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Trump and Israel: Flashpoint of Jerusalem hangs over White House meeting

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From Middle East Eye


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JERUSALEM -- Often described as the powder-keg issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jerusalem was expected to loom large in Wednesday's meeting in Washington between Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is the first time the pair have met face to face since Trump was inaugurated president last month.

The two have major issues to address, including Israeli settlement expansion and the nuclear deal with Iran. But even these matters are likely to be overshadowed by their discussion of Jerusalem's status.

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Tensions about the city's future are high, given that Trump has vowed to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would implicitly recognize the city as Israel's capital.

Trump's pick for US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a hard-line supporter of the settlers, is reported to have said he intends to work from Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu's government, meanwhile, has announced a lifting of restrictions on settlement expansion, apparently confident that it will face no backlash from Washington. Shortly after Trump's inauguration last month, Israeli officials unveiled plans for more than 560 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

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In addition, far-right ministers in the Israeli government are pushing hard for a quick annexation of Maale Adumim, a large settlement close to Jerusalem that would further isolate the city from its hinterland of the West Bank. Under pressure from Netanyahu, a cabinet vote has been delayed until after the meeting with Trump.

Dangerous step

These various moves have the potential to trigger an explosion of anger, both among Palestinians and more generally across much of the region.

The long-standing sensitivity over Jerusalem derives from its enormous political, religious and symbolic significance, said Zakaria Odeh, head of the Civic Coalition, an umbrella group for Palestinian civil society organizations in Jerusalem.

"Palestinians demand East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state," he told Middle East Eye. "If it is denied them, then it means the end of the two-state solution, hopes of Palestinian self-determination, and any kind of peace process. That would be a very dangerous step indeed."

Intimately tied to questions of sovereignty over East Jerusalem is Palestinian control over the city's holy places, including the most incendiary site of all: the al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City. This is the place where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed arrived after a miraculous night journey from Mecca, and then ascended to heaven.

For that reason, hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world take a keen interest in the fate of Jerusalem.

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Control over al-Aqsa

The failure of peace talks over the past quarter century has in large part hinged on Israel's refusal to concede to Palestinians East Jerusalem as a political capital or give them meaningful control over al-Aqsa, said Odeh.

Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, it has moved more than 200,000 Jewish settlers into the Palestinian part of the city, and sought to cut off the Palestinian population from the West Bank by building a separation wall.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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