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No issue in the Middle East has been as contentious as the status of Jerusalem, a city that both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital.
In 1980, the State of Israel declared the city as its capital. And the Palestinians designated East Jerusalem as the seat of their State.
Although no power recognizes any of these claims, here is the root of the growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
And these tensions are now at risk of exploding with reports that US President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel .
“Any decision on the status of the disputed city should be made within the framework of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, and said he was “concerned” about the possibility of Trump making that decision. .
France was not the only one who expressed his fears. Saudi Arabia declared that such a measure “would have a harmful impact on the peace process .”
Jordan warned of “serious consequences” and the head of the Arab League, Abul Gheit, said that this decision “would nurture fanaticism and violence.” Turkey assured that this would be ” a huge catastrophe “.
Transfer or recognition
Trump is responsible for signing a measure to postpone the transfer of the Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something that has been done every six months by all his predecessors in the White House since 1995 when the US Congress passed a law in favor of that Relocation
However, the American press anticipates that the tycoon intends, instead, to announce the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Although during his election campaign Trump was favorable to that move, his execution would place the US. contrary to the decisions of the UN on this matter and in open contradiction with the rest of Western powers.
But why is the Jerusalem issue so controversial?
Being considered a sacred city by the faithful of the three great monotheistic religions – Jews, Christians and Muslims – paradoxically made Jerusalem the object of numerous disputes that, over the centuries, led to repeated conquests and reconquests.
When in 1947 the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, it was thought that Jerusalem would be considered a “separate entity”, an international city that would be administered for ten years by the UN before carrying out a referendum to define its destiny.
The document also provided for the protection, free access and freedom of worship in the sacred places of the city, not only for its inhabitants but even for foreigners without discrimination on grounds of nationality.
This plan was not implemented due to the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, which in practice led to the division of the city into two parts: East Jerusalem, under Arab control; and West Jerusalem, in the hands of Israel.
The “unification” of the city
The eastern part of Jerusalem, which included the old city and the sacred sites, remained in Jordan’s hands from then until 1967, when during the Six Day War, Israel was in control of the entire city.
Then, the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) passed a law protecting the sacred places, in which guaranteed access to these by the faithful of different religions .
In addition, the Israeli government made an agreement with the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem, a Muslim religious foundation that was in charge of the administration of sacred sites such as the Temple Mount (or the Temple Mount, for Jews), a complex within the which is the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
An old link
The Jewish presence in Jerusalem goes back to very ancient times.
“According to the Bible, it was the capital of the united state of (the kings) David and Solomon, around 1000 BC. Historically, proven by archaeological evidence, it was the capital of the Jewish state of Judea shortly after that date, the site of the Jewish temple on the Temple Mount and remained there until it was conquered and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, in the year 586, “the British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of the book” Jerusalem, the biography, told BBC World ”
The expert explained that after the Hebrew presence there was restored by Cyrus II the Great of Persia until the conquest by Alexander the Great, although the temple remained the center of Jewish life until he tried to destroy it Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a king of the Seléucida dynasty whose repression accelerated a rebellion on the part of the Jews.
“Jerusalem was the capital of an independent Jewish state with the Maccabees, then a satellite kingdom of Rome under Herod the Great, who rebuilt the second temple that was later destroyed by Tito in 70 AD, when he took control of the city and ordered the expulsion of the Jews, “said Montefiore.
” In the second century, Hadrian tried to destroy the Hebrew Jerusalem and placed an idolatrous temple on the site of the Jewish temple, which led to a widespread revolt that was suppressed by the emperor, who again expelled the Jews and renamed Jerusalem and Judea with the name of the biblical enemies of the Hebrews: the Philistines, “he added.
“From that moment, the Jews have revered that place and prayed about the wall of the destroyed temple, having held it for some moments under their control, the Jews have dreamed and longed to return to Jerusalem … until in the 19th century they began to emigrate to Palestine Since 1880 there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. ”
Montefiore also highlights the ancient ties that bind Muslims to Jerusalem.
“The Islamic link with the city dates back to the Arab conquest around 638, when Caliph Omar seized the city, granting freedom to Jews and Christians who accepted Muslim political and religious control, Muslims revered the Jewish scriptures and they shared their belief that Jerusalem would be the mystical place of the apocalypse, which they considered imminent, “the historian said.
” Muhammad worshiped the Jewish scriptures and Jerusalem itself, to the point that the first Muslims prayed to Jerusalem and not to Mecca.In the first decades of Arab rule, they performed their religious worship on the Temple Mount, but they allowed the Jews to perform also Their religious worship there: Tolerance towards other monotheistic creeds was over when Islam became a more rigid state religion under Caliph Abdalmálik, who built the Dome of the Rock on top of the foundational foundation of the Jewish temple, “Montefiore said.
The expert explained that, subsequently, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in the year 1099, killed all its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants; and they ruled the city until 1187, when Saladin resumed it, restoring Islamic control and relocating in it many of the ancestors of the current Palestinians, although there are also others who arrived later during the Ottoman Empire and, even, during the British mandate.
“In other words, Jews and Muslims share old and authentic ties with Jerusalem, it is absurd to deny it, ” Montefiore said.
That historic link of Jews and Muslims with Jerusalem has made the city a central element in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Thus, for example, in the Oslo agreements signed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, it was established that the status of the city would be discussed at more advanced stages of the negotiations.
Indeed, the issue arose in the Camp David peace negotiations, sponsored by US President Bill Clinton in the year 2000.
There the then leader of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, spoke for the first time directly about the status of Jerusalem.
As reported by Clinton, Barak made his position much more flexible than Arafat, who ended up rejecting the proposals discussed. Since then, the peace process has not registered any substantial progress.
Although since 1967 Israel has exercised de facto sovereignty over Jerusalem, it has not been internationally recognized to the point that even the countries closest to Israel maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.
Behind this refusal on the grounds that the city’s status should be defined within the framework of negotiations for the establishment of two repeatedly it appears E tates , Palestinian and Israeli, living side by side in peace and security.
It is also questioned that Israel has created numerous settlements, considered illegal by international law, in the occupied territories of the West Bank.
In May 2016, the then UN secretary general, Ban Ki – moon, during an international conference on Jerusalem, said that the status of the city remains at the heart of any negotiated settlement of the conflict israel í -palestino .
“We must strengthen and reaffirm international efforts aimed at preserving the two-state solution and defining a political horizon,” Ban said.
Montefiore agrees with that vision: “I believe that peace can not come until Jerusalem is recognized as a legitimate and authentic part of the historical narrative and the cultural heritage of both, it should be and is already the capital of Israel, but not indivisible because to achieve peace it also needs to be the capital of Palestine. “