After the December 7 decision of US President Donald Trump to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the disputed capital of Israel, one can perhaps ask if the worst has happened.
Since the US Congress decided to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1995, all successive presidents have delayed the implementation of this decision because of the possible Arab-Muslim backlash – till now.
The status of Jerusalem is well defined by the United Nations in resolutions passed by the Security Council and General Assembly. Israel occupied the city after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and the UN Security Council resolution 242 passed in November 1967 clearly called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Arab-occupied areas of Golan Heights, West Bank, including the eastern part of Jerusalem, Sinai Desert and Gaza Strip. But instead of implementing that resolution, Israel annexed Golan Heights and declared Jerusalem as its capital.
Jerusalem is a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Yet Israel pursued a policy of establishing Jewish settlements and brought demographic changes to transform the city as a Jewish majority. Today, Jerusalem is not an Arab-Muslim but a Jewish majority city.
Unfortunately, neither the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) nor the Arab League succeeded in ending Israeli occupation of Golan Heights, West Bank and the city of Jerusalem which, after Mecca, is the second holiest place for Muslims.
What will be the implications of President Trump’s decision to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the Arab-Muslim World? Why have the Arab countries — particularly the Saudi monarch, who is also the custodian of the Ka’aba — so far failed to liberate Jerusalem from Israeli occupation? Why is the Saudi priority to confront Iran rather than Israel?
Three major realities should be taken into account while examining these questions. First, while it may not make much difference, as the US will simply upgrade the consulate in Jerusalem to an embassy, yet the US decision will pave the way for the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by other countries. One needs to remember that before the end of the Cold War and the signing of the PLO-Israeli accord of September 1993, a majority of UN members had no diplomatic relations with Israel. The situation changed further after the end of the Cold War, and now Israel is recognised by a majority of the UN members. It is only matter of time for other countries to follow the US and shift their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Principally, Jerusalem cannot be the capital of Israel because of its disputed status. Though in an age of realpolitik it doesn’t matter. Israel has been in control of the entire city of Jerusalem since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and Jews have outnumbered the Arab-Muslim population which provides a reason for Israel to justify its claim over the holy city. Like in the past, there will be hue and cry about the US decision. But with passage of time things will normalise.
Second, if Jerusalem is the second-holiest place for Muslims, then why has the monarch of Saudi Arabia failed to pressure the US on this decision? Especially when it is supposed to enjoy good relations with the Trump administration. Trump’s first foreign visit was to Saudi Arabia where he used the opportunity to deepen the US-Saudi Arabia nexus against Iran.
It is a reality that no Arab country has seriously helped Palestinians in achieving statehood. In fact, some Arab countries have created impediments for Palestinians, particularly the PLO, by putting restrictions on its activities. When Israel launched a major offensive against Hamas in 2014 that killed hundreds of Palestinians, no Arab country came to their support. The Arab countries must take responsibility for Israel’s occupation of West Bank, including Jerusalem.
Third, the US decision to shift the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem also has to do with the Saudi policy of neglecting the Israeli occupation and targeting Iran. Is it not strange that Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) led by Saudi Arabia is silent on the issue of Jerusalem?
If Saudi Arabia wants to prevent further damage to the cause of Jerusalem and Palestine, it must mobilise resources against Israel, as opposed to Iran. The priority of Saudi Arabia and IMA should be to liberate the Arab occupied areas from Israel instead of targeting Iran. Saudi Arabia’s multi-billion dollar arms deal with the US is not against Israel but Iran.
Realistically speaking, since the assassination of King Shah Faisal, Saudi Arabia has relegated its hard-line position on Israel and the US. If the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman wants to transform his country to a modern Islamic state as imagined in his vision 2030, it cannot be done without US or western support.
Saudi Arabia cannot ensure peace and stability in its kingdom unless it starts a peace process with Iran, and makes a serious effort to unite Islamic and Arab countries against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Iran is not Saudi Arabia’s only target. Qatar, which is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council and an integral part of the conservative Arab world, is also facing Saudi wrath through sanctions.
Jerusalem is a major test case to judge Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the Islamic/Arab and Palestinian cause. It is strange that it was Turkey, and not Saudi Arabia that called the OIC meeting and the response of Riyadh vis-à-vis Jerusalem was lukewarm.
In essence, the lack of cogent Arab-Muslim response against the occupation of Arab territories, including Jerusalem, is a major cause of Israeli aggression and expansion. Unless the OIC and the Arab League fix their priorities, there is no point in protesting against Trump’s decision to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Even after the resolution passed by the Arab League and OIC on December 13, criticising US President’s decision, one may not expect reversal of such a decision — because these two Muslim organisations are practically incapable of resisting the US.