Friday 8 December 2017

Jerusalem as Israel's capital declares US President Donald Trump

Issue of Jerusalem goes back decades
The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2017

JERUSALEM • The decision by United States President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would upend decades of US policy.

Underpinning the move is a proposed shift of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mr Trump was expected to sign a national security waiver - as have his predecessors - keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv for another six months, but would commit to expediting a move. Here are some questions and answers on the issue:


The tensions over Jerusalem have their origins decades ago. After the end of World War II in 1947, the United Nations approved a partition plan that provided for two states - one Jewish, one Arab - with Jerusalem governed by a "special international regime" owing to its unique status.

The Arabs rejected the partition plan, and a day after Israel proclaimed its independence in 1948, the Arab countries attacked the new state. They were defeated. Amid violence by militias and mobs on both sides, huge numbers of Jews and Arabs were displaced.

Jerusalem was divided: The western half became part of the new state of Israel (and its capital, under an Israeli law passed in 1950), while the eastern half, including the Old City, was occupied by Jordan.

Subsequently, Israel seized control of East Jerusalem from Jordan during a 1967 war, and later annexed it. The move was never recognised by the international community, but Israel declared the city its undivided capital. The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

No country accepted Israeli sovereignty and almost all had their embassies in the commercial capital Tel Aviv instead. Jerusalem is home to holy sites sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, such as the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


The final status of Jerusalem has been one of the most vexatious questions in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Mr Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital will be seen as deciding an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations, breaking with the international consensus.


In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, calling on the country to move its embassy to the holy city.

"Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the state of Israel," it said, demanding that the government move the embassy.

The Act is binding, but there was a clause that presidents could delay it for six months at a time to protect "national security interests" through a so-called waiver.

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama signed these waivers every six months.

Mr Trump reluctantly signed the first waiver that came due during his presidency on June 1. The second deadline lapsed on Monday.


If Mr Trump chooses not to sign the waiver, the embassy would not move immediately, but there are rapid repercussions. Under the 1995 Act, the US State Department would see a 50 per cent cut in all its future budgets for "acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad" until the new embassy opens.


Mr Alan Baker, a former Israeli ambassador to Canada, said recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital without moving the embassy would amount to a "sort of legal acrobatics - trying to please both sides and not annoy either".

But Mr Baker said "anything is better than now, where Jerusalem is not recognised by Israel's best friend and supporter". Moving the embassy would be seen as cementing Israel's hold over the city.

Palestinians see the issue starkly differently. Mr Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said on Sunday that such recognition would "promote international anarchy and disrespect for global institutions and law".


Before 1980, several countries had their embassies in Jerusalem, including the Netherlands and Costa Rica. However, when Israel passed a law in July of that year declaring Jerusalem as its united capital, a UN Security Council resolution condemned Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem and declared it a violation of international law. In 2006, Costa Rica and El Salvador became the last countries to move their embassies out of Jerusalem.


South-east Asian nations condemn US decision on Jerusalem's status
Move will hamper peace process, says S'pore; world leaders warn it may trigger backlash
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2017

South-east Asian countries yesterday criticised United States President Donald Trump's controversial decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

World leaders said the move could provoke a serious backlash, even as clashes broke out in the Palestinian territories.

As the US reversed its decades-old policy, Singapore warned against unilaterally changing Jerusalem's status, saying it would hamper the peace process.

Indonesia condemned the recognition, while Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said at Umno's annual gathering: "I call on all Muslims across the world to let your voices be heard, make it clear that we strongly oppose any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital for all time."

His comments in Kuala Lumpur followed a statement by Malaysia's Foreign Ministry warning that Mr Trump's move could have grave repercussions for the region's security and stability, making efforts to combat terrorism all the more difficult.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said: "There will not only be protests, but (also) my worry is that extremist groups will take unpredictable action."

Condemning the move as well was Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who urged the US to reconsider its decision. "Such a unilateral recognition violates various resolutions of the (United Nations) Security Council and the UN General Assembly," he said in Bogor.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi echoed the fierce condemnation of Mr Trump's decision by Middle Eastern countries.

"We condemn this recognition," Ms Retno, who wore the iconic black-and-white chequered Palestinian scarf, said in a speech at the Bali Democracy Forum. "Indonesia will always stand with Palestine."

A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said that the future status of Jerusalem should be decided through direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

"The status of Jerusalem is a sensitive and complex issue with a long history. Any premature and unilateral action to alter the status of Jerusalem will impede progress for a peaceful resolution of the Middle East and Palestinian problem," the spokesman said.

"Singapore reaffirms its longstanding and consistent support for a two-state solution, which will involve the establishment of an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with the state of Israel," he added.

Many countries have also advocated a two-state solution, which envisions an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital alongside Israel.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and declared the entire city as its capital in 1980, in a move condemned by the international community.

In his speech yesterday morning Singapore time, Mr Trump described his decision as "a long overdue step to advance the peace process", saying the US still wanted a negotiated peace deal and "would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides".

But the move risks triggering a fresh spasm of violence in the Middle East, and is set to see widespread protests worldwide today. Hamas called it a "war declaration against Palestinians", and called for a new intifada, or uprising.

Malaysia's Foreign Ministry also warned that any attempts to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital are considered an act of aggression towards the Arab and Islamic world, and an infringement on the rights of Muslims and Christians.

It asked UN members to not recognise any changes to Israel's 1967 borders. "Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel ignores the reality on the ground... and contravenes international law," it said.

In a Facebook post sharing MFA's statement on the move, Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli hoped stakeholders will keep the peace as countries help to resolve the long-drawn, complex and sensitive issue.

"We must not add fodder to the situation that has for decades justified mindless violence by terrorists and enmity between neighbours - a dark history the human race can do without," he said.

Donald Trump's evangelical fan base cheers decision
By Nirmal Ghosh, US Bureau Chief In WashingtonThe Straits Times, 8 Dec 2017

US President Donald Trump's formal, public recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has by and large been universally condemned, but his announcement went down well with his core supporters.

The President's white evangelical fan base was delighted."President Trump has - yet again - demonstrated to his evangelical supporters that he will do what he says he will do," said pastor Johnnie Moore, a member of a group of evangelical advisers to Mr Trump, who had been urging him to take the decision.

Evangelicals number about 94 million in the US and are wooed as a solid vote bloc. Eighty-one per cent of white evangelicals who voted last November cast their ballots for Mr Trump. A clincher for the decision for many was Mr Trump's campaign promise to shift the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

At Mr Trump's 100-day mark in office in April, a Pew Research Centre survey found that three-quarters of white evangelicals approved of his performance as President. That rating may well rise, analysts say, on the back of the Jerusalem decision.

Former Arkansas governor and former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, whose daughter Sarah Huckabee Sanders is White House press secretary, tweeted: "Proud of @realDonaldTrump for embassy move to Jerusalem Capitol (sic) of Jewish people since time of King David and never Capitol (sic) for any other nation. EVER. @POTUS shows courage and clarity."

Jewish groups, though wary that Mr Trump has emboldened white supremacists, were more cautious in their response. In a joint statement, the Anti-Defamation League's national chair, Mr Marvin Nathan, and CEO, Mr Jonathan Greenblatt, said "this important and long overdue step should not preclude the imperative of peace negotiations - including discussions over the final status of Jerusalem".

The President also got support on Capitol Hill from Republicans and some Democrats. Republican Senator Marco Rubio called the announcement "an important step in the right direction", while New York congressman Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it "helps correct a decades-long indignity".

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, cautioned that Mr Trump's move was premature and warned of "mass protests".

"This announcement will inflame Muslims all over the world and historians will point to it as the catalyst for another deadly wave of religious violence in the Middle East," Mr Uzair Younus, an analyst at the consultancy Albright Stonebridge Group, told The Straits Times.

Listen closely: What did Trump actually say?
By Gil Yaron, Published The Straits Times8 Dec 2017

TEL AVIV • In their reaction to the speech of US President Donald Trump recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Israelis and Palestinians stuck to their respective narratives.

One side interpreted it as unfettered support, while the other lamented it and uttered threats. Both are in for a surprise once they appraise the full content of a carefully crafted presidential speech.

In Jerusalem, where Israeli politicians struggled to out-thank one another in Twitter posts to the US President, the authorities illuminated the mediaeval city walls with the American and Israeli flags as a sign of deep gratitude for his "historic decision".

The Palestinians had a festival of lights of sorts too, setting American flags and effigies of Mr Trump ablaze in protest. Here, politicians competed in disparaging the White House and making dark predictions.

In Ramallah, the anger and sense of insult were almost palpable. Mr Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, declared in a brief televised speech that the United States had disqualified itself as a mediator in negotiations with Israel.

"These condemned and unacceptable measures are a deliberate undermining of all efforts exerted to achieve peace and represent a declaration of the United States' withdrawal from undertaking the role it has played over the past decades in sponsoring the peace process," he said.

He lambasted Mr Trump for taking decisions that "reward Israel for denying agreements and defying international law, and encourage it to continue its policy of occupation, settlements, apartheid and ethnic cleansing".

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat defined the speech as "the most dangerous decision that any US president has ever taken".

Relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was "prejudging, dictating and closing doors for negotiations".

Ultimately, he was "pushing this region towards chaos (and) violence", Mr Erekat told the satellite channel Al Jazeera.

Since now it was "meaningless" to erect a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital, his people were left only one option: "To fight for equal rights" in a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, he claimed.

The radical Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza strip, stated that Mr Trump had "opened the gates to hell".

"Recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital is an aggression against all Arab and Muslim states, and against free people all over the world," said one of its leaders, Izat al Rasheq. He swore that Israel would one day disappear, and "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Palestine, the Arabs and Muslims".

By contrast, Israeli politicians outpraised each other in Twitter posts of thanks for Mr Trump.

Mr Naftali Bennett, Minister of Education and leader of the settler party Jewish Home, congratulated Mr Trump on "making history" and called "upon the rest of the world to follow".

It was left to Mr Issawi Frej, a backbencher from the left opposition party Meretz, to offer the most dispassionate and accurate analysis of Mr Trump's speech: Nothing much had occurred, he opined.

Mr Trump had announced the relocation with fanfare - while silently signing yet another deferral of its execution. He could have simply changed the status of the existing US consulate in Jerusalem. Instead, he solely directed the State Department to "begin preparation to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem".

While it would "immediately begin the process of hiring architects, engineers and planners", this is a process bound to take years - more than enough time to restart negotiations for agreeing on a two-state solution, which Mr Trump endorsed for the first time since taking office.

There were more elements in his speech that should have upset the Israelis and delighted the Palestinians. Mr Trump stated that his recognition was only "acknowledging the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel's capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality".

Still, he stressed that he was aiming for "an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians".

As opposed to interpretations offered in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, the President insisted that he is "not taking a position of 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."

By speaking of boundaries of Israel in Jerusalem, Mr Trump was actually implicating dividing the city. For listeners who missed this fine point, the President reiterated that he would support a "solution if agreed to by both sides" - granting the Palestinians a right to veto any solution in Jerusalem not to their liking.

On Wednesday evening, Israelis and Palestinians preferred to ignore these subtleties and dedicate themselves to their respective narratives.

It may be up to Vice-President Mike Pence, who is about to visit the region soon, to clear up the finer points of Mr Trump's speech and their far-reaching potential repercussions.

* Parliament: Singapore's vote in favour of UN resolution on Jerusalem was 'a vote for peace': Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan
UN vote consistent with Republic's longstanding policy position in support of two-state solution: Vivian
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2018

Singapore cast a "vote for peace and stability" when it voted in favour of the recent United Nations General Assembly resolution on the status of Jerusalem, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

Singapore joined 127 countries on Dec 21 in supporting the motion, which had rejected the United States' decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Dr Balakrishnan told Parliament that Singapore's vote on the recent resolution is consistent with its longstanding policy position in support of a two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) had asked for an explanation of Singapore's vote, and why it did not choose to abstain.

Dr Balakrishnan - without naming the US or its President, Mr Donald Trump - pointed to an announcement made last month, which he said could be construed as changing the status quo in Jerusalem.

In Singapore's view, that move "could be a unilateral and premature pronouncement" that could impede the peace process instead of helping it, he said.

"After very careful consideration and consultation, we decided to stand by our principles and say we don't think this is a good idea and, therefore, we are voting in favour of the resolution," he added.

Nine countries had opposed the resolution, including Guatemala, Honduras and Israel, while 35 countries abstained from voting, including Australia, Canada and the Philippines.

Dr Balakrishnan told Mr Nair that Singapore could have also not turned up for the vote, but "that is not Singapore's style".

"We want to be not just fair-weather friends, but we want to be long-term, reliable, principled friends," he said.

Singapore had made a principled decision when it voted in favour of the resolution, as it was not taking sides, Dr Balakrishnan added.

"We're not saying one party or the other or its supporters are right or wrong," he said.

While the Republic will have to take a different position from friends and supporters at times, Dr Balakrishnan said he was confident other countries know that Singapore does not "take political postures for the sake of posturing".

"We do so in all sincerity as a reflection of who we are as a multi-religious society and our longstanding friendship, support and advocacy for peace in the Middle East. That, in a nutshell, is about all that we can do. We are not a superpower," he said.

Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan asked if there were efforts to get ASEAN to speak with one voice on the status of Jerusalem during the UN resolution.

There was no time and no opportunity to cobble together a consolidated ASEAN position, Dr Balakrishnan replied.

He added that he is unsure if coming up with a consolidated position would have been ideal, as the Jerusalem issue was a "sensitive and delicate" situation where every country had to take a stand based on its own analysis of its national interest.

"So this was not an occasion to try to corral or to put pressure on the individual members of ASEAN... and I don't view that, therefore, as a setback that a couple of ASEAN member states abstained and that all the rest of us voted in favour."

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