The Straits Times says

Jerusalem remains on the world's mind

Since United States President Donald Trump announced on Dec 6 that the US would move its embassy, eventually, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, much of the world has been dismayed, if not agitated, by the decision. On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly voted 128 to nine, with 35 abstentions, for a resolution demanding effectively that the United States rescind its decision. In Asia, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo have joined the chorus of Muslim leaders slamming the American move. Street protests have been reported in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan, all countries with Muslims in the majority.

In the aftermath of Mr Trump's announcement, it was believed that the world, after pro forma protests, would come to accept the decision. For the moment, the anger is widespread. Even if there has not been too much violence, there is a danger of all this feeding into the sense of victimhood, real or imagined, that many Muslims feel, not to speak of anti-Semitism. As the distinguished Singaporean diplomat Ong Keng Yong has argued in these pages, the rise of Al-Qaeda and many other terror groups can be linked to this conflict in one way or the other.

Middle East politics is set to get more complicated. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has 57 members, has called for all countries to "recognise the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital". Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who hosted that summit, says Turkey intends to open an embassy in East Jerusalem. Only Israel seems to be pleased by the US decision.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and declared the entire city as its capital in 1980. Not even the Israelis can seriously believe that cementing that reality is a practical solution. It has been obvious to everyone, including successive US presidents, that a two-state solution, where Jerusalem, too, is shared, is the only workable one. Mr Trump says that he is for a two-state approach but adds so many riders that he stokes suspicions of being overly partial to Israel.

All this adds up to a recipe for disaster. A permanent peace cannot come without adroit shepherding by the US, Israel's principal backer. By needlessly isolating his nation from much of the world - allies Britain, France, Germany and Japan and friends like Singapore and India voted in the UN against the US - Mr Trump has done the world a severe disfavour. Earlier, China stepped in with offers to broker an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. The way developments are panning out, that might be a proposal worth considering. No one wants to see either Israelis or Arabs pushed closer into the eager arms of the religious or political right wing. A lasting peace must remain the goal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2017, with the headline 'Jerusalem remains on the world's mind'. Print Edition | Subscribe