- Trump’s Jerusalem Decision: Implications and Consequences | Monday, December 11 | 11:00 am – 12:00 pm | Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars (event will be held by phone) | Register Here | President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel carries profound consequences for U.S. policy, relations with the Arab world, the international community, and the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Join us as three veteran observers and analysts of the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli arena analyze and interpret the change in U.S. policy and its consequences for the region. (Toll Free #: 888-942-8140; Conference #: 1-517-308-9203; Conference Passcode: 13304). Speakers will include H.E. Dr. Husam Zomlot, Chief Representative of the PLO General Delegation to the United States, Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Horovitz of the Times of Israel, and moderator Aaron David Miller. The Wilson Center’s Jane Harman will introduce the event.
- Beyond Stock-Taking: The Path Ahead to a Global Compact for Migration | Monday, December 11 | 11:00 am – 12:00 pm | Migration Policy Institute (event will be a webinar) | Register Here | Representatives of national governments, UN agencies, and key civil-society organizations convened in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico this week to take stock of the progress that has been made towards conceptualizing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM). Formal negotiations will begin in January to fulfill the commitment made at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2016 by Member States to negotiate a Global Compact for Migration by the end of 2018—a task that was complicated with the decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from the further consultations. To reflect on the latest developments and the outcomes of the stocktaking meeting, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) will host a discussion with Eva Åkerman Börje, Senior Policy Advisor in the office of the UN Special Representative for International Migration, and Ilse Hahn, Head of Division on Policy Issues of Displacement and Migration, from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The discussion, moderated by MPI Senior Fellow Kathleen Newland, will also draw on the conclusions of a recently published MPI policy brief, The Global Compact for Migration: How Does Development Fit In?
- Jerusalem: The Fatal Blow to Trump’s “Ultimate Deal”? | Tuesday, December 12 | 9:30 – 11:00 am | Arab Center Washington DC (held at the National Press Club) | Register Here | Arab Center Washington DC will convene a panel of Middle East scholars to discuss the recent announcement by President Trump declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Speakers will include Perry Cammack of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Zaha Hassan of New America, Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and moderator Khalil Jahshan of the Arab Center Washington DC.
- The Geneva Process: Toward a Political Solution in Syria | Tuesday, December 12 | 12:30 – 2:00 pm | Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (SETA Foundation) | Register Here | The establishment of four deconfliction zones through the Astana process, backed by Russia, Iran, and Turkey, has led to the restarting of the UN-backed Geneva process. In the latest round of peace talks in Geneva, there are few signs that a constructive engagement is taking place. The Assad regime’s delegation walked out of the meetings on Friday as the opposition has maintained its position that Assad play no role in any future post-conflict government. Both the US and Turkey support the Geneva process to end the conflict, but competing interests between the regime and the opposition as well as external actors with varied goals promise further uncertainty about the fate of the talks. While the fall of ISIS’ last stronghold in Raqqa signifies a turning point, many experts have pointed out the continued threat posed by the terror group not only to a peace settlement in Syria but to regional stability as well. As the anti-ISIS campaign winds down, it is not clear what will happen to the US-supported “local partners,” such as the PYD, given Turkey’s strong opposition to their inclusion in the Geneva talks. While all main actors agree that the only resolution to the civil war is a political one, it remains unclear whether the Geneva process will provide the necessary platform to reconcile differences between the regime and the opposition as well as among the external actors. Please join us for a discussion with a panel of distinguished experts on the future of the Geneva peace process and how a political resolution in Syria might be reached. Speakers will include Mona Yacoubian of the U.S. Institute of Peace, Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hassan Hassan of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, and Kadir Ustun of the SETA Foundation. Kilic Kanat of the SETA Foundation will moderate.
- Yemen: A Country in Crisis | Tuesday, December 12 | 12:30 pm | Council on Foreign Relations | Register Here | The “What to Do About…” series highlights a specific issue and features experts who will put forward competing analyses and policy prescriptions in a mock high-level U.S. government meeting. This event will feature Gerald M. Feierstein of the Middle East Institute, Mary Beth Long of Global Alliance Advisors, LLC, and Stephen Seche of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
- The Implications of Trump’s Jerusalem Decision | Thursday, December 14 | 12:00 – 1:30 pm | Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (SETA Foundation) | Register Here | On December 6, President Trump announced that “it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” He added that the State Department would now prepare to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The announcement provoked near universal opposition and condemnation around the world and triggered protests and clashes in the region. East Jerusalem has been under Israeli occupation since 1967 and the Trump administration’s move is a departure from the decades-old US position to leave the status of Jerusalem to the final negotiations in the now defunct peace process. While President Trump made a reference to the two-state solution in his speech and the administration is expected to put forward its own peace plan, the Jerusalem announcement appears to complicate the prospects of peace. Where does this decision leave the prospects of a two-state solution? Can the US still play a constructive role in achieving lasting peace? What are the implications for US interests in the region? Please join us for a discussion with a panel of distinguished experts on the future of the peace process as well as the regional and global implications of President Trump’s Jerusalem decision. Speakers will include Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Ilan Goldenberg of the Center for a New American Security, Joyce Karam of Al-Hayat and The National, independent author and news analyst Mark Perry, and moderator Kilic Kanat of the SETA Foundation.
Three questions arise about President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem:
- why did he do it?
- what will the consequences be?
- will it ever get built?
The why is domestic politics. He promised to do it during the campaign and his deepest-pocketed supporters wanted it done. The move gets a lot of support in the Christian evangelical community and far less among Jews, but the President needs concrete examples of fulfilling his campaign promises, many of which he has abandoned in office.
The opposition of allies and friends in Europe and the Middle East had little impact beyond inclusion in the announcement the assertion that it is not intended to prejudice a future decision on the boundaries of Jerusalem. That is specious, since he also implied that Jerusalem would remain undivided, which is the key issue. The announcement included nothing attractive from the perspective of Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims more generally, which is why they see it as vitiating any potential role of the US as an honest broker in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
As for other consequences, we’ll have to wait and see. Protests are the least of it. There are many other longer-term possibilities. Trump has certainly cast doubt on the viability of the two-state solution most Israelis and Palestinians as well as the US and most of the rest of the world have been supporting for decades. Palestinians don’t want a state that doesn’t have its capital in Jerusalem any more than Israelis do.
If Palestinians can’t have their own state, they will seek equal rights within the single one, which will bring into doubt the state’s Jewish character. Arabs are likely the majority already, or soon will be, in the area Israel currently controls, if we count Gaza as well as the West Bank. The Israelis might want to give Gaza to Egypt, which controlled it in the past, but the Egyptians won’t take it: they don’t want to absorb a destitute Palestinian population that is in part Islamist. They’ve got enough trouble already in continuous Sinai.
The Trump administration is a radical one that enjoys upsetting the apple cart. The President likes to think this will open the way to progress. It is far more likely to end his own peace initiative, which son-in-law Kushner is heading. I even wonder whether, having realized that initiative was going no place, Trump decided to do something that would distract attention and engender enough violence so that its demise could be blamed on the Palestinians. But I suppose that just shows I’ve spent too much time lately in the Middle East, which loves conspiracy theories.
It is far more likely that ignorance and bullheadedness led to the decision to move the embassy. Now let’s see if Congress, which pushed for it, is ready to appropriate the several hundred million dollars it will cost to build the kind of fortress the United States will require in Jerusalem. Is it possible that we’ll suffer the consequences of this decision, but not see the facility built?
PS: For interesting Israeli responses to the Jerusalem move, see the short statements from Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
President Trump today announced the US officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiated the process of enabling the US embassy to move there from Tel Aviv.
What’s wrong with that?
As former Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer explained this morning on NPR, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It has been for almost 70 years and will continue to be. No one I know doubts the facts.
But the status of Jerusalem is in dispute: we don’t know its ultimate borders, whether some of it may some day be part of a Palestinian state, and there is no agreement on how it will in the future be governed. Trump’s move ignores these facts.
More importantly, it tilts the playing field, once again, in Israel’s direction. Trump offered nothing to the Palestinians besides platitudes. He might have said the US could envisage their capital also in Jerusalem, presumably in the eastern part of the city that is majority Palestinian. He might have limited what he said about Israel’s capital to the western portion of the city, where all the Israeli institutions he mentioned are located. He might have suggested in some other way that the US has an evenhanded view and will act as an honest broker in trying to resolve the ongoing disputes.
He didn’t. While advocating moderation, tolerance, and reasoned debate, Trump essentially aligned himself with extremist Americans and Israelis, who see no reason to accommodate Palestinian interests or interest in having a state of their own. Trump still wants, he says, to facilitate a lasting peace. He even says it with unusual passion and conviction. But what he has done makes compromise more difficult, not less.
How will the Muslim world react? Some fear violence. Certainly there will be demonstrations against what Trump has done. And demonstrations in the Middle East all too often result in violence. But a lot of Arabs have other things to worry about these days besides the Palestinians, who were already convinced Trump wasn’t going to do anything good from their point of view. A few rocket launches may satisfy some.
The people most aroused and likely to indulge in violence are the Iranians and Sunni extremists (especially Al Qaeda and the Islamic State). The elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards are not known as the Al Quds (Jerusalem) force for nothing. While Trump claims to be leading a campaign against both, his move on Jerusalem will inspire his adversaries. Look for them to invent symbolic, likely violent, acts against Israel and the US.
Hard to imagine any other significant government will follow Trump’s lead. The Europeans are dead set against it, as they rightly view it as making peace more difficult to negotiate, not easier. The gap that has opened between the US and our European allies on the Iran nuclear deal will widen. The Gulf Arabs, some of whom Trump and the Israelis have been courting as allies against Iran, will find themselves hamstrung and unable to move further in that direction.
Trump is in many ways his own worst enemy. Now he has made negotiations between Israel and Palestine more difficult, widened the rift with Europe, and hampered the alliance he hoped for against Iran. All in a single stroke.
PS: The slurring of his speech is noticeable. He is supposedly a teetotaler. Teeth don’t fit right?
PSS: Claudia Trevisan of the Brazilian daily O Estado de Sao Paolo was the first to get to me with questions. I answered;
A: It can be a broker as long as both sides agree it can be one. The Palestinians are saying no, but I’m not sure that will last.
Q: The president has said it is not prejudging the outcome of boundaries and the future status of Jerusalem. Can this nuance reduce the impact of the announcement?
A: It’s better than not saying it, but I don’t think it mitigates much.
Q: Can this decision help in any way help the peace process?
A: I don’t think so. It is more likely to kill it, at least for the time being.
Q: Do you expect an increase of violence in the region and of terrorist acts against the US as a consequence of the decision?
A: I don’t like to predict an increase in violence, since then people start feeling they have to fulfill the prophecy. But both violence in the region and against the US are possible.
Atheer Ahmed Kakan of the (Turkish) Anadolu Agency asked questions last week. I replied:
1. What do you think of Trump policy in the Middle East right now?
A: Trump policy in the Middle East seems calculated to push back hard on Iran, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but it is having perverse effects. The war in Yemen is going badly, the blockade of Qatar has driven Doha closer to Tehran and Ankara, and the forced resignation of Saad Hariri has united Lebanon against the Kingdom. Ironically, Trump has done nothing to push back against Iran or its proxies in Syria.
2. What do you have to say about Saudis new developments? Adopting “moderate version of Islam”? Attacking Iran publicly? Aligning with Israel against Iran? Re-engaging with Iraq?
A: No one I know would object to the Kingdom advocating for more moderate Islam. Re-engaging with Iraq is also a good idea. Mouthing off against Iran is not. I’m not sure how far the alignment with Israel is really going to go.
3. What do you think the consequences of Trump letting Saudis hand in the MidEast? Are we witnessing Saudi-Iranian war? New civil war in Lebanon? New opened war in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon beside Yemen?
A: I trust cooler heads will prevent some of those things from happening, but there are a lot of risks. The Kingdom needs to assess its own capabilities and align its actions with those. Hotheadedness doesn’t win wars, or peace.
Two of my favorite commentators on the Middle East differ diametrically about the impact on the Palestinians of the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel motivated by common enmity towards Iran. Hussein Ibish says the Saudi moves are unavoidable and will inevitably benefit the Palestinians, one way or another. Ibrahim Fraihat says the Saudi moves will end the Arab boycott of Israel and hurt the Palestinian national cause. Both agree the Saudis will have to get something for the Palestinians to make it possible to proceed in improving relations with Israel, but beyond that they differ. Who is right?
Ibrahim thinks the necessary something will be tactical–prisoner releases, financial assistance, and possibly a settlement freeze outside the larger settlement blocks–while Israel will gain the strategic objective of normalizing relations with Arab countries. Ibrahim also thinks the Saudi moves will make reconciliation of Palestine’s two major factions–Fatah and Hamas–more complicated and difficult.
Hussein thinks that something will be better than nothing, which is what the Palestinians have been getting for years. He also assumes the Israeli gains will be limited to things like civil aviation cooperation, not the broader gains Ibrahim assumes. Besides, the Palestinians have little choice but to play along with whatever President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, comes up with.
Who is right depends on what the Americans are cooking. Ibrahim is right that the “outside/in” approach they are apparently pursuing fragments the Arab peace initiative the Saudis have advocated for more than 15 years. Instead of one big bang solution, Palestinian statehood in exchange for normalization, the process would be broken into smaller, reciprocal steps leading inevitably to the same end. Hussein views this as an advantage, not a disadvantage. After all, the Arab peace plan has gone no place for a long time. Motion in the right direction, if sustained, leads inevitably to the right goal.
I’m not sure the Americans are cooking much, at least for the immediate future. The initial steps could in fact be very small and reversible, which is perhaps more important. The key to sustaining them is something we’ll see little of in public, though it was glimpsed last week in an interview with an Israeli general published in the Kingdom: security cooperation. If Saudi Arabia and Israel find mutual advantage in sharing intelligence about their common adversary, it could lead to broader security cooperation.
That however is where and when advantages to the Palestinians might evaporate. The Israelis will aim for the kind of security relationship they have with Egypt and Jordan: one in which the Arab countries gain so much to benefit their own security that they will hesitate to do anything their benefactor opposes, including support for a Palestine worthy of being called a state.
Palestine will need far more internal cohesion and fortitude than it has today to resist the pressures that could descend on it in the future. The Palestinians have been fortunate that the Israelis have been cool to the Arab peace initiative. That has meant Ramallah did not need to worry much about what kind of state the Israelis would accept. But a fragmented version of the initiative–Hussein says that version is called “concurrence” in the trade–presents greater need for foresight, good judgment, and coherence. Ibrahim could be right in the end, even if Hussein is right for now.
In a refreshing change to most conversations about the Middle East where narratives originating at the government level are given the most importance, the opening panel of the Arab Center Washington DC’s Second Annual Conference on Thursday, October 26, “What Arabs Want: Arab Public Opinion and US Policy” focused foremost on the societal level. Panelists Dalia Mogahed of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland-College Park and the Brookings Institution as well as moderator Tamara Kharroub of the Arab Center discussed a survey of Arab public opinion conducted by the Center over the past two months, analyzing the implications of its findings for US policy and making recommendations on how these findings could be better communicated to an American public.
Kharroub presented the survey, which tested attitudes towards the US, Arab perspectives on US president Trump and his policies, opinions on Middle East policy priorities, and thoughts on what the US president should be doing. This involved 400 respondents in eight Arab countries. Overwhelmingly, Arabs hold positive views of the United States and its people, but negative views on its foreign policy, President Trump, and Trump’s policies.
When asked about specific actions, the majority of respondents said that the US should not intervene in the region, followed closely by those who believed that the US has prioritized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and by those who think the US is focused on crises and conflicts in the region, such as those in Syria and Yemen.
Kharroub pointed out the limitations of the survey, highlighting the fact that around 40% of those approached declined to participate, which she attributed to the political environment in the region, especially since the majority of refusals took place in Egypt, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Another limitation was the popularity of “I don’t know” as an option to the specific, policy-oriented questions at the end of the survey, making the majority findings partly due to the lack of participation.
Mogahed emphasized the importance of understanding that the Arab public has a nuanced perspective towards the US. Arabs distinguish between the American people and their government. This is important, particularly considering the rhetoric of the Trump administration. Referencing a different but poll, the American public, Mogahed underlined, is more likely to support discriminatory government policies when they believe that those affected by the policies have a negative, hateful view towards Americans. When made to believe that Muslims have a favorable view towards Americans, they are less likely to support such policies. Similarly, if Americans believe that the conflict that they are engaged in with others is due to cultural differences, they are more likely to support violence, but if they believe that it is due to politics, then they are more likely to call for peace.
Telhami focused his analysis on what he called the “Trump factor,” looking into opinions on President Trump and the reasons behind them. The survey revealed negative attitudes towards almost every one of the Trump administration’s policies, except for the improvement of relations with Arab allies. Telhami argued that the reason for this is the frequent visits made by government officials to the region (particularly to GCC countries) and the positive language that Arab regimes have been using to talk about the Trump administration. Trump’s hostility towards Iran is also welcomed by certain groups.
A policy issue that was negatively assessed was the Trump administration’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is unsurprising considering Trump’s asserted support for Israel and the commotion caused by his proposition of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but Telhami also noted that the Palestinian issue was not prioritized as it has been in previous years. This is primarily due to age differences, as older age groups tended to prioritize the issue more, while younger groups still deemed it important but not as urgent. Telhami suggested this may be due to the perceived urgency of more recent events, like the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Libya.
The most pertinent finding was the distinction Arab opinion makes between the American public and the American government. Mogahed urged that information be presented in more accessible formats, such as short videos that can be posted and circulated on social media. She stressed the importance of being “louder in our criticism of media bias,” especially its portrayal of marginalized groups, and asserted that the public has a responsibility to demand better.