Arab foreign ministers met, in an emergency meeting at the headquarters of the League of Arab States on Saturday, to discuss how to deal with the American decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that was announced by US President Donald Trump on 6 December.
The American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital marks the end of five decades of peace-making in the quest for a permanent and just solution to the Arab-Israeli question and for a solution to the Palestinian problem. This search for a peaceful resolution has been based on United Nations resolutions pertaining to these two interrelated questions. Some of these resolutions have been concerned with the status of Jerusalem, for instance, UN Security Council Resolution 478 (1980) states that the Israeli law declaring the Holy City as the “undivided capital” of Israel is in violation of international law. The resolution was adopted unanimously, with the United States abstaining.
The world at large, not only Palestinians or Arabs, were taken by surprise by Trump’s statement on 6 December. No previous American administration, be it Republican or Democrat, made such a decision. As a matter of fact, the last three administrations (two Democrat presidents, Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama, and Republican Georges Bush) did not carry out the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as requested by the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 adopted by the United States Congress.
The three presidents made use of the presidential waiver in the act to put off to a later date the execution of the act that became a public law. The reason behind using the waiver had been that the move to Jerusalem was not in the national interest of the United States. President Trump saw otherwise, and went as far as attacking what he termed “failed strategies” on the part of his predecessors at the White House in trying to reach a peaceful settlement for the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as the question of Palestine. He promised a new approach to help the Palestinians and Israelis negotiate an agreement without outlining the basic principles that would provide a legal and binding framework for such a novel approach.
Arab foreign ministers made a declaration last Saturday rejecting the American decision and vowing to work for its repeal. In the meantime, they called on the international community to recognise the State of Palestine based on the 4 June 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. Furthermore, they decided to head to the Security Council to condemn the American administration’s decision. They also agreed, in principle, on an emergency Arab summit in Jordan some time in the near future.
Given the present situation in the Arab world, after seven years of upheavals and destruction throughout the Middle East, we could not have expected more from this meeting. A complicating factor was the expected visit to the region, in the second half of December, by United States Vice President Mike Pence. The American administration said that the vice president would discuss the question of religious minorities in the Middle East, in addition to discussing with Washington’s “allies” how best to defeat radical extremism. In other words, the peace process is not on his agenda.
Palestinians and Arabs find themselves in a very critical situation after the American decision declared on 6 December. When it comes to peace-making in the Middle East, we can safely argue that there is pre- and post-December 6. It is too early to judge the long-term ramifications of the American decision on the future efforts to resume peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Maybe the talks that Arab leaders, among them President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, will hold with the American vice president would help Arab powers come up with a plan to deal with the uncertain future that awaits the Middle East, at least, in the short- and the medium-term.