The last 12 months has seen the geopolitical landscape turned on its head with major diplomatic incidents, high-profile corruption scandals and the destruction of Islamic State’s powerbase sending shockwaves across the globe.
Trump throws Jerusalem grenade into Israel-Palestine peace process
US President Donald Trump sent shockwaves across the world when he announced the US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there
The US, along with all other nations with diplomatic ties to Israel, has its embassy in Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is not recognized as Israel’s capital by the international community, insisting its status must be worked out between Israel and Palestine during peace negotiations. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as its future capital. Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 war, annexing it from the rest of the West Bank.
Trump’s decision was seen as fulfilling a campaign promise and pleasing both Evangelical Christians and his biggest donor, Sheldon Anderson. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is a supporter of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and Trump has tasked him with making peace in the Middle East.
The move was met with condemnation from other leaders, pitting the US against its allies. Protests erupted across the Palestinian Territories and further afield. At leastnine Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces. In response to Trump’s declaration, Turkey called on other nations to recognize East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital.
The UN Security Council introduced a resolution against the move, for which all members voted, except the US, which used its veto to kill the move. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the rest of the world should be embarrassed and that the US would be “taking names” of those nations which voted against America at a second resolution at the General Assembly on December 21. The Assembly voted 128-9 in favor of declaring any efforts to change the status of Jerusalem “null and void.”
Islamic State becomes homeless
Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) has been the world’s boogeyman for the last four years, inspiring fear through terrorist attacks across Europe and a slick, gruesome propaganda machine broadcast from its bases in Iraq and Syria.
Yet 2017 saw IS lose its ‘state,’ as the group fought a doomed battle on multiple fronts against the Syrian Arab Army, Kurdish forces, Hezbollah and the Iraqi army in a bid to retain its ever-shrinking territory. The group’s stronghold in Mosul in Iraq fell in July, while Syria’s Raqqa fell in October.
The decline was spectacular, given the terrorist group’s dramatic rise that saw it control large pockets of land spanning two countries, including oilfields and refineries at its peak in 2014.
While the group has largely lost its home, the threat is not yet over. IS has vowed to continue to launch attacks from within the West. In Philippines, Egypt or other countries where there is a small IS presence, there remains the danger it will attempt to rebuild.
Although US officials have suggested the majority of the IS fighters were killed in the final battles, a number of militants have managed to escape into Turkey and other neighboring countries.
One only has to look to the Taliban, which has once again become a strong presence in Afghanistan 16 years after its overthrew by the US in 2001.
Qatar kicked out of Gulf family
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain announced a very public anti-Qatar alliance in June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and cutting of ties with the small Gulf state.
Blockades, boycotts and mass evacuations followed as Qatar became a pariah of the Gulf. Diplomats and foreign citizens were told to leave Qatar, which was even booted from the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen. The aggrieved nations issued a list of demands to Qatar in return for ending the crisis, including shutting down the Al Jazeera media organization.
Qatar’s alleged support for Islamist groups is said to include the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Islamic State and Al-Qaeda were also listed by Saudi Arabia as beneficiaries of Qatar’s backing, which came as some surprise, given its own well-documented support and funding of those very groups.
Six months later, Qatar is yet to bow to the demands. The boycott seemingly backfired, with Qatar actually strengthening its alliances with Turkey and Iran, creating new shipping routes with India, Oman and others, and making new trade deals with France and the UK.
The Saudi purge
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has had quite the year, from the continuing siege of Yemen, to handing out robot citizenship and granting Saudi women permission to drive from June 2018.
The prince was also behind a domestic corruption crackdown in November, which saw more than 200 wealthy businessmen and members of the royal family rounded up and reportedly imprisoned inside the Ritz Carlton hotel.
The move was seen by some as a way to consolidate power and eliminate competition before bin Salman ascends the throne as king. The prince’s own wealth, including his recent purchase of a yacht worth an estimated $500 million and the “world’s most expensive home” in France, was not investigated in the corruption crackdown.
Bin Salman continues to exert his influence on the world stage, and is seen to be forging warmer relations with Israel and the US while continuing to increase tensions with Iran. In November, he told the New York Times that Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was “the new Hitler.”
South Korean president deposed, new president wants relationship with North
South Korean Park President Geun-hye was impeached and jailed in March for corruption and embezzlement, which she denies. She was accused of abusing her power and colluding with longtime friend Choi Soon-sil to pressure South Korean companies to pay millions in bribes.
The controversy revealed ties between South Korean politicians and businesses, including Samsung, and sparked weeks of mass protests which resulted in parliament voting to impeach her. Park is also accused of taking $3.7 million in bribes from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) while in office.
A new president, Moon Jae-in was elected in May, securing 41 percent of the vote. The left-leaning former human rights lawyer promised to end corruption and foster a more diplomatic relationship with North Korea. He also said the past hardline policy employed by former leaders had failed. Moon also said in January that South Korea should learn to say “no to America.”
UK election leaves May exposed
UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election in April probably wasn’t her best idea. Although a new general election wasn’t due until 2020, May said the surprise election would put the UK in a better position for Brexit negotiations.
The election saw May struggle in the polls and Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn gain popularity. A hung parliament was the result, which saw the Conservatives lose their parliamentary majority.
May got into bed with the Democratic Unionist Party to secure a supply and demand support from the Northern Ireland party, agreeing to give an additional £1 billion in funding to Northern Ireland. The DUP’s new-found influence made Brexit negotiations more challenging, due to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.