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Jerusalem explained: Why Trump making it the capital of Israel is so controversial, and what it means for the Middle East

Unrest is expected after Mr Trump's historic decision

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 06 December 2017 20:39 GMT
Donald Trump officially recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital

In a remarkable overhaul of American diplomacy that is likely to spur unrest in the region, President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

By announcing the new approach that Mr Trump promises will set the course for eventual peace agreements, the President is taking a novel stand against a deep rooted conflict that is centuries in the making. After less than a year in the Oval Office, Mr Trump has dramatically reworked a consequential position on an issue that encompasses the history, politics, and religions that dominate the Middle East.

Why is Jerusalem so important?

The city is sacred to all three of the great monotheistic religions. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all revere the city and see religious significance there.

As such, it has been the gem in the eye of conquerors for centuries. The Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans, and the British Empire all once sought for control of the city. Since the creation of the modern state of Israel, both the Israeli leadership and their Arab neighbours have laid claim to the historic city.

What is there?

The city is the home to holy sites revered by Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

In the centre of the Old City is a hill with great significance to both Jews and Muslims, for example. The hill is known to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount. To Muslims around the world, the hill is known as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary.

That hill was the home to Jewish temples during antiquity, though many of those no longer exist above ground, and just a restraining wall for the foundations can still be seen. That wall is known as the Western Wall, and Jews view it as a sacred place for prayer.

Muslims, on the other hand, revere two holy sites just yards from that wall. They are named the Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Asqa Mosque. The mosque was built in the 8th century. Muslims consider the site to be the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.

Christians revere the city for its connection to Jesus Christ, who they believe preached, died, and was later resurrected there.

When did the modern dispute emerge?

When British rule of the area ended in 1948, the Jordanian military invade to occupy the Old City, and Arab East Jerusalem. Decades later, Israel captured that land from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war, and annexed it. That move has not been recognized internationally.

The Israelis passed a law in 1980 that declared Jerusalem the “complete and united” city of their country, and its capital. The United Nations, which regards East Jerusalem as occupied, took the position that the city’s status is disputed and in need of resolution through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Do other countries have embassies in Jerusalem?

Other countries have had their Israel embassies there, but every major country has moved them out years ago. Some countries do maintain diplomatic outposts in East Jerusalem to interact with the Palestinians.

What might happen following this decision from Mr Trump?

Violence isn’t out of the question, and Hamas has said that Mr Trump’s decisions opened the “gates of hell”. There were no immediate reports of violence after the announcement, which came during the evening for much of the region.

But, if past is prologue, security forces may have their work cut out for them in the near future.

Tensions over the city’s sovereignty and religion have led to violence before. In 2000, for example, a group of Israeli legislators entered the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif complex, leading to Palestinian protests that escalated into an uprising.

The region saw violence more recently as well - in July - after Israel installed metal detectors at the entrance of the complex following the killing of two Israeli policemen.

Palestinian factions have called for protests in response to Mr Trump’s announcement about Jerusalem, and Arab leaders have said that calling the city Israel’s capital is likely to hurt Middle East peace negotiations.

Reuters contributed to this report

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