Trump-Mideast: Much More than a ‘Kiss of Death’ to Palestinians

By  Baher Kamal*

ROME, Dec 7 2017 (IPS) - US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital does not represent only a ‘kiss of death’ to the two-State solution, but also a strong blow in the face of 57 Muslim countries, let alone igniting fire in this easily inflammable region, providing more false arguments to criminal terrorist groups to escalate their brutal attacks, in addition to taking a step further in Washington’s new conflict with Iran and the ‘restructuring’ of the Middle East.

These are the main conclusions both Middle East analysts and international policy experts reached as soon as Trump announced on 6 December 2017 his decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus recognising as capital of Israel this Holy City, home to essential shrines of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The ‘Old City’ of Jerusalem has been steadily considered by Palestinians to become the capital of their future State, should all international agreements –including the United Nations General Assembly—implement their commitment for the two-State solution, one Israeli and one Palestinian.

Israeli captured Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and since then has gradually annexed against all international protests and non-recognition. The ‘Old City’ in Jerusalem hosts Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.

Palestinian leaders have already warned that Trump’s move could have dangerous consequences, calling for massive popular mobilisations that are feared to lead to new bloodshed in the occupied West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

“This is much more than a kiss of death to the longstanding international consensus to establish two-States as the sole feasible solution,” a former Egyptian high-ranking military official told IPS under condition of anonymity.

“[Trump’s] decision will add more dangerous fuel to the current rekindled flame over hegemony dispute between Shias lead by Iran and Sunnis lead by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, which fire President Trump has now contributed to strongly blow on.”

According to the retired high military official who participated in secret regional negotiations over the Middle East conflict, “The US has visibly shown its strategy to support the Sunni States in the Arab Gulf… Just see president Trump’s new weapons sale deal –worth 100 billion dollars—with the Saudi regime, and its tacit support –and even physical involvement—in the ongoing genocidal war against Yemen.”

Gulf Sunni Arab countries are home to a high percentage of Shias who have been systematically ruled by Sunni regimes. In some of them, like Bahrain, it is estimated that the Shias represent up to 60 per cent of the total population in spite of which they are considered minorities.

Oil, that “Black Gold”

The Egyptian analyst would not exclude a new armed conflict between the Gulf Arab Sunni states and Shia Iran. Such an armed conflict would break the already fragile stability in the region, leading to a strong rise in oil prices.

“This eventually would clearly benefit the US fossil energy sector, would weaken the oil-dependent European economies, let alone striking a strong blow to the also foreign oil-dependent China.”

Hatred, Terrorism

Another immediate, dangerous consequence of President Trump’s decision is a feared new wave of terrorist attacks against US, Israel and Western interests worldwide.

In fact, the Palestinian radical movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, has already urged Arabs and Muslims worldwide to “undermine U.S. interests in the region” and to “shun Israel.”

On this, Lebanese Muslim Shia cleric A. Khalil, expressed to IPS his “deep fear that the [Trump’s] decision will help criminal terrorist groups, falsely acting in the name of Islam, to exploit the furious anger of lay people against the US-led aggression against Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen… to commit more and more brutal, inhumane attacks.”

This will tragically and dangerously unleash a new wave of hatred and Islamophobia that will only add fuel to popular anger, to the benefit of terrorist groups, added the cleric.

For his part, Ahmed El-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar – which is considered the world’s highest institution of Sunni Islamic learning– announced on 5 December 2017 that Al-Azhar rejects Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“The US president’s decision denies the rights of Palestinians and Arabs to their holy city; it ignores the feelings of one-and-a-half-billion Muslims as well as millions of Arab Christians who have a connection to Jerusalem’s churches and monasteries,” he said in a statement issued following Trump’s announcement.

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church and Al-Azhar issued statements warning of the “serious potential consequences” of Trump’s plan to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to relocate the US embassy there.

“Politically Correct” Words

Meanwhile, politicians have reacted to president Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel. Here some examples:

Mahmoud Abbas, president of Palestinian Authority, alerted of its “dangerous consequences,” while Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas chief, talked about “igniting the sparks of rage.”

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stressed his country’s firm stance on preserving the legal status of Jerusalem within the framework of international references and relevant UN resolutions, stressing the need to ensure that the situation in the region is not complicated by measures that undermine the chances of peace in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia expressed “grave and deep concern,” while King Abdullah II of Jordan warned of “dangerous repercussions.”

Haider al-Abadi, Iraqi prime minister expressed “utmost concern,” and Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, secretary general of the Arab League, which groups all 22 Arab countries, characterised Trump’s decision as a “dangerous measure.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Jerusalem is a “red line for Muslims,” threatening cutting relations with Israel.

And Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, opposed Trump’s “unilateral action,” while Frederica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy representative, called for resolving Jerusalem’s status through negotiations.

Will words and “politically correct” statements reverse this new situation? Most likely they will not, at least if you judge by what’s happened over the last 98 years, i.e. since the then British Empire released its 1919 Balfour Declaration granting Israel a national home in Palestine.

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*Baher Kamal is Senior Advisor to IPS Director General on Africa & the Middle East. He is an Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular journalist, with over 43 years of experience. Since the late 70s, he specialised in all development related issues, as well as international politics. He also worked as Senior Information Expert for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership at the European Commission in Brussels. 

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Annex 1:

For Trump, Jerusalem is an extension of a global culture war

By Ishaan Tharoor* – The Washington Post

The uproar in the wake of President Trump’s speech on Jerusalem was as widespread as it was predictable. During a brief speech in the White House — with a Christmas tree and a mute Vice President Pence as the backdrop — Trump announced his decision to formally recognize the holy city as Israel’s capital, as well as a plan to eventually move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

As we explained yesterday, Trump did so in the face of almost-unanimous opposition from the international community. For the second time in two weeks, he received a stern rebuke from the British prime minister; Pope Francis expressed his “deep concern” over any move that disrupts the “status quo” of the city; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the whole thing was a “red line” for Muslims and threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Israel.

Figures as diverse as the French president, the Saudi king and the Iranian supreme leader reproached Trump for making a decision that all believe is detrimental to Palestinians — and that is widely seen as imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose political career has hinged on being the main Arab interlocutor in the U.S.-backed peace process, said Trump’s speech marked “a declaration of withdrawal” by the United States from its role as a mediator between Israelis and Palestinians.

The only world leader who seemed pleased was exactly the one you would have guessed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamim Netanyahu said it was “a historic day…. Jerusalem has been the focus of our hopes, our dreams, our prayers for three millennia. Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years.” The city’s authorities beamed a joint image of the Israeli and U.S. flags on the Old City’s ramparts.

The irony here is that, no matter the claims to age-old right that accompany the debate over Jerusalem, the current dispute is profoundly modern. An earlier generation of secular Zionists was uninterested in the holy city, an abode of myriad sects and zealots, and focused instead on building Tel Aviv and other modern visions of the new Israeli state. But that changed over decades of war.

“The Arab-Jewish conflict escalated into a nationalistic conflict, with Jerusalem at its center,” said Yehoshua Ben-Arieh of Hebrew University to the New York Times. “Jerusalem was a city holy to three religions, but the moment that, in the land of Israel, two nations grew — the Jewish people and the local Arab people — both embraced Jerusalem. More than Jerusalem needed them, they needed Jerusalem.”

No matter the age of the claim, however, it seems that Trump will allow only Israel to make it. At no point in his speech did he acknowledge majority-Arab East Jerusalem, which Israeli troops occupied in 1967 and which Palestinians view as the seat of their future state. And while he did not disavow American support for the two-state solution, Trump offered nothing like full-throated backing, saying he would support any solution “if agreed to by both sides.” Ultimately, many experts concluded, the speech gave the right-wing Israeli government something it has long sought — and offered Palestinians nothing.

Beyond the many concerns that surround the sudden change in long-standing U.S. policy — not the least of which is a potential surge of violence — there’s a glaring question: Why do this now? Trump, ever keen to be a disrupter, argued that the methods of the past need to be jettisoned to achieve a lasting peace deal, though it’s hard to see how this particular defenestration will help. Some observers suggest instead that Trump was creating a distraction from his encroaching domestic controversies.

But perhaps the simplest explanation is an ideological one: Trump’s delivery on his campaign promise was greeted with glee by the right-wing pro-Israel lobby in Washington — but even more so by powerful American evangelicals, who see Israel’s supremacy over the holy city as fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Numbering in the tens of millions, they are a significant constituency. In July, Netanyahu told an audience in Washington that “we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel” — in part an implicit recognition of declining support among American Jews for his government’s policies. And while it may be easy to be cynical about Trump’s claims to religiosity, the same can’t be said for Pence, a darling of the evangelical movement. His presence during Trump’s speech was a clear nod to evangelical sentiment.

“Like Judaism, Christianity believes that the Messiah will one day sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem,” wrote American evangelical activist Laurie Cardozo-Moore in the Israeli daily Haaretz. “It is one more step in reversing the policies of the four previous administrations before [Trump]. The Judeo-Christian United States of America can once again say, ‘Israel — We’ve got your back’!”

The invocation of the “Judeo-Christian” United States happens to be a consistent theme for Trump. “We don’t worship government, we worship God,” Trump declared in a speech in October. Grousing about a phantom “war on Christmas,” he later added: “We are stopping all our attacks on Judeo-Christian values.”

But the term has an even deeper potency for Trump. The president built his platform on a loaded tribalism that explicitly rejects any belief in “universal values” and, at various stages, is articulated in soaring defenses of blood-and-soil nationalism and Western identity. For Trump, harping on “Judeo-Christian” values is less about actual religious belief and more about his own brand of divisive politics, which has repeatedly demonized Islam and Muslims.

Trump is surely aware of how sensitive the question of Jerusalem’s status is; his decision to press ahead with the recognition and relocation suggests he may be inviting the chaos that may follow.

“Religious conflicts, like racial and ethnic ones, are critical to Trump’s appeal. He needs Mexican-Americans to rape and murder white girls. He needs African-American athletes to ‘disrespect the flag.’ And he needs Muslims to explode bombs and burn American flags,” the Atlantic’s Peter Beinart wrote. “The more threatening non-white, non-Christians appear, both at home and abroad, the more his supporters rely on him to keep the barbarians down and out. If Trump has to invent these dangers, he will. In the case of Jerusalem, however, he can go further: He can help create them.”

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*Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor and correspondent at Time magazine, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.

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Annex 2:

Trump’s error on Jerusalem is a disaster for the Arab world … and the US too

Rashid Khalidi*

The president’s foolish move in recognising the city as the capital of Israel will have negative consequences impossible to predict

Every time it seems Donald Trump cannot outdo himself, he does it again. Now he has announced that his administration will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing nearly seven decades of American policy. This step will have multiple negative ramifications, many impossible to predict.

Jerusalem is the most important of the so-called final status issues that have been repeatedly deferred during the Israel-Palestine negotiations because of their extreme sensitivity. Trump has ploughed into this imbroglio like a bull in a china shop, zeroing in on the most complex and emotional issue of all those connected to Palestine.

Jerusalem is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the entire Palestine question. It has been central to the identity of Palestinian Muslims and Christians as far back as the founding moments of both religions, and has become even more so as the conflict over Palestine has become fiercer.

The rivalry over this holy city is exacerbated by the fact that the same site – the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, the Temple Mount to Jews – is sacred to both. Because of its explosive nature, this is an issue that no Palestinian politician, and few Arab leaders, would dare to trifle with.

For someone such as me, whose family has lived in Jerusalem for hundreds of years, Trump’s announcement does not just mean that the US has adopted the Israeli position that Jerusalem belongs exclusively to Israel. He has also retroactively legitimised Israel’s seizure and military occupation of Arab East Jerusalem during the 1967 war, and its imposition of discriminatory laws on hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living there. The damage he has done will be permanent: the US cannot undo this recognition.

This act completely disqualifies the US from its longstanding role as broker, a position that Washington has monopolised for itself. So much for the pitiful “peace plan” that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was cooking up and hoping to impose on the Palestinians.

Trump’s action signals disdain for the opinion of the whole Arab world. Whatever Arab dictators and absolute monarchs may tell the Americans they depend on, the Arab peoples are unanimous in supporting the Palestinian position on Jerusalem. Their inevitable reactions to this move will impinge on vital US interests all over the region. As secretary of defense James Mattis noted in 2013: “I paid a military security price every day as a commander of [Central Command] because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”

This latest diplomatic fiasco is another instance of the administration showing utter contempt for the views of the rest of the world. Not one country recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There is a global consensus that until a settlement is achieved, it is illegitimate to prejudge or predetermine the outcome of negotiations. The US formally assured the Palestinians on this score in inviting them to the 1991 Madrid peace conference.

Of course, there is a lengthy American track record of bias in favour of Israel. No one should have expected fairness on this issue from them or from their boss.

It is now hard to see how a sustainable Palestinian-Israeli agreement is possible. True to Trump form, this is an entirely self-inflicted wound that will long echo in the annals of diplomacy. It will further diminish the already reduced standing of the US, complicating relations with allies, with Muslims and Arabs – and with people of common sense the world over.

Trump, who was warned against this step by Arab, Middle Eastern and European leaders, has now made resolving the conflict over Palestine much harder, even as he has brought joy to his friends, and to their dangerous, extremist soulmates in Israel. Far from ushering in the “deal of the century”, as he boasted, with this foolish move Trump may usher in the debacle of the century. This is a sad day for international law, for Palestine, and for everyone who cares about peace in the Middle East.

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*Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University. In The Guardian of London, Dec 7, 2017

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