West Asia politics

What Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel means for West Asia

The city is key to both Israeli and Palestinian identity.

Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and start preparations for the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city, has the potential to further inflame tensions across West Asia.

Although this is not an unexpected move – Trump expressed his intention to do so during his electoral campaign – the decision breaks with years of precedent.

Trump’s decision to move the embassy means he will not follow his predecessors by renewing a waiver on the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which required the embassy to eventually be moved from Tel Aviv.

Since then, there has been a cross-party consensus in the US that any act which recognises the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel and its designation as the country’s capital would affect the fragile balance of power in West Asia – and the ability of the US to promote its interests in the region. US diplomats have sought to tread carefully on this issue in one of the world’s most treacherous political landscapes.

The Palestinian leadership condemned the move before Trump spoke, as did leaders from the Arab world and beyond. The announcement of the embassy move is likely to cause a wave of resentment among Palestinians in the occupied territories and the city itself, especially after two decades of stalemate in the peace process and deteriorating conditions throughout the Palestinian territories. Ahead of the speech, US citizens and government employees were told to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank until further notice.

Central to the peace process

Jerusalem is not just a city of historical importance to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but also a site key to both Israeli and Palestinian identity. Add to this the centrality of the status of Jerusalem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often described as one of the world’s most intractable disputes, and it’s clear why the decision to move the US embassy there has been described as tantamount to political arson.

At the political level, most Israelis and Palestinians insist that Jerusalem must be the capital of their states, present and future, and that this is non-negotiable. This is why the final status of Jerusalem was deemed to be one of the thorniest issues in the Oslo peace process in the 1990s. It was envisaged to be circumnavigated, dealt with only at the stage of “permanent status negotiations”, once all other issues between the state of Israel and the Palestinians were resolved.

As there has not been any progress in less important, yet substantive issues since Oslo, the issue of Jerusalem has acquired a symbolic importance among Palestinians.

Jerusalem is a city dense in symbolism in the Palestinian national imagination. Particularly so as other, more material anchors of identity such as territory, governance and self-determination are continually being eroded by the harsh realities of Israeli occupation, the blockade of Gaza and deteriorating cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

The response to Trump’s announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and most of his government was muted. But its symbolic value among nationalist circles in Israel, and also among many ordinary Israelis, should not be underestimated.

The Israeli government has been active in strengthening Israeli claims to the entire city since its annexation in 1980. Settlement building around Jerusalem has aimed to ring-fence the city and integrate it more into Israel. Meanwhile, there were building restrictions in East Jerusalem, and a series of restrictions to Palestinian access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, built on the remnants of the last Jewish Temple. Both sets of restrictions were lifted.

Equally important in terms of symbolic politics has been Israel’s archaeological intervention around Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as an attempt to strengthen Israel’s historical connection with the city.

Wider significance

Trump’s decision seems oblivious to the fragility of coexistence in the city between its Israeli and Palestinian inhabitants. It also ignores the significance of Jerusalem in Palestinian national identity and national aspirations, and the devastating impact on the future of a moribund peace process.

It has the potential of not only affecting the political ecology of a place where history is a matter of life and death, but could also cause a ripple effect much further afield. It can destabilise a Palestinian authority already deprived of legitimacy and an array of fragile Arab regimes. And it is likely to accentuate the enmity between Israel and Iran. Iran perceives such a move as a “violation of Islamic sanctities” and, together with Trump’s revitalised alliance with Saudi Arabia, a clear sign of the US president’s anti-Iranian stance.

Last but not least, it could further stoke the flames of anti-Western Islamic movements in the Muslim world and the West alike, which have always put Jerusalem and the Palestinian issue in a central position.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.