How obscenely ironic. Embassies traditionally symbolize diplomacy and peace. The opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem was occasioned by a grotesque baptism of murder of Palestinians, heralding wider war in the Middle East.
Not only that, but on the very anniversary of one of the most shameful episodes of ethnic cleansing and dispossession over the past century – the 1948 Nakba or Catastrophe for Palestinians – the US government is brazenly siding with the heirs of that historic violence, the Israeli state.
Trump’s wholesale abandonment of any shame in endorsing Israeli violations against Arab historic rights is an incitement to regional conflagration.
It’s hard to express the horror. Israeli snipers shooting unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, while some 100 kilometers away in Jerusalem, US dignitaries and evangelical pastors were blessing the opening of Washington’s new embassy as ‘God’s work’.
US President Donald Trump’s policy in the Middle East, if you could call it “policy”, has descended into absolute lunacy. No wonder, most European states stayed away from the US reception for unveiling its new diplomatic center.
Trump’s reckless disregard for Palestinian-Israeli peace is plunging the region into a blood bath. This week’s incendiary snub to Palestinians and the wider Arab region followed his tearing up of US obligations to the Iran nuclear accord. That violation of an international treaty has left diplomats from Europe, Russia, China and Iran scrambling to salvage a deal, which if it falls apart will unleash more instability and even war in the Middle East.
When Trump announced in December the moving of his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem it was roundly rebuked at the United Nations. The move violates decades of international consensus that Jerusalem should be a shared capital between Palestinians and Israelis pending the outcome of peace negotiations.
Trump said his decision was merely a “reflection of reality“. Cynically, it marks US acquiescence to illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
To be fair, Washington’s decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem was made over 20 years ago in 1995. Presidents Clinton, GW Bush and Obama opted to delay the actual move, claiming that such a move depended on progress in peace talks. Trump has now put into action legislation that was already on the books.
But what his declaration signifies is the jettisoning of any pretense by the US of being an “honest broker” between Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinian leaders now refuse to even engage with US officials, such is their disgust.
Paradoxically, Trump is helping to clarify the situation. The US is openly backing Israeli conquest of Palestinian territory and oppression of Palestinians. Washington is now transparently complicit in criminal Israeli policy rather than hiding behind a facade of mediation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump this week for “making Israel great again“. With typical chutzpah, Netanyahu urged other nations to follow suit, absurdly claiming that by relocating their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem they would facilitate peace.
The perverse logic, as proven already by the US policy, is that any chance of peace between Palestinians and Israelis is being utterly destroyed.
The hellish conditions that Palestinians are subjected to under relentless Israeli occupation are driving them to the desperate act of lining up in their thousands under the fire of Israeli snipers.
Over the past six weeks since Gaza’s population began the “Great Return March” some 50 unarmed protesters have been murdered by Israeli live fire. On the day of the US Embassy opening, dozens of more civilians were shot dead, within hours of the Jerusalem ceremony.
Israeli commanders have openly admitted that a shoot-to-kill tactic is being used whereby soldiers are even targeting children who dare to approach a separation barrier on Gaza’s eastern border with Israeli-held territory.
The Gaza protests were organized by ordinary Palestinians to highlight their desperate plea against a barbaric occupation and prevention of residents returning to their historic homes, including in Jerusalem. Some 70 per cent of Gaza’s population are descended from refugees who were displaced by Israeli settlers in the 1948 pogroms and later in the 1967 War.
Under Israeli siege, which the UN has described as illegal, Gazans are prevented from moving out of the coastal strip. Some two million people – half of whom are under 18 years old – subsist in unlivable conditions. Over 90 per cent of Gaza’s water supply is contaminated, electricity is available for only a few hours per day, fisherman are prevented from going beyond a few miles from the shore where human sewage runs directly into the sea.
As American historian Norman Finkelstein points out, Gaza is being tormented by military occupation, an inhuman blockade, massacres conducted with impunity by Israeli military, and children being poisoned. It is this context of genocide in which the recent protests are taking place.
Those protests were organized to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declared foundation on May 14, 1948. The next day, May 15, is what the Palestinians and many supporters around the world prefer to focus on – the Catastrophe.
Trump’s decision to open the US Embassy in Jerusalem this week could not be more provocative and criminally insane.
It truly is a shockingly callous display of US support for seven decades of barbaric oppression against Palestinians and the wider Arab region.
Jerusalem is seen as a holy site for Muslims and Christians. Washington’s acquiescing to Israel’s declaration of the city as “undivided capital” of the Jewish Israeli state is an outrageous blow to hundreds of millions of people from other faiths. As well as a vandalistic swipe at world opinion based on ordinary principles of justice, morality and compassion towards the long-suffering Palestinian people.
Europe bears a heavy responsibility for the plight of Palestinians. After Hamas won the parliamentary elections in 2006, the EU and the US both moved to sanction the new Hamas government owing to its refusal to recognize the state of Israel. The Israeli siege on Gaza has thus been perpetrated with the complicity of the EU and the US, albeit the latter appearing more brazenly complicit under Trump.
European governments may be discomfited by Trump’s strident contempt for Palestinian rights and international law. But they have contributed to the present deterioration in the Middle East by pandering towards Washington’s policies of sponsoring Israeli occupation, as well as sponsoring reactionary Arab client regimes like Saudi Arabia, and fomenting illegal wars and regime-change operations.
Trump’s impetuousness and ignorance – no doubt encouraged by multi-million-dollar donations from rich Jewish Americans like Sheldon Adelson – has set the US on a collision course with the Arab masses from his insolent indifference to their rights. As if that could not be any more combustible, Trump is pushing the same Israeli-Saudi despot agenda of hostility towards Iran, as evinced by the nuclear accord sabotage.
Europe has for too long tied itself to the shipwreck that is US policy in the Middle East. Surely, European governments must realize by now that if explosive violence and conflict is to be avoided in the Middle East, they must abandon the US shipwreck and begin asserting an independent foreign policy.
A genuine peace process advocating for long-neglected Palestinian rights, and repudiating US attempts to collapse the Iran nuclear accord are two immediate matters for the Europeans to claw back some sanity and respect – before it’s too late.