President Donald Trump made moving US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem central in his campaign
A US congressional delegation will visit Israel on Saturday to study proposals for transferring the US embassy to Jerusalem, according to Israeli radio.
Right-wing Knesset member Yehuda Glick said on Facebook that, during their one-day visit, delegation members would meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials “to discuss the practical and political implications of the embassy’s transfer to Jerusalem”.
Neither source provided additional details.
The anticipated move has already prompted protests in the West Bank, with hundreds participating in demonstrations in several cities in late January.
The Palestinians regard Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, but Israel proclaims the entire city as its capital.
John Kerry, the outgoing US Secretary of State, told US media in January that moving the embassy could lead to an “absolute explosion” in the Middle East.
“You’d have an explosion,” he told the CBS network. “You’d have an explosion – an absolute explosion in the region, not just in the West Bank and perhaps even in Israel itself, but throughout the region. The Arab world has enormous interest in the Haram al Sharif, as it is called, the Temple Mount, the Dome [of the Rock], and it is a holy site for the Arab world.”
Trump’s nominee to run the Israeli embassy is David Friedman, a long-time hardline supporter of Israel. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer Trump has called a longtime friend and trusted adviser, has supported Jewish settlement building, advocated the annexation of the West Bank, and has promoted the idea of an embassy in Jerusalem.
Several former ambassadors and Jewish groups have renounced Trump’s ambassador pick, saying that Friedman holds “extreme, radical positions” on issues such as Jewish settlements and the two-state solution.
Trump is expected to appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, as an Israeli-Palestinian peace envoy. His family has made several donations to archconservative settlement groups.
Not only would the move breach Jordan’s 1994 peace agreement with Israel, but it would likely set off uprisings that directly impact the kingdom’s security
For decades, the Jordanian role in the occupied city of Jerusalem has been exceptional and rather sensitive case.
For this reason, Trump’s repeated vows to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has disproportionately upset the Jordanian government which, at the moment, has no shortage of crises.
Moving the embassy would breach the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement and render final status negotiations into absurdity
It’s this nervousness that explains King Abdullah II’s rushed visit to Washington only a few days after Trump’s arrival at the White House, the first Arab leader to meet the new president reportedly coming without invitation or prior arrangement.
Jordan’s role in Jerusalem
Key to understanding Jordan’s anxiety is the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty – sometimes called the Wadi Araba Treaty because of where it was signed – signed in October 1994 which stated that Israel would respect the special role that Jordan had historically played in Jerusalem’s holy places and, further, would give priority to the kingdom’s role during final status negotiations.
In other words, with the treaty, Israel formally recognised Jordan’s role, something it hadn’t been able to deny or ignore for decades. Israel also agreed at the time to refrain from changing – either geographically or demographically – the status of the holy city before reaching at a final agreement to which Jordan was a party.
But even before Wadi Araba, Jerusalem had been under Jordanian administration and part of the Hashemite Kingdom for many decades. When Jordan annexed the West Bank in April 1950, Jerusalem became an integral part of the country whose constitution prohibits relinquishing or ceding any part of its territories.
And even after Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, Jordan maintained the right to oversee the city’s holy Islamic and Christian places. To this very day, the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf (Endowments) continues to provide custodianship and services at Al-Aqsa Mosque and other religious places in Jerusalem.
In view of these facts, Jerusalem’s legal and political status constitutes an important strategic file as far as the Jordanian regime is concerned. If the US changes the city’s status, from a Jordanian perspective, that would mean that the very mediator and guarantor of the Wadi Araba agreement is taking unilateral measures to change the status of a disputed territory over which negotiations have not yet been finalised.
The rush to DC
In light of this history, Jordan is the most anxious party in the region as a result of Trump’s pledges with regard to move the US embassy, a measure which would imply US acknowledgment that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
The king’s rushed visit to Washington DC came without consultation or reference to major Arab forces
The king’s rushed visit to Washington DC notably came without consultation or reference to major Arab bodies like the Arab League or the Arab group at the United Nations, underlining the incapacity of a united Arab front to stand up to Trump. That incapacity was clear in the aftermath of Trump’s executive order to ban citizens of six Arab states from the US.
Importantly, the unplanned visit also makes it clear that Jordan takes the US promises seriously and believes that America will actually move the embassy to Jerusalem, a step that would constitute the biggest transformation in the American stance in years – and one with major ramifications.
First, recognition like this of Jerusalem as the Israel capital would breach the 1994 peace agreement, destroy all peace efforts and fatally end the final status negotiations in which the city is one of the most prominent and most crucial issues.
Ultimately, it would leave Jordan with one of two choices, each more bitter than the other: either enter into a two-headed crisis with Washington and Tel Aviv at the same time or silently lose its role in Jerusalem.
Clearly, some of the anxiety stems from decision-making circles in Jordan that believe an embassy move would lead to a security collapse inside the Palestinian territories.
Jordan is keen to avoid more chaos especially because a large proportion of Jordanian citizens have Palestinian roots
After all, the Al-Aqsa intifada in 2000 erupted and raged on for several years because of the holy city. The uprising saw the collapse of the Oslo agreement with the termination of the geographical designation of the West Bank territories into A, B and C as well as the unilateral decision to withdraw Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip without negotiations.
The extreme tension and rage within the Palestinian territories right now suggests that such a move could indeed lead to the eruption yet another intifada, one which could lead to a major strategic change in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including the total collapse of the Palestinian Authority with all the repercussions that might entail.
Naturally, Jordan is keen to avoid more chaos in the region, but especially because a large proportion of Jordanian citizens have Palestinian roots and are linked, through family and tribal ties, to Palestinians living in the West Bank.
A new Palestinian uprising – especially one which causes the PA’s collapse – would have a direct impact on Jordan’s security and it is this security collapse that is driving the kingdom, more than any other party, to anxiety. If the PA falls apart, it would become rather difficult, going forward, to find anyone willing to negotiate in the name of the Palestinian people.
Above all, moving the embassy would breach the Jordanian-Israeli agreement that was signed thanks to US mediation and sponsorship. It would render final status negotiations into absurdity because the most important issue – Jerusalem – would have been settled as a fait accompli by the Israelis and the Americans.
Mohammad Ayesh is an Arab journalist currently based in London.The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: King Abdullah II and Donald Trump meet in Washington on 2 February 2017 (Jordanian Royal Palace/AFP)
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.
Student activists voice concern over extra checks and scrutiny being imposed by university authorities as a consequence of Prevent Duty
Pro-Palestine activists on British university campuses fear a crackdown is taking place against them following the cancellation of several events affiliated to the Israeli Apartheid Week initiative and increasing regulation and monitoring of their activities.
The concerns come with universities under mounting pressure to demonstrate compliance with the government’s Prevent counter-terrorism strategy, and university staff advised to “risk-assess and manage” Palestine-related activism as part of their Prevent Duty responsibilities.
“Vocal support for Palestine” and “Opposition to Israeli settlements in Gaza” are included in a list of “contentious topics” in the presentation on a website, Safe Campus Communities, created for university staff to help them fulfil their Prevent Duty obligations.
At least two events linked to Israel Apartheid Week have been cancelled or postponed this week, including a lecture hosted by the Palestine society at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and an Israeli checkpoint stunt at the University of Exeter.
The cancellations also sparked fears about freedom of speech on campus after more than 200 academics, including 100 professors, signed an open letter condemning attempts to silence campus discussion about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.
Checkpoint event halted
Students at Exeter University were told that their checkpoint stunt had been cancelled because the activity could be deemed “discriminatory and considered harassment against certain students”.
“The student guild approved it on safety grounds but for the first time in 14 years the university denied our permission by saying in a letter that the stunt could be illegal,” said Gabriel, a student at Exeter.
“The university did not give us a chance to suggest alternative arrangements and gave a blanket ban saying there was no way our event can be allowed to take place.”
“The university did not give us a chance to suggest alternative arrangements and gave a blanket ban saying there was no way our event can be allowed to take place”
Exeter University said it had cancelled the checkpoint stunt because it was “planned in a very busy part of campus.”
A spokesman also added: “Had the Friends of Palestine Society proposed alternative venues we would have considered them.”
At UCLan, Anum Riaz, the president of its Friends of Palestine Society, told Middle East Eye that the “university was not being transparent” and said officials had not explained why the event had been cancelled.
According to Riaz, university officials cited different reasons ranging from the society not following UCLan’s protocols to the event not having a balanced panel.
Riaz also told MEE that a university official had said that the event had contravened the government’s new definition of anti-Semitism, which critics say equates criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism.
UCLan said it was committed to creating a diverse campus and that the proposed talk was cancelled because it was not referred to the “designated event process in a timely manner and therefore could not go ahead”.
But in previous statements made about the event, the university said it had banned the talk because it contravened the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) new definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism.
Other methods used to curtail Palestine activists on campus according to activists include increased checks when attempting to bring in external speakers and booking rooms for events.
Millie Harris, a politics student at King’s College London, told MEE that her Palestine society’s events had been subject to increased vetting by the university.
“Two days before our events we’ve had to go through ‘high-risk assessments’ despite booking the events month in advance,” said Harris.
“This adds extra pressure and stress on students involved in the society who are volunteers because we don’t know if the event will be allowed to take place.”
Harris also told MEE that their events were subject to repeated room changes, which costs the society money as they have had to reprint promotional material for their events.
King’s responded by saying that it had changed venues for the event because the Palestine society had “changed the date of their scheduled event last week so the location was initially changed”.
Harris hit back and said that the society had “changed the date for the event in January not last week.”
Several activists also told MEE that university senior management had sent representatives to monitor their activities and demanded that their events take place in rooms where events could be recorded.
Palestinian student Anis Mohamed who studies at University College London (UCL) spoke of how his institution had sent a student union representative to “monitor” a talk they hosted with humanitarian activist Dr Ang Swee.
“I can understand the safety side of it so that if anything happens …they can refute it… at the same time we were recording the event and we made that clear so we weren’t sure why they came down.”
Speaking about the future of the Palestine movement on campus, Mohamed said that these efforts by the university to regulate Palestine activism could put people off joining the campaign.
The university told MEE that it did not send any staff members to monitor the Friend of Palestine society’s events
It also denied asking the group to host their event in a lecture that could be recorded, stating that majority of its halls have recording capabilities.
Israeli Apartheid Week is held every year on campuses across the world and aims to draw parallels between the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and apartheid-era South Africa.
The Palestine movement has gained traction across UK campuses with student unions passing motions urging universities to divest from companies complicit in the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Editor’s Note: Some names have been changed