In December, 2017, Nigeria joined 127 other countries at the United Nations General Assembly to vote in favour of a resolution describing as “null and void”, US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and reaffirming 10 security council resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city’s final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The resolution also “demands that all states comply with security council resolutions regarding the holy city of Jerusalem, and not to recognise any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions”.
The debate and vote at the General Assembly highlighted, for a second time in a week, the international isolation of the United States over the Jerusalem issue. They also represented a stinging rebuke to Donald Trump, and served as a referendum on his often unilateral and abrasive foreign policy. Later, at a similar vote in the Security Council, Washington was outnumbered 14 to 1.
Before the vote at the General Assembly, Trump and his representative at the United Nations, Nikki Haley, had threatened to cut off aid to countries which vote against the US.
We are mindful of US assistance to Nigeria over the years, and of the fact that, in July 2017, Trump promised $639m in aid to assist people facing famine in north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. It is on this note that we commend the decision of the Nigerian Government to ignore Trump’s threat of sanctions and vote against his “unilateral” declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In a world in which all nations are equal before the law, it is permissible to speak truth to power: Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a senseless provocation, smacking of diplomatic vandalism.
In the decades-old debate over a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, no issue is more charged with emotion than the future of Jerusalem. Should the holy city be the capital of the Israelis alone or shared with the Palestinians?
Jerusalem has been at the centre of peace-making efforts in the Middle East ever since Israel was founded in 1947. Sensitivities surrounding the city’s status (and its importance as a holy site for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike) led the UN to treat it initially as a separate entity from the Jewish state. Although Israel has always claimed the Holy city as its capital, no country has, until now, recognised it as such. The United Nations, Nigeria and the United States, like most countries, have refused to recognise any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, a city holy to the three Abrahamic religions. For this reason, countries have always maintained their embassies to Israel in Tel Aviv.
Also, since Israel militarily occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Nigeria, the United States and the rest of the international community have rejected as illegal, Israel’s attempts to cement its control over the city by expanding its boundaries, annexing it and constructing a ring of settlements on occupied Palestinian land around its outskirts.
Therefore, Trump’s ill-advised recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plan to move the American embassy there are objectionable and have several serious far-reaching implications.
First, Trump’s action means more trouble in the Middle East and for the world.
Jerusalem is hardly an exclusively Palestinian issue. Countries protesting against Trump’s move include Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which act as guardians of the Old City’s Muslim holy sites and, therefore, have a special interest in preserving the city’s status. Particular note must be taken of the fact that Jerusalem is home to the Aqsa Mosque and that the Saudi king holds the title of custodian of Islam’s two other holiest mosques, in Mecca and Medina. Egypt, United Arab Emirates, both American allies in the region, are opposed to Trump’s move. Indeed, so is much of the rest of the world and practically everyone on Arab street.
Under the Oslo Accords, Israel promised to negotiate Jerusalem’s future with the Palestinians as part of a peace agreement. With his announcement, Trump has practically legitimised Israel’s illegal actions in occupying East Jerusalem, and sent the message that the United States no longer has any regard for international conventions or norms. Also, by taking sides on an issue central to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the United States will and can no longer be a honest broker.
It has also been suggested that the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as part of Israel could embolden messianic Jewish extremists who want to build a Jewish temple in the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in the Old City of East Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive religious sites in the world. This could easily ignite a major religious conflagration in the Middle East and beyond with an outcome that cannot be predicted.
Palestinian leaders have argued that Trump’s action will give Israel a free hand to accelerate its policies of creeping annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories and its deliberate attempts to erase the Palestinians’ historical, political, cultural and demographic presence in historic Palestine.
It is to be hoped that the US leader realises that his very actions are also undermining the United States’ own national security.
President Trump’s decisions to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to relocate the US Embassy to that city is not in the interest of the Israelis, nor of the Palestinians, nor of the Arab world or of the Americans. It will not augur well for global peace and security. Trump should, therefore, reconsider his decisions immediately.