InternationalVolume 13 Issue # 20

Fallout of the US Jerusalem move

US President Donald Trump has worsened the Middle East crisis by opening his country’s embassy in Jerusalem. In a bid to recognize Israel and its right to existence, the US has not only provoked Palestinians but also compounded problems for the Jewish state, which could soon find itself fighting wars with Hamas militants and Iranian troops and Hezbollah fighters in Syria.


The US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the anniversary of the Palestinian occupation was disturbing for Muslims and Arabs as it has effectively blocked the two-state solution and accepted only Israel’s rights to existence at the expense of Palestinians. It illustrates the wilful US ignorance of Israeli aggression and crimes against the Palestinian nation. The decision has also damaged Washington’s stature as a mediator in the world and may set off a domino effect of unpredictable consequences. The relocation of the embassy will also add to anti-Americanism in the Arab and Muslim world.


Experts say the fallout from the embassy opening has already spread far beyond Jerusalem, illustrating how one point of conflict often begets another in a delicate situation. The renewed Gaza violence has created the unsettling but real possibility that Israel — far from enjoying a new era of peace with its neighbours — could soon find itself fighting wars on two fronts: with the Hamas militants who run the coastal Gaza Strip, and with Iranian troops and Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters in Syria. Twenty-five years of American policy were premised on the idea that eventually Washington could help the two sides reach a peace deal that their people would welcome. But the weaknesses of government on both sides, and the collapse in public trust in them — and in the US as a mediator — made a peace deal seem ever-farther out of reach, even before the Trump administration’s action.


According to the Miami Herald, President Donald Trump’s prospects for brokering the Mideast peace “deal of the century” plunged ever deeper as the US Embassy in Jerusalem opened amid bloodshed in Gaza. It fueled global concern that US policies are tipping the broader Middle East into deeper, intractable conflict. At the same time, Trump is winning international support for his efforts to strike a deal with nuclear-armed North Korea. But his contentious decisions in the Middle East are roiling a region where US administrations have traditionally sought their biggest diplomatic prize: an elusive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The embassy move, which Trump hailed a “great day” for Israel even as dozens of Palestinians were killed in Gaza, damaged Washington’s stature as a mediator between the parties.


“Traditionally, the US has tried to play a role of fireman in the Middle East. Now we’re playing the role of arsonist,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department and Pentagon official, who runs the Mideast program at the Center for a New American Security. In his reaction, he said Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, against the protestations of European allies, appeared to have emboldened both Israel and Iran to move more forcefully toward full-on confrontation. “In Syria, Trump’s eagerness to pull out US troops as soon as the Islamic State group is defeated has forced a reckoning by Iran’s enemies about the possibility that Tehran will fill the void,” he observed. Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, said the question was whether Trump’s administration, having pulled out of the nuclear deal, had a strategy to deal with Iran in its absence. Shapiro, who is now at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said that while some US allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia had celebrated the pullout, the reaction “would soon be followed by some degree of concern about whether the administration is sufficiently focused, prepared, staffed and able to devote the necessary attention when it’s also managing another major foreign policy challenge in North Korea at the same time.”


Observers say the longer Washington waited, the longer the Jerusalem issue became one that was difficult to settle — and one in which any decision would be marred by controversy. When President Trump decided in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he was following a demand by Congress, since 1995, to move the embassy. Instead, the embassy stayed in Tel Aviv amid hope for peace that would adjudicate the matter. Today, the peace “process” has lasted a quarter-century. Jerusalem has been administered by Israel for twice as long as it was by Jordan, and longer than the British Mandate for Palestine. Yet the decisions made by the British, the United Nations and Jordan still overshadow Jerusalem. Trump’s moving the embassy changed that by taking the “Jerusalem recognition-card” off the table. But the Trump administration’s goals regarding Israel and the Palestinians are not clear. There are rumors a new push for peace is coming. It’s uncertain whether the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, Hamas in Gaza, or Israel are up for any kind of peace agreement. Foreign interests, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, would play a role in any negotiations.


However, US officials insist the administration remains committed to restarting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In a speech at the embassy opening, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said the US “is prepared to support a peace agreement in every way we can.” However, his team had to shelve Trump’s long-awaited peace plan indefinitely amid the Palestinian uproar over the embassy move. Since Trump in December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced the embassy would move, the Palestinians have effectively cut off all ties with the White House, a diplomatic chill that augurs poorly for the possibility that Trump can now introduce a plan the Palestinians would accept or deem fair. Responding to the embassy opening, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dismissed Washington as “no longer a partner and a broker.” “We will not sit with them. They have become part of the problem not part of the solution, a big part of the problem. Trump’s administration is the biggest problem.” The White House response to the deaths of dozens of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli troops during mass protests on the Israel-Gaza border was also irresponsible. The administration called the deaths “tragic” but said they were the fault of Hamas, which controls Gaza and has fomented the protests. It voiced strong support for Israel’s right to self-defence.


The US move has significantly damaged efforts for peace in the region. Trump proceeded because of internal pressures and right-wing tendencies but dislodged the US as being an honest broker in the eyes of Palestinian public. It appears the war in Syria might spiral and skirmishes between the Israel forces and Hamas militants, Iranian troops and Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters in Syria would escalate in days to come to remind the US of its follies in the region.