Jerusalem: the thrice holy city and bone of contention in the Middle East

Author: Clara CHPOUN. Translated by:  Ny Aina RAMANGASALAMA.

Last December, the President of the United States of America Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, jeopardizing an already stalled peace process.

“It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”[1]were the words pronounced by Donald Trump on last December 6. This symbolic statement has upset the international community, as Trump is ready to move the American embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. Thrice holy city, Jerusalem is a symbol of peace as three major monotheistic religions live together: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Symbol of tolerance and openness, nevertheless Jerusalem seems to crystallize religious and geopolitical tensions since Trump’s speech. The city is taking over the game of diplomatic alliances and the process of peace of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to –now more than ever- be mired.

A special status: three times a holy city

Jerusalem is not a common city: it is considered sacred by the 3 major religions that are Judaism, Christianity and Islam and it is in the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of the longest in history.

In Jerusalem, the Old City is divided into 4 districts : the Armenian district, the Christian district where we can find the Jesus Christ’s burial Tomb and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Arab and Muslim district where is located the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and finally the Jewish district where is situated the Wailing Wall –vestiges of the Solomon’s Temple.

jersualem cart

Paradoxically, tensions around Jerusalem are less caused by religious claims, than by territorial conflicts as the dispute around Jerusalem is the illustration of the Israeli-Palestinian malaise around the share of the old Palestine and the status of the Saint City.

Before 1967 and since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the city of Jerusalem was split between the Jewish State for the occidental part and Jordan for the oriental part. In 1967, following the 6-days war, Israel took over the oriental and Arab part of Jerusalem, as well as most of the Western Banks, normally conceded to the Palestinian authorities. In 1980, Israel stated that Jerusalem was the capital of the State of Israel – it still is not recognized by the United Nations to this day – as it houses the Knesset (Parliament of Israel), the ministries district, the Supreme Court and the Central Bank of Israel. This decision was not and is still not recognized by the international community as it is considered as a violation of the International Law. Lately, -and since Trump’s speech on December 6-  the ever-burning issue around the sharing of Jerusalem, symbol of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is coming back on the international scene, further destabilizing the region.

A stalled peace process

This decision of Donald Trump, has been widely questioned and condemned by the United Nations, further isolating the United States on the international scene. Israel – led by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu – and its allies have nevertheless shown great enthusiasm for the news. Israel has not only recognized Jerusalem as “eternal and indivisible” capital of the State of Israel. The country also operates, since the end of the 60’s, a real estate colonization. By building houses in the oriental and Arab part of Jerusalem, the State of Israel dismantles the continuity between Jerusalem East and the rest of the Palestinian territory. The speech made by Trump, if it does not condemn those acts, gives weight to the Israeli operations. On the Palestinian side, there is a concern about how this declaration can open a valve gas into an already burning house. This declaration, made by the President of the world’s leading power could jeopardize the process of peace –process that might end up creating a Palestinian State. The Palestinians do not want the United States as one of the intermediary of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anymore and point the finger at Washington claiming that the leading power is trying to jeopardize a region already unstable. As expected, the Hamas movement –which controls the Gaza Strip[2]– has not welcomed Trump’s speech very well, affirming that Jerusalem will stay “the eternal capital of the Palestinian State”. In fact, it calls upon the Palestinians to a new Intifada. Even if the Palestinian Authority[3]is losing confidence, it does not seem determined to leave the process of peace. In the field, the Palestinian people are protesting against a presumed unfair decision. The two main parties of the conflict seem to have adopted unequivocal positions and the diplomatic set of alliances does not help calming those tensions.

A conflict poisoned by a diplomatic game

During an emergency meeting of the UN security council, 14 of the 15 countries of the council (besides the United States who used their veto) have strongly condemned the American position. On the 21stof December, 128 countries –including France-, voted in favor of the UN resolution condemning the transfer of the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. 35 countries abstained, and 9 countries voted against the resolution. However, Washington’s decision on the transfer of the embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem was followed by some of its allies, including Guatemala – who voted against the UN resolution.

In parallel with the UN General Assembly’s meeting, the leaders of the Arab league were reunited following the words of the American President and have unanimously condemned the decision of Trump, pointing the finger at a voluntary provocation and a violation of the International Law. However, even if Jerusalem is the third holy place for the Muslims (after Mecca and Medina), any concrete resolution cannot be taken by the Arab league, as some countries are in good relations with Trump’s administration. The Egyptian President Al-Sissi needs the financial support from Washington and wishes to divert the attention from the violation of the human rights in his country; as for Saudi Arabia, they need the help of Trump as well in its conflict with the shia Iranian power. Thus, those diplomatic alliances and political interests seem to slow down the resolution of a conflict which has lasted for 70 years.


[1]Donald TRUMP has put in application a text adopted in 1995 by the American Congress, “The Jerusalem Embassy Act” which plans to transfer the American embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. This text has been postponed every 6 months by Trump’s predecessors. They believed it was more careful to wait for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, implementing this text was one of Trump’s campaign promises.

[2]The Islamist movement is one the main interlocutors on the Palestinian side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

[3]Led by the Fatah (political party). Mahmoud Abbas is leading the Palestinian Authority who rules over the West Bank. It is yet another –and different- Palestinian interlocutor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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