US President Donald Trump makes one of the most protracted and painful world problems sound like he’s selling a condo between two parties. With cheesy easiness, he bluffs everybody gets a “great deal.”
“We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.” Thus spoke Trump this week in announcing US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.
The American property tycoon-turned-politician has shown again this week his vast ignorance of international relations. The trouble is that Trump’s rank foolishness risks inflaming the already combustible Middle East region and beyond.
Arab nations, including some close American allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are furious at what they see as a historic “betrayal.” For Arabs and Muslims, Jerusalem – or at least the eastern half of the “old city” – is regarded as the spiritual capital of a future Palestinian state.
The ancient city is home to Muslims, Christians, and Jews, containing three unique religious sites. The eastern half of the city, which is legally Palestinian territory but under military occupation by Israel since the 1967 Six Day War, is where the ancient religious sites are located. Trump’s unilateral designation of Jerusalem as the Jewish capital is therefore as reckless as it is provocative.
In defiance of near-unanimous opposition from around the world, President Trump went ahead this week to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The announcement violates international law which stipulates that the city is a contested matter to be resolved through peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
While Trump claims the US is still supportive of peace talks for a “lasting settlement” what his declaration this week does, in effect, is settle the seven-decade-old dispute on the side of Israel.
“We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved,” said the president.
But that’s contradicted by Washington now recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Nevertheless, if the political tinderbox region does not explode with violence over Trump’s latest declaration, one good thing to come from this debacle is this: at long last, the so-called “peace process” can be seen for what it is – a charade, in which Washington has posed as an “honest broker” overseeing the relentless suppression of Palestinian rights.
“My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” intoned the American president.
Note how Trump refers to the conflict between “Israel and the Palestinians.” One of the parties is a state – “Israel” – while the other party is made to sound like a group of people – “the Palestinians” – who must somehow be accommodated around the priorities of the former.
Trump’s sonorous claim of “a new approach” is nothing but the same old path that American administrations have trodden for the past seven decades since 1948, when the Israeli state was established by acts of violence against Palestinians – Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, living in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine.
That path has been one of pandering to the aggressive expansion of the Israeli state – in spite of numerous United Nations resolutions condemning the annexation of Palestinian territory.
For the past 25 years, since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian counterpart Yasser Arafat, the US has served as self-appointed mediator.
But the purported peace process has yielded little for the Palestinians toward their aspiration of a final sovereign state with East Jerusalem as their internationally recognized capital. The American-brokered peace process is all process and no peace. That process is one of continual annexation of Palestinian land through the building of Israeli settlements – in flagrant violation of international laws.
Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu – who was the only world leader to welcome the Trump’s announcement this week – declares, along with his right-wing cabinet that Jerusalem is the “eternal Jewish capital.” It is obvious that for Netanyahu’s government there is no intention to engage in peace negotiations with Palestinians to reach a final status of two states.
For Israeli hardliners, there is no peace process – despite lip service. There is only a process of relentless dispossession of Palestinians, which first began in 1948.
American governments have long been complicit in this charade of dispossession regardless of pious pretensions of being an “honest broker.” Washington has bankrolled the state of Israel with $3 billion every year in military aid; has turned a blind eye to every violation under international law by Israel; and offers unwavering support for Israeli transgressions through the American veto at the United Nations Security Council.
Trump’s is not offering a “new approach.” He is instead ramping up a very old policy of American government indulging Israeli intransigence.
Why now? Part of Trump’s announcement this week from the White House – with a Christmas Tree background – was a gift. A gift to his evangelical Christian voter-base represented by Vice President Mike Pence looking on as Trump heralded the good tidings. For these supporters, Jerusalem is a Messianic issue. Another gift was to the right-wing pro-Israeli lobby in Washington, like billionaire Jewish businessman Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly donated $25 million to Trump’s presidential campaign. (So much for alleged Russian influence!)
When Trump emphasized, “I am delivering,” he sounded like he was playing Santa Claus for his backers.
But Trump’s foray this week is more like a bull in a china shop. His reckless ignorance will unleash huge repercussions of which he has very little awareness. The region is presently racked by war, with missiles flying across borders. Israeli aggression is already provoking Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. Trump’s fatuous gift-bearing could unleash a regional Intifada that tears apart America’s Israeli ally.
There are also dangers for America’s Arab allies. Elite rulers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain, among others, are angry at Trump partly out of fear that the popular rage he is inciting across the region over his Jerusalem designation may end up sweeping these autocratic American clients from power.
Paradoxically, Trump’s rash intervention this week is potentially a good thing. Inadvertently, it allows for a more accurate, realistic framework in which to bring about a peaceful settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This conflict is at the root of the region’s never-ending tensions.
The United States is no longer mistaken as a neutral mediator. Its role as a self-appointed honest broker is over.
What’s needed now is an international, multilateral forum in which Palestinians are at last afforded real equality under international law. The Palestinian sovereign right for national status must be advocated in the context of an illegal occupation by Israeli forces. The full sanction of international law must be applied against Israeli transgressions going back to at least the 1967 war.
American chicanery, as illustrated again this week by Trump, is part of the problem. It can never be part of the solution, and it is good that Washington’s pretense is now discarded.
By Finian Cunningham