Top PLO Official: Trump Will Sow an Ethnic Conflict if He Declares Jerusalem to Be Israel's Capital

PLO Executive Committee chair Saeb Erekat says move would 'promote international anarchy and disrespect for global institutions and law' but it 'will also be disqualifying itself to play any role in any peace initiative'

File photo: Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, speaks during a press conference
File photo: Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, speaks during a press conference Amr Nabil/AP

Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee and a former chief Palestinian negotiator, launched a diplomatic attack on the White House ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's Wednesday speech in which he is reportedly expected to declare Jerusalem to be Israel's capital.

Erekat stressed in an official statement released Sunday that, should the U.S. make such a decision regarding the disputed city and define it as the capital of the Jewish state, it would make itself unfit for brokering negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinian official charged that American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital would create a rift between the U.S. and other powers currently attempting to facilitate an agreement.

He also noted that even if Trump decides to declare Jerusalem to be exclusively Israeli, it would not change the legal status of the city protected by international law.

Erekat further stated that any country that takes a stance that is opposed to international law and what he deemed to be the basic national rights of the Palestinian people, does not deserve to be part of the international establishment or any possible political process.

"The United States [by potentially taking this step] is causing a political and legal scandal, because this irresponsible behavior supports and directly encourages the colonialist occupation, whose purpose is to trigger wars and to sow an ethnic and religious conflict, in a manner that does not befit the national interests of the American people," an Erekat spokesman quoted the Palestinian negotiator as saying on Sunday. 

Erekat threatened that if the U.S. actively decides to ignore international law and if other world powers allow Washington to tamper with international law, the U.S. will be forced to bear the political, legal and moral responsibility for international anarchy and "will also be disqualifying itself to play any role in any initiative toward achieving a just and lasting peace."

"If such a decision is announced, it will contribute to further destabilization of the region and will discourage many of those who still believe that a peaceful solution is achievable to end over 50 years of Israeli occupation, 70 years of exile and decades of systematic violations of Palestinian national and human rights," he stated.

The PLO official spoke about the Palestinian connection to Jerusalem, saying that the city did not have an equivocal, religious and historical status because it is part of a historical, cultural and human process that has been going on for thousands of years.

The Palestinian presence in the city and the national Palestinian identity have been an integral part of that process, he added.

Recognizing Jerusalem, he continued, had nothing to do with religion. It is instead related to the principles of international law which prohibits forceful land theft. This principle, Erekat emphasized, is not open for debate or interpretation.

"The international law is meant to limit countries' ability to use their force," Erekat said. "Including religion in the conflict and turning it into a religious conflict will evoke [difficult] feelings in Christians and Muslims and enflame the whole region."

"The elements who are acting to do that are the ones who will bear the results and repercussions," he heeded.

Erekat called on the United Nations, European Union, Russia, China and other entities to openly declare their stance on the issue.

He also called for the U.S. to commit to the previous stance of former American administrations, to act to end the occupation and to acknowledge a Palestinian state whose capital would be Jerusalem.

The former Palestinian negotiator noted that the Palestinian leadership was holding intense talks with world powers and has asked to hold an emergency meeting in order to officially declare its future steps, in accordance with Arab countries and the Muslim world.

"Jerusalem is a significant symbol of our region and its fate is key to any efforts leading to a peaceful and stable region," he concluded.

Ramallah is already preparing for the days following Trump's expected announcement, and according to senior officials close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the PA is ready to set out on a political and diplomatic campaign.

The officials have said that the PA is prepared, if necessary, to sever its ties to the White House.

Sources in Ramallah emphasized that the PA will not make a decision that would call for violence or dissemble the authority, but they did not rule out the possibility of an escalating local opposition that could spread from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip and to other Arab countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.