The Armageddon that US President Donald Trump has been recklessly promising North Korea if it did not pipe down may well be visited on the West Asia theatre. This is the upshot of the US leader’s Wednesday declaration that for Washington Tel Aviv will now no longer be deemed to be the capital of Israel, and that the US would officially recognise Jerusalem and move the US embassy there.
Historic Jerusalem is home to the holiest shrines of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The city was partitioned into east and west in the wake of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, to go under Palestinian and Israeli control respectively. The Palestinian Territories, now constituted almost as a state, aspires to make East Jerusalem its capital after recovering it from Israel, which annexed it after the 1967 Six-Day War.
This is among the key aspects of the two-state solution in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in respect of which the United States has attempted to play honest broker. With President Trump’s latest move, the US forfeits that privileged position.
The most likely impact of this is return to open warfare in West Asia, with no single power or international institution having the weight or influence to chaperon the peace process in the foreseeable future.
The world’s longest-running and most dangerous conflict, which has kept West Asia destabilised and given birth to nuclear rivalry between the perpetually sabre-rattling Israel and Iran (with Saudi Arabia making no secret of its own nuclear ambition), thus now finds itself as a region being drained of hope of peace.
The flip side of this is preparation for war by multiple forces into which the US could very easily be dragged. That will land countries like India, friendly with the Arab world, Iran, and the US at the same time into a zone of deep diplomatic anxiety.
Dipping into mythology, Israel has always regarded Jerusalem as its “united and eternal” capital. But Israel was created by the colonial powers by lopping off a part of the territory of Palestine, and the Palestinians have never accepted Israeli intransigence on Jerusalem.
They have nevertheless accepted the two-state solution, which visualises that Palestine will accept the existence of Israel, with Jerusalem being pragmatically shared by both countries, in light of history, politics and demographics. Mr Trump’s decision therefore strikes at the central core of any meaningful steps toward reconciliation in West Asia.
This makes America’s closest Arab allies and the Europeans very nervous, and they have publicly articulated their concern, with Turkey even threatening to cut off ties with Israel, with which it has good relations. The Pope has urged retaining the “status quo”. It is unclear if the US leader had the map of the world before him when he reversed 70 years of US policy.