From Trump to Jerusalem: The year that was 2017

Year defined by the breaking of age-old conventions ends with uncertainty over fallout of Trump’s Jerusalem move.

As the year 2017 draws to a close, few following the events of the past 12 months would wager with certainty on how the coming year will unfold.

It was a year defined by unpredictability and the breaking of long-established convention, most frequently in the form of the 45th US president, Donald Trump.

The crowds at the Republican leader’s inauguration had barely dispersed before he set about forcing through the populist policies that saw him beat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton just two months prior. 

First on the agenda was the move to ban visitors from seven majority-Muslim states from entering the US.

The order, which was introduced within a week of Trump taking office, prompted a huge outpouring of solidarity with those affected and large protests in the US and across the world.

Federal judges moved quickly to strike down the ban as unconstitutional, forcing the US president to water down the restrictions but after several rounds of back and forth, the US Supreme Court eventually allowed a modified version of the original ban to be implemented, pending a final ruling.

Domestic policies were not the only area in which Trump left his mark.

In his first year in charge, Trump has refused to re-certify Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the landmark deal between world powers and Tehran to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

Close US allies, such as the UK and France, warned against any action that would threaten the deal, but the US president chose not to listen.

Under Trump, tensions have also worsened on the Korean Peninsula, as a war of words between the US leader and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un threatens to spill over into armed conflict between two nuclear-armed states.

GCC rifts

To be sure, the US is not the only country breaking age-old diplomatic convention, particularly in the Middle East.

The fate of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) remains in the balance after three of its members, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, along with Egypt, broke off diplomatic ties with Qatar and launched a blockade of the country, which continues to this day.

The quartet accuses Doha of cosying up to Tehran and supporting “terrorists”, accusations Qatar vehemently denies.

Since the accession of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Riyadh has taken on an increasingly hawkish foreign policy, which has seen an intensification of the war in Yemen and the adoption of a hard line against its regional rival, Iran.

The war in Yemen threatens to bring about famine, which could put millions at risk of starvation and shows little sign of ending soon.

When Yemen’s overthrown president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, decided to switch over to the Saudi side and break his alliance with Houthi rebels, he was quickly captured and executed.

At home,  Mohammed bin Salman announced the end of Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving, promised a campaign of social and economic liberalisation, and in one fell swoop locked up dozens of the country’s elite, including senior members of the royal family, on corruption charges.

Outside of the Middle East, the breaking down of the old order has been no less dramatic.

In southern Africa, former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s reign finally came to an end after the 93-year-old leader was forced to step down by the army.

In Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, who ruled the country for 22 years, was forced into exile after refusing to accept his loss in presidential elections held in December 2016.

Rohingya exodus

The year also witnessed a dramatic worsening in the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya people, with hundreds of thousands fleeing a government crackdown on the majority-Muslim ethnic group.

The exodus began in August, when Myanmar’s armed forces and their allies launched a military operation ostensibly aimed at Rohingya armed groups.

However, according to the Rohingya themselves, and journalists and aid workers on the ground, the Burmese military was carrying out a campaign against civilians, which involved arbitrary killings, rape, and the setting alight of homes.

The UN has described the situation as “textbook ethnic cleansing”.

Jerusalem decision

While the suffering of the Rohingya has earned a prominent spot on international news agendas, Trump ensured he would dominate towards the year’s end with his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the city.

The decision drew opposition from Palestinians, Arab and Muslim countries, and Western powers.

Tensions played out in the occupied territories as Palestinians turned out for daily protests against the US move.

Internationally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a lead role in forming the Muslim world’s response, by calling for an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). 

That meeting in Istanbul culminated in a declaration recognising East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

Later, Turkey co-wrote a non-binding UN General Assembly motion dismissing the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “null and void”, which 128 UN members voted in favour of and just nine voted against, with 35 abstentions.

France, the UK, and other US allies voted in favour of the motion, earning a rare and indignant public rebuke from Washington.

The US ambassador to the UN said: “The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly …”

Source: Al Jazeera