Wednesday, 26 January, 2022
HomeGlobal PulseGlobal Pulse: Trump's Capital Diplomacy in the Holy Land

Global Pulse: Trump’s Capital Diplomacy in the Holy Land

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Donald Trump has officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing almost 70 years of American foreign policy in the Middle East. He plans on moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while the rest of the world watches with bated breath. His decision isolates the United States on one of the most sensitive global issues in contemporary history.

The right decision

Of course Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, whether other countries acknowledge it or not, writes Shmuel Rosner in the New York Times. 

Rosner writes that the official recognition is only a validation of actual sentiments in Jersualem. “Not that a statement from an American president will actually change Israelis’ commitment to Jerusalem. This is our capital and it always will be. It was taken away from the Jewish people by force. It was recaptured by force. If necessary, it will be preserved under Israel’s jurisdiction by force, too.”

“Similarly, Jerusalem is unmistakably Israel’s capital, whether outsiders accept this fact or not. That’s not to say there aren’t challenges to this reality: The international community is not yet ready to accept it and the Palestinians claim that the city is theirs. The demographic realities are, indeed, tricky. About a third of the city’s residents are Arab. Nonetheless, the facts are the facts.”

Will the decision trigger violence? Rosner compares Trump to Harry Truman’s recognition of Jerusalem. “But the president — often criticized for being blunt and never shying away from saying what he wants to say — will have his Trumanesque moment by refusing to pretend that Israel has no capital. If violence is the result of that, we will all regret it. But it is worth remembering that Truman’s recognition of Israel was also met with violence — and it is still remembered as a great American moment.”

The city is real, not just a symbol

In the Washington Post, Gershom Gorenberg points out that the US Consulate emailed a warning to all its staffers a day before Trump was scheduled to make an announcement, clearly implying that violence could be expected. This move only goes to show the contrast between making a decision in Washington, and the ground reality in the disputed holy land.

“The consulate’s message underlined something basic about this city. The relationship between symbols and reality here is even more fraught than the relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Because it’s often forgotten in the shouted international debates, let me stress: Jerusalem is an actual city of apartments, asphalt and noise, where actual people live — 865,000 of us. A bit less than two-thirds are Israelis, a bit more than one-third are Palestinians,” he writes.

The real city’s messiness is often forgotten in the rhetoric of Israeli and Palestinian nationalism, often behaving like ownership over the city is central to their own historical narratives, says Gorenberg.

“Whether or not violence erupts now, Trump has added to Palestinian despair, and despair increases the chance of an eruption. The real symbolism of Trump’s statement is that he couldn’t care less about the real city of Jerusalem.”

Has the peace process been sabotaged?

In trying to analyse what the repercussions of this discussion could be, Khalid Elgindy reminds us in Foreign Policy that we still don’t have a proper explanation why Trump thought this decision was necessary at this point in time.

“This suggests that either Trump believes the move will not seriously damage U.S. credibility as a peace broker, or he is prepared to sacrifice this in order to score points with his political base. While this would not be the first time an American president has chosen to sacrifice the goals of the peace process on the altar of domestic politics and the U.S.-Israel “special relationship,” it may well be the most serious reversal in U.S. Middle East policy since the United States took control of the peace process in the 1990s,” he writes.

“But for all practical purposes, Washington’s role as chief sponsor and sole mediator of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has likely come to an end.”

“The death of an American-sponsored peace process is, admittedly, a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around —particularly in Washington.The death of an American-sponsored peace process is, admittedly, a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around —particularly in Washington. Not just because it is the only peace process we have ever known, but because it is almost impossible to imagine any viable alternative. For decades, the assumption has been that only the United States, as both a global superpower and Israel’s closest ally, was capable of brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.”

This move could actually broker the peace process

On the other hand, Eli Lake argues in the Bloomberg View that this decision could actually further the peace process. Israel needs American help to negotiate with its Arab neighbours, writes Lake.

Lake places his argument in the context of the metal detector uprising earlier this year.

“The traditional way to understand this episode is that it proves how much of a tinderbox the Jerusalem issue is. Don’t pour gasoline on burning embers. Already Palestinians in Gaza have begun “days of rage” in protest of Trump’s decision. The Organization of the Islamic Conference called Trump’s plan to recognize Jerusalem an act of “naked aggression.” The State Department has warned recognition will bring violence.

But official American neutrality on Jerusalem has not stopped Palestinian leaders from exercising a riot veto before. Indeed, neutrality has created a moral hazard.”

Recognizing the grievances of the Palestinians, Lake says that Western sensitivity over the problem has given the Palestinians leeway to weaponize. “And that’s the real danger of sticking to the policy of Jerusalem neutrality. It feeds a Palestinian illusion: With enough patience and rage, one day the Jews will be evicted from their eternal capital. That’s not going to happen. And as more and more Arab states come to rely on Israel in the regional war against Iran and its proxies, this fact is becoming more visible to the rest of the region.”

“A real friend won’t allow Palestinian leaders to keep promising to liberate a city that is the capital of its peace partner. That straight talk should not be the end of peace talks, but the beginning,” he writes.

A campaign promise that will trigger a global crisis

Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv delivers on Trump’s campaign promise to Jewish Americans, but it also aggravates an already flaming crisis, writes The Economist.

“Without preconditions, Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as the historic capital of the Jewish people, “established in ancient times” and the seat of Israel’s government. In the first taste of a peace plan he is expected to unveil next year, he failed to mention Jewish settlements in the West Bank or the Palestinians’ claims to Jerusalem. It was, as he said, “very fresh thinking”. The proclamation delighted Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who hailed it as “a historic day” for which Israel is “profoundly grateful”.”

However, while it might be cause for celebration right now, and violence might ensue, it all might just be temporary. “Mr Trump’s proclamation could be reversed by a future president. But Palestinians cannot take that for granted, and in the meantime they are furious. They insist that part of Jerusalem should serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state—as a condition of any peace deal.”

“However, many Palestinians remain weary of conflict with the Israelis. “Why should we start another intifada and lose our sons?” asked Fowzi Iyad, a trader from Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter. “Just because Trump said he’s going to build an embassy? Let’s see Trump building something. All he does is talk.””

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