its extraordinary summit in Istanbul, Turkey, where the leaders of nearly 50 Muslim states discussed legal, political and historical implications of this development. The Muslim Group of African Union has also demanded the withdrawal of decision and termed this as contravention of international laws. Arab League in its emergency meeting roundly condemned this decision and stated that this would plunge Middle East into abyss of violence, instability and bloodshed. Turkish President, Recep Tayyup Erdogan has emerged as the champion of Palestinian rights and his statements of declaring Israel as a terrorist state and threatening the US of severing ties have earned him the reputation of a courageous Muslim leader. Many experts believe that Trump’s decision would go a long way in removing differences among Muslim world and OIC may emerge as the potent and forceful platform representing and defending the Muslim rights and aspirations.

In many ways, acceptance of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel goes against many international treaties and conventions. For instance the Geneva Convention considers the building of settlements and transfer of population from occupying country into the occupied areas illegal as it prolongs the occupation and legalizes the usurpation on the pretext of humanitarian grounds. This is the reason why all the international forums roundly condemned the US decision. UN Security Council and European Union have termed this development as deeply polarizing and direct contravention to international laws. After wreaking havoc upon the globalized trade and economic liberal world order, Donald Trump is bent upon disturbing the delicate balance that is essential in maintaining global peace and security.

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