Trump’s Jerusalem plan may trigger regional clashes

By Wang Jin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/28 18:33:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US President Donald Trump's declaration earlier this month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital triggered a great uproar around the world. As Jerusalem is an important shrine central to the three major religions of the world, Trump's decision inflamed the Islamic world. On the one hand, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held an emergency meeting in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, declaring East Jerusalem the capital of the state of Palestine, a move to reject Trump's declaration. On the other, the UN convened an emergency meeting to condemn the stance of the US.

The positions of the US and Israel on the Jerusalem issue stand in stark contrast to that of the Islamic world and the Arab world. The antagonism between the West and the Islamic world is becoming increasingly obvious. Trump's decision was strongly opposed from within the Islamic world, especially radical Islamic groups. Al Qaeda condemned Trump's declaration and called on militants to close ranks to support Palestinians. It seems that religious conflicts may break out any moment, and complete antagonism between the West and the Islamic world seems imminent.

Although the US and the Islamic world hold entirely different opinions on the Jerusalem issue, that should not mean that religious conflict or a so-called clash of civilizations is imminent. First, Trump's decision does not represent the opinion of the entire West nor can it represent the entire Christian world as leaders from French President Emmanuel Macron to Russian President Vladimir Putin disapproved of Trump's behavior.

Second, there is divergence of opinion on the Palestinian issue within the Islamic world. Even when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a speech at the OIC meeting, he did not forget to criticize the concept of "moderate Islam" recently proposed by Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, as "splitting the Islamic world." And on the issue of how to handle the relations with the US and Israel, there are two different voices. One is the relatively moderate voice represented by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and another is the relatively tough voice represented by Turkey and Iran.

Third, as countries of the Islamic world face different domestic problems, the Jerusalem issue is merely a "morality issue" for them, whether Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Egypt needs to consider how to rejuvenate its domestic economy and crack down on extremist groups. Saudi Arabia is thinking about how to promote economic restructuring to achieve Vision 2030. Turkey is considering how to complete its transition from a parliamentary to a presidential system and consolidate the ruling status of the Justice and Development Party. Iran is more concerned about the nuclear deal and its domestic economic development.

Leaders of Islamic countries can enhance their legitimacy through clarifying their position on the issue of Jerusalem, but it is null and void at solving their problems.

Despite their tough positions on the Jerusalem issue, countries in the Islamic world are reluctant to stand at the forefront of confrontation with the US and Israel. Turkey, Jordan and Egypt still retain diplomatic relations with Israel and are not willing to completely confront Israel and the US.

We need to maintain vigilance for all kinds of oppositional emotions and rhetoric on the Jerusalem issue. From the September 11 attacks to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars launched by the US, from Trump's America First policy to his introduction of a Muslim ban, we can see that Islamic extremism is expanding its global clout.

Al Qaeda and its branches have been expanding in Afghanistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and Syria. The Islamic State extremist militia captured large areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014. An increasingly confrontational Christian-Islamic discourse is constantly inflamed by all kinds of sensitive political events. The clash of civilizations theory may no longer be so incredible.

Although Trump's declaration on the Jerusalem issue has not caused a massive religious clash, it deserves vigilance. After all, religious conflicts and the clash of civilizations largely derive from the identity conflict triggered by such events. When discourse is constantly constructed by antagonistic sentiments, the possibility of a religious conflict may be growing.

The author is a PhD candidate at the School of Political Science, University of Haifa in Israel.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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