For all his one upmanship with Obama, Trump seems to have squandered away the one chance he had to strike a deal that his predecessor couldn’t. Jerusalem is such a bad purchase for the American president that it vindicates anyone who ever said that Trump is not a good businessman.
Trump has only dropped the pretense
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital prompted protests across the Arab world. But really, Arab leaders have routinely compromised the Palestinian cause. Trump’s decision makes sure they drop the pretense, write Anne Barnard, Ben Hubbard and Declan Walsh in the New York Times.
The Palestinian issue “has slipped in importance, displaced by the Arab Spring uprisings, the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the threat of the Islamic State, and the contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional dominance. Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, more concerned about their rivalry with Iran, have found their interests increasingly overlapping with those of Israel,” they write.
“Arab leaders have often counted on declarations of support for the Palestinian cause as a reliable way to appeal to their people, and sometimes as a distraction from domestic problems, including lack of political freedoms and economic opportunities.”
“Palestinian leaders have learned that declarations of concrete support from their Arab brothers only sometimes materialized. And many note that the Arab world has done little more than issue notes of protest as the Israeli government has extended its de facto control over the eastern part of Jerusalem since seizing it from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and annexing it in a move still not recognised by most of the world.”
A historic concession without any negotiation
Yet, his decision is just not diplomacy. It’s pandering, which will only deepen fissures and exacerbate tensions in an already beleaguered region, writes Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post.
“He made a massive, preemptive concession to one side in a complicated negotiation without getting anything for it in return. If that’s how he operates, it’s no wonder so many of his former colleagues think he isn’t a very successful businessman after all,” he writes.
“If this move were part of a larger strategic plan, that would be one thing. In that case, Trump’s announcement would have been carefully plotted out, coupled with serious policy changes from Israel, or it would have been part of a series of measures to reassure both sides. Instead, it appears to be a one-off decision, designed largely to delight core elements of Trump’s base at home — evangelical Christians and pro-Israel donors. The only strategic aspect appears to be that it will help shore up the GOP base on the eve of Roy Moore’s senatorial contest in Alabama. That’s not diplomacy; that’s pandering.”
“There are ways to solve the Jerusalem problem, such as by carving out some neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city and allowing the Palestinians to claim those as their capital. Trump’s announcement did not specifically foreclose this possibility, which makes the choice even more puzzling. It actually achieves little on the ground, all while offending millions of Palestinians, hundreds of millions of Arabs and public opinion almost everywhere. When China, European allies, the pope, and the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan all voice strong opposition, it is surely worth questioning the wisdom of the policy.”
Is he a chump?
Thomas Friedman agrees. “In nearly 30 years of covering United States foreign policy, I’ve never seen a president give up so much to so many for so little, starting with China and Israel,” he writes in The New York Times.
“Trump could have said two things to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. First, he could have said: ‘Bibi, you keep asking me to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. O.K., I will do that. But I want a deal. Here’s what I want from you in return: You will declare an end to all Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, outside of the existing settlement bloc that everyone expects to be part of Israel in any two-state solution’.”
“Trump also could have said, as the former United States ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk suggested, that he’d decided “to begin the process of moving the embassy to western Jerusalem, but at the same time was declaring his willingness to make a parallel announcement that he would establish an embassy to the state of Palestine in East Jerusalem” — as part of any final status agreement.”
“Trump is susceptible to such giveaways, not only because he is ignorant, but because he does not see himself as the president of the United States. He sees himself as the president of his base. And because that’s the only support he has left, he feels the need to keep feeding his base by fulfilling crude, ill-conceived promises he threw out to them during the campaign. Today, again, he put another one of those promises ahead of United States’ national interest.”
Not a part of the deal, after all
Turns out, Trump’s decision on Jerusalem was not part of Jared Kushner’s grand strategy to restart direct talks, writes Michael Wilner in The Jerusalem Post. No surprises there.
“White House officials told The Jerusalem Post that Trump’s decision was made separately from a deliberative, 10-month effort to restart direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations. Both men served in consultative roles in the Jerusalem debate alongside the president’s National Security Council and his political supporters.
But Trump’s dramatic action on Wednesday was ultimately driven by the president himself.”
Yet, “Administration officials told the Post they take seriously Palestinian and Arab concerns and understand the reaction that has followed Trump’s speech. But they hope their anger will pass, and expect Ramallah in particular will realize that the Palestinians’ only chance of achieving sovereignty is with the help of Washington. They believe Arab world powers no longer prioritize the Palestinian issue in such a way that it will affect bilateral relations – and furthermore still believe their leverage over their Arab allies, seeking help pushing back against Iran, will keep their peace process on track.”
Some good news
In the midst of all this unnecessary chaos, there may be some good news for American foreign policy. An acrimonious split between al Qaeda’s core and its Syrian affiliate “suggests that al-Qaeda wields less influence than previously feared and that US efforts to isolate al Qaeda in Syria are bearing some fruit,” writes Daniel Byman for Lawfare.
“As is so often the case, observers seemed to paint al Qaeda stronger than its reality. We now know that (al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri) opposed the divorce, but its affiliate split anyway. One reason for the split was that HTS (Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) sought to work with local groups that sought the support of the United States and its allies, which oppose any group with an al Qaeda taint. But, another reason was that the core appeared to offer its affiliate little. Zawahiri could fulminate in private but had little ability to stop the split.”
“The acrimonious split raises questions about al Qaeda’s ability to regain leadership over the global jihadist movement as the Islamic State’s caliphate collapses. If al Qaeda cannot maintain the loyalty of its own affiliates, it will be hard to win over groups without prior affiliation.”