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Trump's decision on Jerusalem has grave repercussions: What will be India's position?

The move will once again ignite anger across the Muslim world and lead to street protests.

 |  6-minute read |   06-12-2017
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All indications suggest that US President Donald Trump will soon make the formal announcement of shifting the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This move by Trump will once again ignite anger across the Muslim world and lead to street protests.

In recent decades, the Palestinian cause may have lost much of its earlier traction in the Arab world, but the American announcement is likely to lead to more violence and instability in an already volatile region.

Trump has been on the phone with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and informed him that the US embassy in Israel will be moving to Jerusalem. By doing this, Trump has indirectly backed Israel’s claim to that ancient city which Palestinians wish to make the capital of the state. However realising the sensitivity of the issue, the Oslo Agreement, which was brokered by former US president Bill Clinton had decreed, that  Jerusalem would be bilaterally negotiated by the two sides after all other  problems were solved.

Jerusalem is holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and the Al-Aqsa mosque is one of the holiest for Muslims in the region.

Trump, as is his style, has rushed into the West Asian mess much like a bull in a china shop. By recognising Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, he is keeping a campaign promise and would certainly make his base happy.

jeru_120617021143.jpgA general view shows part of Jerusalem's Old City and the Dome of the Rock (Credit: Reuters photo).

He has placed his son-in-law Jared Kushner as the head of  the peace process. Kusher’s family of  Jewish origin have been close friends with Israel’s hardline prime minister  Benjamin Netanyahu. Kushner had been making frequent visits to Israel and neighbouring Sunni kingdoms to get regional leaders onboard for the peace process. Whether the young man can untie the gordian knot, which seasoned diplomats and astute political leaders, have not succeeded in doing is doubtful. But the first step has now been taken.

Turkey, a firm ally of the US and member of NATO, has already warned the US about hasty recognition of Jerusalem. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan advised Trump against crossing the red line.

Jordan’s King Abdullah has similarly tried to reason with Trump. So had many EU nations, including France’s Emmanuel Macron. But for Trump, who wants to break away from old policies, this is likely to pay rich political dividends at home.

The powerful Jewish lobby in the US will welcome the move and extend support to Trump on other crucial issues. Non-Jewish supporters, who hate the Clintons will be happy that he has finally buried the Oslo peace process, which had been dead for a long time. Also, Trump possibly hopes to get the Israelis to make concessions to Palestine on other issues after winning them Jerusalem.

However, it is unlikely that other countries will follow the US example and shift their missions to Jerusalem. The Arabs will certainly not do so, nor will the Europeans.

What will be India’s position? Well, that is not clear. Will the Modi government, which is close to Israel, shift India’s traditional stand?

There are some indications that maybe not just yet, but it will assess the ground situation and take a call. Meanwhile, there is a gradual shift on the question of Jerusalem. India has maintained a studied silence on the issue.

Delhi has been historically a supporter of the Palestinian cause. But since 1992, when the PV Narasimha Rao government upgraded its diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, relations have been steadily warming.

Successive governments in India have  built relations, and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi becoming the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel, there is no looking back.

Today, India and Israel are strategic partners. Both the UPA and NDA have just done the token things with the Palestinians and kept the relationship alive.

Modi has not neglected the Muslim world, visiting Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar as well as Oman.

But the Modi government has been rather silent on Jerusalem. In fact, prior to the prime minister’s landmark visit to Israel, he had hosted President Mahmoud Abbas in Delhi. At the joint press meet in Hyderabad House, Modi  emphasised India’s support for an independent Palestinian state.

"The relationship between India and Palestine is built on the foundation of long-standing solidarity and friendship since the days of our own freedom struggle. India has been unwavering in its support to the Palestinian cause. And, we hope to see the realisation of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, co-existing peacefully with Israel. I have reaffirmed our position on this to President Abbas during our conversation today,’’ the PM had said.

There is no mention here of East Jerusalem being the capital of an independent Palestinian state. That was a departure from previous statements from Delhi. Earlier, Indian statements always included the line of East Jerusalem as the capital. The omission is significant and was noted by analysts at that time.

The change was apparent also during the UNESCO vote on Jerusalem. Initially, India had supported the resolution sponsored by Arab countries that endorsed the Palestinian position on Jerusalem. This was on April 2016. However, in October 2016 and May 2017, when the resolution came up again, India abstained. On November 29, this year, observed by the UN as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Modi reiterated his support for a Palestinian state, but significantly did not mention East Jerusalem.

Last year, he had mentioned East Jerusalem as the capital of a sovereign Palestinian state living at peace with Israel.

There has been no reaction so far from the MEA on the US decision to shift its mission. That may or may not come after Trump formally announces his decision.

However, the shift of the US mission will take at least four years and will not be immediate according to American officials.

India will not jump into the fray right away, but will wait and watch what happens to the American peace-making efforts.

What will be the Palestinian reaction? Will it cut off diplomatic ties with the US and turn away from Trump’s attempts at peace making?  Nothing is clear as yet. Much will depend on what the US has to offer President Abbas.

However, the signs are there for all to see. India is likely to back the Israeli demand for Jerusalem at a later stage. But this will depend on what happens in the next few years.

Also read: Modi in Israel: I am aghast as an Indian, ashamed as a secular Jew


Seema Guha Seema Guha @seemaguha1

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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