Trump recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital

President Donald Trump recognised the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on November 06, an historic decision that overturns decades of US policy and risks triggering a fresh spasm of violence in the Middle East. He claimed, “I have determined that it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” The move makes the United States the first country to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians called a general strike as world leaders from across the Arab world and some from Europe denounced the move. Israel considers the city its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there.

President Trump contrary to seven decades of American foreign policy which aimed at brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians, has reversed the direction of US policy of amicable mediation in the conflict and taken side of Israel by asserting that US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Analysts believe that this decision of the American President is more driven by his election campaign promises rather than diplomatic calculations. The Middle East has been a perplexing problem for several entwined complex issues and such drastic measures may stir violent responses and instability in the region. He appealed to evangelicals and ardently pro-Israel American Jews in 2016 by vowing to move the embassy, and he seems determined to make good on his word.

Mr. Trump spent November 05 morning explaining the policy change in telephone calls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel; Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president; and to Arab leaders who warned him that it would disrupt the peace process, perhaps fatally, and could unleash a new wave of violence across the region.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia told Mr. Trump in their call “Moving the U.S. embassy is a dangerous step that provokes the feelings of Muslims around the world.” Late on Tuesday, Palestinian national and Islamic groups issued a joint statement calling for three days of “popular anger” to protest Mr. Trump’s move, beginning on Wednesday throughout the Palestinian territories and in demonstrations at United States embassies and consulates around the world.

Fearing attacks, the American consulate in Jerusalem barred employees and family members from going to the Old City or the West Bank, while the State Department urged embassies around the world to tighten their security.

Jerusalem is one of the world’s most fiercely contested swaths of real estate, with both sides disputing each other’s claims. West Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government, but the Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and most of the world considers it occupied territory. Jerusalem’s Old City has the third-holiest mosque in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism, making the city’s status a sensitive issue for Muslims and Jews worldwide alike.

Mr. Trump’s decision drew applause from some in Israel and the United States, even if Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli government were studiously silent in advance of the president’s speech.Amos Yadlin, executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies said, “The U.S. recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a positive and important step, particularly amid Palestinian efforts to undermine the historic ties between the Jewish nation and the City of David.” Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said, “It is high time to move the embassy to Jerusalem.” He added, “Not moving it to Jerusalem for 22 years has not brought us closer to peace.”

White House officials said Mr. Trump remained committed to what he has called the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. The decision, they said, was “recognition of current and historic reality.” They said it could hasten, rather than impede, peace negotiations by removing a source of ambiguity from the American position.

Mr. Trump, officials said, would make clear that the United States is not taking a position on whether, or how, Jerusalem is divided between Israel and the Palestinians. He will also not take a position on a disputed area of the Old City, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, which has been a flash point for tensions. But even with those caveats, Mr. Trump’s decision seems likely to disrupt, if not dissolve, the peace effort. Administration officials said they expected the Palestinians to walk away from the process, at least for now. The White House is girding itself for an eruption of violence, coordinating plans with several agencies to protect American citizens abroad.

To some extent, Mr. Trump’s willingness to take such a risk underscores how little progress his peace negotiators — led by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — have made. Mr. Trump’s pledge was extremely popular with evangelicals and pro-Israel backers, including the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who donated $25 million to a political action committee supporting Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Mr. Adelson expressed anger when Mr. Trump signed the waiver in June to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.

Reaction to Mr. Trump’s move in the Arab world was swift and negative, even from normally friendly leaders. King Abdullah II of Jordan strongly cautioned against the move, “stressing that Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world,” according to a statement from the royal palace in Amman. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is the custodian of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. “King Abdullah stressed that the adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East, and will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process and fuel the feelings of Muslims and Christians,” the statement said.

Few details of the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Abbas were released, but a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization said the call had given shape to the worst fears of Palestinians. “It’s very serious,” said the P.L.O. spokesman, Xavier Abu Eid. “Things look very bad.” The Palestinian news agency, WAFA, quoted Mr. Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as saying that Mr. Abbas will continue his contacts with world leaders to prevent such “unacceptable action.” King Abdullah also spoke with Mr. Abbas, assuring him of Jordan’s support for the Palestinians “in preserving their historic rights in Jerusalem and the need to work together to confront the consequences of this decision.” Mr. Trump, officials said, assured Mr. Abbas that the administration would protect Palestinian interests in any peace negotiation with Israel. He also invited the Palestinian leader to visit him in Washington for further consultations. Mr. Abbas said he could not come for a while.

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The only leader from the pre-Independence era who continues to inspire millions, has become an icon of social revolt and is being discovered by more and more Indians across castes and religions is Babasaheb Ambedkar. As the country observed his 61st death anniversary on December 6, it is important to look at his core insights that were distilled in the Indian Constitution amidst the growing melee over mythology, legends, history and belief.

Many Indians believe in a single narrative fed to them by conservatives about India’s past and juxtapose it with the advent of foreign culture and hostile events. It was Ambedkar who wrote in Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India that long before the arrival of Islamic invaders and Christian explorers and missionaries, two parallel schools of thought existed in India.

The dominant one was the Vedic school, which believed in “divide and rule” by stratifying society into four tiers. The largest population was of the Shudras (modern day Other Backward Classes), divinely ordained to serve the upper three ranks. There were broken men living outside villages as “untouchables”, tribals living in hills and nomadic tribes. Half of the population — of females — was deprived of individual liberty.

The other school of thought that intermittently ran parallel to the Vedic tradition — like the Charvaka school and the worldview of the Buddha — was egalitarian. This ideology negated the Vedas and its structure. It peaked when emperor Ashoka implemented the Buddhist philosophy which emphasised not just on a welfare state for humans, but for animals and the ecology as well. This did not last long, as the Brahminical school, armed with powerful emotional instruments, managed to keep its flock together by promoting rituals, beliefs and ensuring the hegemony of Brahmins assisted by Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. According to Ambedkar, the worship of cow and vegetarianism stemmed out of a strategy to demonise Buddhists, who were ultimately branded “untouchables”. Ambedkar called Buddhism a revolution which turned the wheel of progress for all, not just the privileged minority of upper castes.

The arrival of foreigners and their missionaries radically changed the socio-economic, political and religious scenario. The impoverished and oppression-ridden Indian society was conducive to conversions. Besides, the political ambitions of warrior-kings made them seek the help of foreign invaders to settle scores with their domestic rivals. Meanwhile, the Brahmin orthodoxy continued to monopolise learning and controlling the minds of the masses. They interpreted hostilities in terms of the binaries of Hindu versus Muslim, Hindu versus Christian, etc, despite the fact that Hindu kings were assisted by Muslim warriors and advisers and vice versa.

After Independence, the nation builders, who were faced with the challenge of integrating not just hostile princely states, but binding people of different castes, religions and languages, turned to the Buddhist philosophy. The Constitution incorporated justice, liberty, equality and fraternity at its core. Its chief architect, Ambedkar, went a step further and converted to Buddhism in 1956. Among the constitutional values, fraternity is yet to manifest, as a majority of Indians fail to transcend narrow mental barriers, often becoming hostile in order to preserve privileges of caste, gender, religion, language etc. Most of them still equate Indian history only with the Vedic narrative.The universalisation of education and the quota for OBCs (subject to economic backwardness) is making more Indians discover Ambedkar and identify with the parallel narrative. The most glaring example of how the two ancient schools of thought function is the manner in which Mahatma Gandhi’s detractors dealt with him. When Gandhiji criticised some points in Annihilation of Caste, Ambedkar incorporated them in the next edition of his book with a point-wise rebuttal. When some Hindu fanatics had issues with Gandhiji, Nathuram Godse killed him.

The egalitarian narrative can save the country from the fanatics of different religions who make a hue and cry over “hurt sentiments” at the drop of a hat. The question is: How long are we going to stoop to the hyper-sensitivity of ill-informed people, misguided by the shroud political and religious interests?

The writer is a senior journalist based in Mumbai

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