Why is Jerusalem important, what makes Donald Trump’s intervention so toxic and does anyone else recognise the city as Israel’s capital?: All you need to know about why Trump’s announcement is so incendiary

Thursday, December 7, 2017
By Paul Martin

7 December 2017

What is the status of Jerusalem?

Israel set up its parliament in West Jerusalem when the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. The move followed the United Nations’ vote to partition Palestine on the basis of the British pledge known as the Balfour Declaration that paved the way for a homeland for the Jewish people.

Israel occupied 78 per cent of the land, with the remaining 22 per cent split between Gaza and the West Bank.
Then, in 1967, during the Six-Day Arab-Israeli war, Israel annexed Arab-controlled East Jerusalem, including the Old City. Israel has claimed ever since that both parts of the city are its ‘undivided’ capital.

However, Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital. Most countries, including Britain, do not recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and keep their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Why is Jerusalem so important to both sides?

Chiefly because of its religious history. The Temple Mount in the Old City is the most sacred place in Judaism — the site of Solomon’s Temple said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant and destroyed in 586 BC by King of Babylon.

The site is also the third holiest shrine in Islam, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (‘Noble Sanctuary’). It was the scene of Prophet Muhammad’s ‘Night Journey’ ascension from Earth to Heaven in 621. The compound includes Islamic shrines the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The city is also sacred to Christians — Jesus attended a temple in the Old City and was crucified on a hill outside its walls. But it also has hugely important implications for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

What has Donald Trump done and why is his intervention so toxic?

Until now, peacemakers have pursued the strategy that Jerusalem would be part of an overall negotiated settlement, with its status decided in the latter stages of peace talks, with agreement on both sides. But if America jumps to a conclusion on the city’s status now — and takes Israel’s side — many fear it will undermine the chances of a peace deal. It could also damage America’s position as an ‘honest broker’ between the two sides.

It does not take much to spark violence in the Middle East. In 2000, the Second Intifada — two bloody years of Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli military killings — started after a visit by the then leader of the Israeli opposition, Ariel Sharon, to the Old City site.

How can the status of Jerusalem be peacefully resolved?

Jerusalem is described as the most intractable part of the world’s most intractable conflict. But one of the main planks of the peace process is a two-state solution — in which Jerusalem would serve as capital of both states: East Jerusalem for Palestine, West Jerusalem for Israel.

About a third of the people living in Jerusalem are Palestinians. An uneasy co-existence is lived out day-to-day, under the watchful eyes of clusters of armed Israeli police.

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