His own worst enemy
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.