Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump won’t be visiting Jerusalem’s Temple Mount anytime soon.
Trump announced Thursday that he was cancelling a planned trip to Israel later this month. The day before, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a terse statement rejecting Trump’s proposal to suspend Muslim travel and immigration to the US.
The most fraught aspect of Trump’s proposed visit was his reported plan to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the holiest place in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam. The site of Jewish ritual sacrifices and two Jewish Temples nearly 2,000 years ago is also where Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven during the Night Journey described in the Quran. For more than 1,300 years, it’s been home to the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The site is still a flash point, and Neri Zilber, a journalist and adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, warned that a Trump visit could “stoke tensions” and “lead to sporadic unrest” in and around Jerusalem’s Old City.
Trump might not be visiting the Temple Mount, but there are plenty of other places that are even more disputed. These locations might not have the world-spanning emotional or spiritual of the Temple Mount, but the conflicts over them have proven to be far deadlier.
If Trump still wants to project strength and prove his willingness to leap into the world’s trouble spots, here are three places he could visit.
Badme, Eritrea/Ethiopia. The world’s last large-scale major conventional war between two uniformed national militaries was fought between Eritrea and Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000, a conflict which killed between 70,000 and 120,000 people. The war — which was technically the result of a number of unresolved political, economic, and territorial issues stemming from Eritrea’s 1992 independence from Ethiopia, but was actually more of a fratricidal conflict over lingering questions of each state’s legitimacy in relation to the other — ended in a stalemate that continues to this day.
Badme’s the reason why. The proximate cause of the still technically ongoing war was an escalation triggered by an outbreak of violence outside of the town in May of 1998. Today, Ethiopia militarily occupies the village of 1,500 people, despite the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s finding that the village belongs to Eritrea.
Badme is of only vague strategic value for Ethiopia, and its continued occupation is difficult to explain on political terms alone.
Whatever the reason for its persistence, the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict has been a festering wound for over a decade. Each country has been accused to attempting to destabilize the other over the course of a now 15-year cold war, and in 2009 Eritrea was placed under UN sanctions over its alleged support of al Shabaab jihadists fighting the Ethiopian military in Somalia.
A Trump visit to Badme probably wouldn’t solve anything. But if he wanted to visit the world’s most controversial piece of real estate, this might be it.
The Ram Jammabhoomi, Ayodhya, India. On December 6, 1992, a mob destroyed the over 300-year old Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, in northeastern India. The mosque was believed to occupy the site of the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama as well as a previous Hindu temple, and had been the cause of occasional inter-communal tensions for the previous 150 years.
The mosque’s destruction is now considered one of the defining moments in modern Indian history, and set off a chain reaction of violence in which over 2,000 people were killed. Today, the mosque has been replaced by a Hindu temple, even though the question of the site’s status has been adjudicated in Indian courts for the better part of the past two decades.
Visiting the shrine might unsettle India’s 138 million Muslims. But it would also deepen Trump’s growing anti-Muslim reputation, something he might actually welcome at this point in his campaign.
Stepanakert, capital of Ngarno-Karabakh, which is technically Azerbaijan. Over 30,000 people were killed in the 1988-1994 Ngarano-Karabakh war, which began when ethnic Armenian secessionists attempted to break away from the Soviet republic and then independent state of Azerbaijan. The war ended with Azerbaijan losing control of the region, and Ngarno-Karabakh becoming an unrecognised independent republic. Although Armenia doesn’t recognise Ngarno-Karabakh’s independence, it is the only country that borders the territory, and control over the self-declared country is maintained with the help of the Armenian military.
The conflict has ramifications throughout northeastern Europe, and is one of the reasons for the continued closure of the Turkish-Armenian border. The region, which accounts for some one-fifth of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognised territory, remains on a hair-trigger: Dozens of people have been killed in fighting along the territory’s border with Azerbaijan in 2015, the most since the end of the war over 20 years earlier.
A Trump visit to the republic’s capital of Stepanakert is unlikely to hasten a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and might be read as an endorsement of a country whose existence nearly the entire world opposes. But Trump’s appeal derives partly from his rejection of many of the accepted norms of American politics. A defiant visit to Stepanakert would bolster Trump’s reputation for going his own way — regardless of what the prevailing standards of US politics or international diplomacy would seem to dictate.
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