It is the seventieth year of Israel’s declaration of statehood. Fifty years have passed since Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem. However, Israelis still have conflicting positions regarding this in the year the U.S. has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It was not all fervor and cheer when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was haranguing upon the “3000 years of Jewish past” and declaring Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital as a “historic moment”. Moreover, discussions vis-a-vis the future of Israel have started with a variety of concerns being aired. For many, Jerusalem signifies the clash of Israeli identity and Jewishness, as well as between Israelis and Palestinians but also between the Israeli right wing and the left wing, the ultra-orthodox and the seculars, the liberal activists and the religious-Zionist settlers. Trump’s decision is no doubt adding fuel to the flames rather than “doing justice to Israelis by recognizing a centuries-old Jewish capital”, as claimed by the Israeli right wing.
When Theodor Herzl visited Jerusalem for the first time, he wrote down in his diary, “When I remember thee in days to come, O Jerusalem, it will not be with pleasure.”
Early Zionists were not that enthusiastic about Jerusalem, let alone considering it as the future capital of the Jewish state. Founders of Israel instead had a “reactionary” relationship to it. When the United Nations approved a plan to divide Palestine into two states on November 29, 1947, it left Jerusalem out of the equation, intending it to become an internationally administered city. After accepting the plan, Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion noted that the loss of Jerusalem as part of Israel was a cost that was at the expense of a Jewish state in Palestine. When he decided to move the capital to Jerusalem in December 1949, many around him opposed the idea as it would be a “fatal mistake and an unnecessary provocation of the United Nations,” which had just designated Jerusalem a separate entity under international jurisdiction. However, Ben-Gurion insisted that Israeli sovereignty should have been there, over the western half of Jerusalem to prevent any move towards internationalization of the city.
Even though their voices are not being heard in the midst of current messianic fervor, many Israelis acknowledge the fact that recognizing Jerusalem in the current context is an apparent approval of the anomaly and the unresolved conflict between Palestinians and Israelis that will poison Israeli society for generations to come. The social and the political conflict in and around the city should not be overlooked with a controversial recognition that will not contribute to a prospective peace process. The memories of the Intifada are still fresh in the public memory of Israel. Any unilateral move might lead to the return of violence, and this is the least wanted outcome, recalling the somber memories of the past two Intifadas. Additionally, any change in the American position on Jerusalem has a potential to destabilize Mahmoud Abbas and the Jordanian street. From an Israeli outlook, that would provide Iran a wonderful rallying cry against Israel and could even create a nurturing ground for terrorist organizations like Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
The Trump factor also plays an important role in the outcry of Israelis who oppose the move. According to them, Jerusalem should not be served on a silver platter, as a political fortune to the most openly racist president in American history. In this regard, certain factions of the American Jewry is an unavoidable element of Israeli politics, and as such, their voices are not being heard in that grumble. Nonetheless, they find the move highly counterproductive for the recognition as it annihilates the two-state solution. A verbal recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital along with moving the embassy appears to be a very risky move for an American president who claims to “strike a deal” in one of the most multifaceted conflicts in the world. Rather, he seems to be preparing pretexts for the future failure of the process. Moreover, any unilateral move on the same track with Trump would lead to further isolation of Israel from the international arena, considering how Donald Trump has been leading the U.S. into an isolated position. Prior to his speech, various politicians all around the world started to express their frustration with the recognition.
Another aspect of this recognition is seen as the U.S. providing Benjamin Netanyahu a helping hand yet again. The current government of Israel is going through a crisis period because of the corruption case against its prime minister. An explosive issue such as the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has easily allowed for the political survival of Netanyahu. While two scenarios lay ahead, in both of them Netanyahu seems to appear as the victor. Together with the actual move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in early May, potential Palestinian protests might turn violent with the further intervention of Israeli forces, which would undoubtedly add to the already tarnished ties between the two states. Netanyahu will have proven his genuine point that the Palestinians have never wanted peace. If the second scenario turns into a reality and all the dust settles down, Jerusalem will become recognized as the Israeli capital. Therefore, this will be either one of the ways in which Netanyahu continues to thrive. Although it leads nowhere, it will make him appear more powerful and thus give him a bright political victory.
The recognition of the United States eventually affirms the position of Israel as a vassal state whose sovereignty over a particular area needs to be confirmed by “the real boss”. In this regard, for many, Trump did not lend a helping hand to Israelis to choose Jerusalem as the rock of their existence. All he did was offer Netanyahu a gift to consolidate his position. The recognition of Jerusalem as a capital with no mutually agreed borders has always been and will always be off the negotiation table, as it achieves nothing apart from sowing the seeds of a more complex conflict, which is detrimental to Israel.
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