Exclusive Rights for Jerusalem As a Threat to the Peace Process in the Middle East
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia)
List of speakers

On February 6, 2018, the Valdai Discussion Club held an expert discussion, titled " The Future of Jerusalem and Its Role in Solving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict". The participants discussed the fate of the peace process in Palestine after the US President Donald Trump’s statement about the recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel.

The speakers unanimously noted, that this decision had destructive consequences for the peace process, which, despite the difficulties, is going on for almost a quarter of century. Meir Kraus, Senior Research Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, said, that the declaration on the status of Jerusalem did not help the two sides to sit at the negotiating table again.

Trump's statement caused the resentment of the Palestinians. As Kraus noted, for the Palestinians it meant a repetition of traumatic experience with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, when the British government expressed support for the creation of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration is often characterized as the starting point of the Arab-Israeli conflict and, according to the Israeli expert, Trump's statement is similar to it, because it does not exactly mention Palestinians as if they are not party of the conflict.

Trump's decision put into question the US mediating role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. According to Tatyana Nosenko, Chief Research Fellow, Department of Israel, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, "it turned out to be detrimental for the Americans themselves, because the Palestinians refuse to recognize the United States as an honest and impartial mediator." Moreover, it has caused tensions in relations between the US and its Arab allies.

On February 1, 2018, a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Arab States was held in Cairo, where the Trump's decision was discussed. According to Valdai Club expert Tarek Heggy, who commented on this event in an interview with www.valdaiclub.com, it revealed the differences between Egypt, who led a campaign in the United Nations to condemn the initiative of the American president, and countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. "The foreign ministers of the Arab countries have sought a unified position, but unfortunately, in general their actions are not correct," Heggy said. - Today there are very few countries in the world that can exert pressure on the White House. I'm talking about Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but these countries will never exert such pressure." This negatively affects the US-Egyptian alliance, he said, stressing that a number of Arab countries, including Egypt, want Russia to play a more significant role in the Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement.

The reason that Jerusalem issue causes such contradictions is connected with its sacred status. As Tatyana Nosenko noted, this is a symbolic city, the struggle for Jerusalem has much deeper historical roots. Therefore, any attempts to declare exclusive rights for Jerusalem will always cause fierce resistance. According to Kraus, the way to solve this problem is the refusal of both sides to claim exclusive rights. Its practical implementation could be the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine. According to Abdel Hafiz Nofal, ambassador of the State of Palestine in Russia, who took part at the discussion, the Palestinians believe that Jerusalem can "remain an open city with two municipalities," and value the position of Russia, which views East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state, and West Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.