Unionists have broadly welcomed Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – with Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party both firmly opposing the US President’s decision.
But the move has drawn strongly contrasting views even within the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, an advocacy group founded by the DUP in 2014.
Mr Trump’s ground breaking announcement has sparked primarily condemnation from the international community and media – including the UK and Republic of Ireland – but has been welcomed by Israel itself.
Unionists traditionally identify with the besieged, biblically symbolic state of Israel, all the more so with the Israeli President from 1983-93, Chaim Herzog, having been born in Belfast. In contrast, nationalists likewise empathise with what they see as the oppressed Palestinians; Sinn President Gerry Adams urging Trump to reverse his decision and calling on Dublin to formally recognise a Palestinian state. Similarly, the Alliance Party branded the US move “counterproductive”.
But North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley, who has met Mr Trump almost a dozen times, most recently on St Patrick’s Day, praised the US move. “I believe that the decision to recognise Jerusalem official by the USA administration is making good on a promise many have made, paid lip service to but never actually delivered upon,” he told the News Letter. “The president of the USA when he campaigned for office made this promise. No one should be surprised by him fulfilling his word. Yes some will be annoyed at it but straight talking and clear actions often cause a reaction.
“I wish the state of Israel well. It knows it has many supporters across the UK and the Israeli people have suffered enough abuse over the years. Maybe this action by the president will spark a renewed and concentrated effort to achieve a settlement that so many people pray for.”
Steven Jaffe, co-chair of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel (NIFI), said the move simply recognised the situation on the ground. “The most remarkable aspect of the President’s announcement is so many people think its remarkable,” he told the News Letter.
“I was in Jerusalem the day of President Trump’s announcement. I visited the Western Wall, evidence of the Jewish people’s connection to the city since Biblical times.
“I passed Israel’s parliament, supreme Court and civil service headquarters all based in Jerusalem. The city has been Israel’s capital since the state’s formation and like many friends of Israel around the world, I welcome President Trump’s recognition of that long-standing fact.”
But another NIFI member, Shoshana Appleton, firmly opposed it. She was born in Israel but came to live in Belfast over 50 years ago.
“Well I don’t think he [Trump] is being helpful,” she told BBC Talkback. “He is giving the Palestinians another reason for an intifada, another war of with lots of Israeli blood... It is not going to solve anything, it is just going to cost lives.”
Most ordinary Israelis and Palestinians want to live in peace, she said, but Palestinian leaders gets international funding for their community and instead pour it into “hatred against Israel”, using their own people as “canon fodder”.
TUV leader Jim Allister, however, argued that it was strictly a matter between Israel and the US. “The choice of any nation’s capital is a matter for that nation, not the UN or any other international body,” he told the News Letter.
“Jerusalem, which has historically always been linked to the Jewish people, is the current seat of the Israeli Government and I don’t see that reality changing. Similarly, the decision of where the US Embassy is placed is a matter solely for the United States and not something Her Majesty’s Government should seek to meddle in.
“In fact, I believe they would do well to take a leaf out of President Trump’s book when it comes to the Brexit negotiations. Sovereign nations make their own decisions. They do not permit others to make them for them.”
But Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, who was barred from entering Gaza by Israel in 2014, described the US move as “a flagrant breach” of the international consensus around a two state solution.
Speaking in the Dail, he said: “Taoiseach, in keeping with the Oireachtas decision three years ago will the government agree to formally recognise the state of Palestine? Will it also move to upgrade the Palestinian Mission to that of a full Embassy?”
Similarly, the Alliance Party said it supports a two-state solution in line with UN policy.
“This unilateral action by the Trump administration is prejudicial and therefore entirely counterproductive to resolving the conflict in the Middle East,” it said.