Arab World Anger Mounts As US May Declare Jerusalem Israel's Capital—Why Is the Issue so Thorny?

Tensions are mounting in Israel and the Palestinian Territories as U.S. President Donald Trump may recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

It has been speculated that Trump might formally designate Jerusalem Israel's capital in a speech this week. Rumors emerged as a deadline for Trump to sign a waiver delaying the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem expires on December 4.

Although there has not been any confirmation on Trump's intentions from the White House yet, speculations are already fueling tensions in the region.

Why is the issue so contentious?

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues in the region, as both Israel and the Palestinians claim sovereignty over the city.

Israel occupied Jerusalem, home to sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It claims the whole city is its capital, but its sovereignty has not been recognized by the international community, including Israel's closest ally, the U.S.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem will be the capital of their future state and the whole issue should be part of peace talks to find a solution to the decades-long conflict.

"In 1947, when the U.N. started to partition then British-ruled Palestine, Jerusalem was given a special legal status, it was not awarded to either site," Ian Black, Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economic's Middle East Center, told Newsweek.

"For the last 70 years, there has been an international consensus that Jerusalem is a very difficult issue and its status must be part of peace agreement between the two parties. The idea that an important country, the U.S. in particular, recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital, would be a complete breach of this consensus."

Jerusalem
A general view of the city of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock mosque in the background, on December 4, 2017. Palestinian leaders were seeking to rally diplomatic support to persuade US President Donald Trump not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital after suggestions that he planned to do so. THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

How is the Arab World reacting?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is calling for diplomatic efforts to persuade Trump to refrain from declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital, amid fears the move could spark violence in the contested territories.

Abbas said he sent letters to a number of worldwide leaders and international organizations urging them to dissuade Trump, news agency Wafa reported. He said Washington's eventual recognition of Jerusalem "will threaten the future of the political process."

Similarly, Arab League chief Abul Gheit warned the move would "nourish fanaticism and violence".

He said in a statement quoted by Reuters "Today we say very clearly that taking such action is not justified… It will not serve peace or stability, but will fuel extremism and resort to violence."

Jordan began consultations to convene an emergency meeting of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.The summit would "discuss ways of dealing with the consequences of such a decision that raised alarm and concern", a senior Jordanian diplomatic source told Reuters.

The source continued: "It could ultimately hamper all efforts to get the peace process moving and would certainly be provocative to Arab and Muslim countries and Muslim communities across the West. No issue can move Arabs and Muslims in the same potent way as Jerusalem does."

Jordanian authorities fear Trump's expected recognition could trigger violence in Palestine, which could then spill over into neighboring Jordan.

"This move, if it happens, will cause real trouble and will likely meet serious protests from Arab governments. And it is reasonable to imagine there will be protests on the streets in some Arab or Muslim countries," said Black.

"It would be a destabilizing move and it would make it very hard to continue to claim that there is a serious pursuit of the peace process. It would be so much in line with Israeli demands and completely ignore Palestinian demands.

"In the absence of any prospect for an independent Palestinian state, it would be an act of bias," he concludes.