U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stands behind as U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the proclamation he signed that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move its embassy there, during an address from the White House in Washington, U.S., December 6, 2017.
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has produced a flurry of activity in the region. The Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have both condemned the decision. The move to recognize Jerusalem was widely seen as a major victory for Israel and it is in this context that Israel should now reach out to the Palestinians, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to embrace a peaceful path forward.
On the same day that Trump made his Jerusalem speech, Jordan’s King Abdullah was in Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that “any misstep regarding Jerusalem would cause new tensions in our region.” He also spoke in favor of establishing a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines. Abdullah said there was no alternative to a two-state solution and that it was “imperative now to work fast” toward a final-status agreement.
With tensions now high in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it is vital that Israel take the views of Jordan and other regional powers into consideration.
On Friday, thousands of Palestinians rioters clashed with Israeli security personnel in several locations in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, two Palestinians were killed and 254 others were injured in the clashes. Israel responded to rockets fired from Gaza with air strikes.
The US policy shift has created an opportunity for Israel to reach out to the Palestinians and Jordan. In Trump’s statement on the embassy move he noted that the US is “committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.” The official declaration he signed notes that “delaying the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has not helped achieve peace over the past two decades.”
Under the Oslo Accords, Jerusalem was left to final-status negotiations: “It is understood that these negotiations shall cover remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders relations.”
This has provided the PLO an advantage in bargaining with Israel. It has held out on the Jerusalem issue in all of the various rounds of negotiations, including at Camp David in 2000, and in 2008 during the talks then-prime minister Ehud Olmert led with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also chairman of the PLO.
Now, the US has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Russia has also recognized west Jerusalem as the capital.
This could be a basis for Israel to show both gratitude, by committing to the peace aspect of Trump’s declaration, as well as humility, in discussions with Jordan and the PLO.
The PA’s anger has been directed at Washington, with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat saying there can be no talks with the US unless the decision is reversed and that the American decision puts the two-state solution in jeopardy. Abbas has also said the US is no longer seen as an impartial mediator.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called, at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference last week, for direct dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians to include Jordan and Egypt. “The [US] declaration opens the door to advance the diplomatic dialogue. Now that there is a clear stance on one of the important issues, it gives a boost to be able to have a clear and real dialogue with the Palestinians.” He sees the opportunity for a long-term interim deal.
It is a unique time in the region’s history. The instability unleashed by the Arab Spring is coming to an end with the defeat of Islamic State in Syria. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has pressed for movement toward a peace deal and there are growing perceptions that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shared interests regarding the threat Iran poses the region.
Jerusalem should embrace this set of circumstances to engage in a major outreach to Amman and Riyadh. Jordan is deeply concerned about the instability that may be unleashed by the Jerusalem issue. Israel has not had an ambassador in Amman since July when an embassy guard shot two Jordanians in an incident that has harmed relations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must act boldly now to repair those relations and show that Jerusalem can be a city of peace, not only a city triggering tensions in the region.