This article first appeared on The Conversation.
Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and start preparations for the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city, has the potential to further inflame tensions across the Middle East.
Although this is not an unexpected move – Trump expressed his intention to do so during his electoral campaign – the decision breaks with years of precedent.
Trump’s decision to move the embassy means he will not follow his predecessors by renewing a waiver on the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which required the embassy to eventually be moved from Tel Aviv.
Since then, there has been a cross-party consensus in the US that any act which recognises the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel and its designation as the country’s capital would affect the fragile balance of power in the Middle East – and the ability of the US to promote its interests in the region. US diplomats have sought to tread carefully on this issue in one of the world’s most treacherous political landscapes.
The Palestinian leadership condemned the move before Trump spoke, as did leaders from the Arab world and beyond. The announcement of the embassy move is likely to cause a wave of resentment among Palestinians in the occupied territories and the city itself, especially after two decades of stalemate in the peace process and deteriorating conditions throughout the Palestinian territories. Ahead of the speech, US citizens and government employees were told to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank until further notice.
CENTRAL TO THE PEACE PROCESS
Jerusalem is not just a city of historical importance to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but also a site key to both Israeli and Palestinian identity. Add to this the centrality of the status of Jerusalem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often described as one of the world’s most intractable disputes, and it’s clear…