Israel: UN security council to discuss US recognition of Jerusalem

The UN security council is expected to meet on Friday to discuss Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision against which condemnation continues to mount across the Middle East and internationally.

Eight countries on the 15-member council requested the meeting, including the UK, Italy and France, amid claims from Palestine and Turkey that Trump’s recognition is in breach of both international law and UN resolutions.

The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the bloc had united position that Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state. The Russian foreign ministry said US recognition risked “dangerous and uncontrollable consequences.”

Q&A

Why is recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital so contentious?

Of all the issues at the heart of the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, none is as sensitive as the status of Jerusalem. The holy city has been at the centre of peace-making efforts for decades.

Seventy years ago, when the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was defined as a separate entity under international supervision. In the war of 1948 it was divided, like Berlin in the cold war, into western and eastern sectors under Israeli and Jordanian control respectively. Nineteen years later, in June 1967, Israel captured the eastern side, expanded the city’s boundaries and annexed it – an act that was never recognised internationally.

Israel routinely describes the city, with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy places, as its “united and eternal” capital. For their part, the Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future independent Palestinian state. The unequivocal international view, accepted by all previous US administrations, is that the city’s status must be addressed in peace negotiations.

Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital puts the US out of step with the rest of the world, and legitimises Israeli settlement-building in the east – considered illegal under international law.

Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP

As Palestinians held protests in several cities across the West Bank, most key US allies in the Middle East also joined criticism of the move.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hailed Trump’s recognition as “historic” and claimed other countries were in contact about following the US’s lead, but was alone among regional leaders in praising the move.

Saudi Arabia’s royal court called it “unjustified and irresponsible” in a rare rebuke of the US, and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Trump had thrown the Middle East into a “ring of fire”.

“Hey Trump! What do you want to do?” Erdoğan said as he left Ankara for a visit to Greece. “What kind of approach is this? Political leaders do not stir things up, they seek to make peace!”

The leader of the Hamas militant group, Ismail Haniyeh, called for a “day of rage” on Friday. “We should call for and we should work on launching an intifada in the face of the Zionist enemy,” he said in a speech in Gaza.

The US president defied overwhelming global opposition by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and directing the state department to start making arrangements to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering,” he said in a short speech at the White House on Wednesday. “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

‘It is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,’ says Trump – video

It later emerged, in a memo leaked to Reuters news agency, that the US had privately asked Israel to temper its response to the announcement.

The state department document, dated 6 December, stated in talking points for diplomats at the US embassy in Tel Aviv to convey to Israeli officials: “While I recognise that you will publicly welcome this news, I ask that you restrain your official response.”

It went on: “We expect there to be resistance to this news in the Middle East and around the world. We are still judging the impact this decision will have on US facilities and personnel overseas.”

A second state department memo seen by Reuters asked European officials to argue that Trump’s decision did not prejudge the “final status” issue of Jerusalem’s sovereignty, which needed to be resolved in any peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.

“You are in a key position to influence international reaction to this announcement and we are asking you to amplify the reality that Jerusalem is still a final status issue between Israelis and Palestinians and that the parties must resolve the dimensions of Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem during their negotiations,” it said.

“You know that this is a unique administration. It makes bold moves. But it is bold moves that are going to be needed if peace efforts are finally going to be successful.”

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.

Details of the memos emerged as the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was due to travel to Jordan on Thursday for talks with King Abdullah II, who has come out strongly against the move.

The United Arab Emirates and Iraq also condemned the decision. In Iraq, a prominent militia backed by Iran, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, said Trump’s decision could be a “legitimate reason” to attack US forces in the country.

The European Union and UN also voiced alarm at Trump’s decision, with France rejecting the “unilateral” decision and appealing for calm in the region.

Britain said the move would not help peace efforts and Jerusalem should ultimately be shared by Israel and a future Palestinian state. Germany said Jerusalem’s status could only be resolved on the basis of a two-state solution.

Jerusalem is home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. Israel deems Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital dating to antiquity, and its status is one of the thorniest barriers to a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Its eastern side was captured by Israel in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognised internationally. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for the capital of a future independent state.

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