In four years in Jerusalem...
Trump said Jerusalem is the capital of Israel Photograph: (WION)
President Donald Trump will come good on election promises and shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city of Jerusalem. This is music to Israeli ears.
But Washington’s European allies and the Islamic Middle East have condemned the move. Islamist groups around the world have asked people to take to the streets for a 'day of rage', travel advisories are being issued thick and fast. What is the unpredictable Mr Trump up to?
But WION got it right, hours before the President’s speech. WION’s senior Foreign Editor Padma Rao Sundarji analyses the least reported and most important part of the president’s announcement.
Le shanah haba be Yerushalayim: Next year in Jerusalem.
That’s what devout Jews have chanted for thousands of years at the end of Passover and Yom Kippur, two solemn Jewish holidays and continue to, in the Jewish state of Israel today.
But US President Donald Trump is a man in a hurry: he wants to shift the American embassy to Jerusalem. And, as the Americans say, he wants to do that not next year but ‘asap.’
Israel considers the ancient city of Jerusalem its capital; its parliament, the Knesset, is situated there, all official business is conducted in the city holy to three of the world’s oldest faiths.
But Jerusalem is a divided city. Known as Al-Quds in Arabic, the section holiest to all Muslims falls in East Jerusalem: for it is here, from the Dome of the Rock, that the Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to the heavens on a white steed.
Consequently, the Palestinians have always claimed East Jerusalem as their real capital in vain and – the status of the city remains globally disputed. So what is Mr Trump trying to achieve by his announcement?
American analysts say that it is absurd to imagine that a shift of the American embassy will help solve the Middle East’s longstanding conflict.
There is an American consulate in Jerusalem. If President Trump were really in a hurry, he only need change the nameplate on that building, they point out. Further, it’s been nearly seventy years since the first US ambassador presented his credentials to Israel’s government and promises to broker peace have been since made by one envoy after another.
Yet, peace between the Palestinians and Israelis remains a distant dream.
Hours ahead of Mr Trump’s announcement last night, WION had reasoned that moving the embassy will not mean that the United States, through the move, recognizes Israel’s claim that all of Jerusalem - both its Palestinian-dominated Eastern and Jewish Western sectors - is sovereign Israel territory.
And a section of Mr Trump’s announcement that went largely unnoticed in the frenetic media coverage that followed it across the world, proved WION’s prophecy right.
“In making these announcements, I also want to make one point very clear,” said Mr Trump, with a dramatic pause and deliberate emphasis.
“This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement. We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians. We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved. The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides. I intend to do everything in my power to help forge such an agreement.”
Mr Trump could have easily glossed over territorial issues between Israel and Palestine without mentioning Jerusalem. Instead, he mentioned the city’s divided status not once, but twice.
“Without question, Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in those talks,” he continued.
“The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.”
The American president also asked for the status quo at Jerusalem’s Muslim and Jewish holy sites both on the Dome of the Rock to remain the same for now. This effectively opens a window of opportunity for the Palestinians to achieve what is core to their demand: East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
Finally: by 'leaving' the resolution of Jerusalem’s disputed status to the Israelis and Palestinians and welcoming the Two-States solution in the same -magnanimous -breath, the US President is also keeping an avenue open for the United States – speak, for the garrulous Mr Trump himself – to squeeze his large frame into the centre of that photo-op, if and when that happens.
But will it? Will both the Israelis and Palestinians see it as a now-or-never chance to settle their issues once and for all ? That’s a question as eternal as the city of Jerusalem. But this time, the outlook seems positive.
Over a span of nearly thirty years, the Palestinians have gone from accepting no Jewish state to living as neighbors with one, from daily disturbances to a slightly less turbulent existence.Fundamentalist Palestinian organization, Hamas, is in the process of shedding its rebel clothing, demilitarizing and acquiring mainstream respectability.
And be it militant nationalists or moderate Palestinians, East Jerusalem has always been the emotional core of their demand.
There's another point worth noting in the President's announcement. Through his slowly and deliberately enunciated passage on the disputed status of the entire city of Jerusalem side-by-side with his recognition of Jerusalem (with ‘West’ remaining the unsaid word), Mr Trump has subtly positioned himself on the same side as his allies like France and Germany who have criticized the move.
After all, there’s hardly a country in the world with full diplomatic and trade relations with Israel that has not long ‘recognized’ Israel’s sovereignty over West Jerusalem. Otherwise, the Israel government’s mere operation out of West Jerusalem would long emerged as a key bone of contention in every international forum.
Will there be a Muslim backlash to Mr Trump’s announcement in the Middle East?
Elsewhere in the Middle East, governments have slammed the American president. Yet, most will likely spot that slightly-opened window and keep up protests -but under temperature control - as a key negotiating tool.
And what about Islamist terror groups? They’ve been on decades-long killing sprees against the “Satanic”, US-led western bloc’s global war against terror and it’s been quite a while since any of them mentioned Jerusalem.
To them, this announcement will make little difference. They will merely add the Zionist Enemy to the Satanic West - and the killings and lone wolf attacks will continue. And they, too, may be temperature-controlled by Saudi Arabia, the country said to be the fountainhead for all Waha’bi terrorism.
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Jewish Israel have no diplomatic relations. As home to the holiest sites of Islam itself, Saudi Arabia must officially support the Palestinian demand for East Jerusalem – the home of the Al-Aqsa mosque - of course.
As expected, Riyadh offered sharp and immediate condemnation of President Trump’s announcement. But, there’s a twist.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have been making overtures towards each other for years. And though for different reasons, Israel and Sunni Saudi Arabia have a common bogeyman: Shia Iran.
There’s an old saying that may well have originated in the stormy sands: "my enemy’s enemy is my best friend.'' It would surprise no one if Riyadh ‘informed’ Jerusalem, before slamming President Trump in public.
And as over the past seventy years with fledgling friendships that later developed into full-blown relationships (see India), the Israelis must have nodded in understanding.