Jerusalem: The Ancient City Threatening Regional Stability

BY DANIEL SAENZ

On December 7th, President Donal Trump made one of the most drastic decisions in American diplomacy. Previous presidents have tried to pursue the two-state solution to the Israel and Palestine conflict and divide Jerusalem equally. Trump, on the other hand, has opted for a more hard-line approach to this conflict and declared that Jerusalem belongs to Israel and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv would be moved to Jerusalem, the main area of dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded the decision as the United States acknowledging the long history that the Jewish people have with the ancient city of Jerusalem. While no one can rationally deny the Jewish ties to the city of Jerusalem, this hardline stance taken by Trump ignores the Palestinian ties to the city as well as the other nuances in regards to international law, the long history of Jerusalem, and current political climate in the Middle East.

Scholarly consensus says that the first humans settled the ancient city of Jerusalem around 3500 B.C. By 1000 B.C., King David established Jewish rule over the city and his son Solomon would later establish the first temple, thus founding a nation that would be called Israel. After King Solomon’s rule, the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem in 586 B.C., destroyed Solomon’s temple and exiled the Jews. Persian King Cyrus took control fifty years later and allowed the Jews to return and rebuild the temple. The Muslim claim to Jerusalem begins in 637 A.D. when the Islamic caliphate at the time conquered the city of Jerusalem and took control of the entire Levant region consisting of what is today known as Syria, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.

The area consisting of what we now consider Israel and Palestine was called Syria-Palestina. This was due to the fact that the Greek historian Herodotus wrote in the 5th century B.C. that there was a special district of Syria called Palestina. And when the Roman empire had control of the Levant, which included Jerusalem in 135 A.D. They also called the entire area “Syria-Palestina”. After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, Muslim and Christian armies would spend the next several hundred years fighting over control of the ancient city. This series of battles would come to be known as “The Crusades” and would last until 1516 A.D., when the Islamic Ottoman Empire would control Jerusalem and the rest of the Middle East until 1917.

After the British and French defeated the Ottoman Empire, they acquired all of the empire’s former territories in the Middle East. Once the British took control of Jerusalem, they referred to the entire area encompassing the city as “Mandatory Palestine”. However, due to the rise of Nazism and anti-semitism in Europe during the World War II period, Britain would import many Jewish immigrants to Mandatory Palestine. In fact, Britain would rely heavily on Jewish police forces to keep the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 in check.

Unfortunately, this divide and conquer would inflame tensions between the Jewish and Arab populations, which would eventually force the British to abandon the region altogether, leaving the United Nations to resolve the issue in 1947. After the Palestinians denied the peaceful two-state solution in 1947, Israel would unilaterally declare its independence in 1948, triggering a long series of wars with the Arab world. After the end of the 1967 Six Days War, Israel took control of the entire city of Jerusalem, leaving us with the current issue of the present.

The problem with the whole dispute is that there is no black or white answer. Quite frankly, both the Palestinians and Israelis have extensive historical ties to the ancient city. In terms of international law, the United Nations should logically give both parties an equal share of the city. However, much of the rhetoric coming out of politicians from both parties frame this as a religious issue. Because of the claims made by the Abrahamic faiths in regards to the city of Jerusalem, many of the parties involved, see it their claims as some divine right. This, in turn, makes it impossible to come to a fair agreement to resolve the conflict.

By taking such a hardline stance, the Trump administration has made the issue much more divisive and also ignored the entire dynamic of Middle Eastern politics. Because of this decision, the King Abdullah II of Jordan has stated that he will reconsider Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel. The United States Embassy in Lebanon has suffered a backlash from violent protests in Beirut. And most importantly, President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine has stated that the peace process is over if the embassy is moved from Tel Aviv.

In response to an upcoming vote on matter by the United Nations, the Trump administration threatens to defund all nations that vote against the United States. The overwhelming majority of nations moved against the move. Now, it is yet to be seen if the United States is serious about defunding nations that disagree. However, if the Trump administration pursues such a unilateral action, the United States may find itself diplomatically isolated in the future. To prevent something like this from happening, the United States should instead try being a fair arbiter in this conflict. It would would be best to pursue a resolution that gives both Palestinians and Israelis an equal share of the city.

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