A YEAR into his presidency, Trump still retains the ability to shock and surprise.
One would have thought he had set enough fires across the world to satisfy even his galloping pyromania, but it seems he had one more hand-grenade left to throw. By declaring American recognition of Jerusalem, and announcing that the country’s embassy would soon move to that city from its 70-year-old home in Tel Aviv, Trump has reversed a long-standing US policy, and gone against the international consensus.
For years, Jerusalem was a central issue in the desultory peace talks. Granted they were going nowhere, but it was widely assumed that if and when an agreement was finally concluded, both Israel and the newly-minted state of Palestine would have their capitals in Jerusalem. By effectively handing over the city to Israel, Trump has removed a prime bargaining chip from the table, thereby kicking any possibility of a two-state solution into the long grass.
Small wonder, then, that Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, has written off the possibility of an independent state for his people, and is now advocating a single state with equal rights for Jews and Arabs. Others have argued for a similar solution because of the unceasing Israeli construction of new settlements across the occupied West Bank. But if this becomes official Palestinian policy, we cannot hold out much hope for equal rights, given what the Arab citizens of Israel have experienced over the years. Discrimination on a massive scale has been documented by Israeli and foreign human rights organisations. So much so that Israel has been labelled an apartheid state.
When Robert Fisk, the doyen of Middle East correspondents, was asked in a radio interview what he thought was going on in Trump’s mind when he dropped the recent bombshell, he replied: “I don’t have the key to the lunatic asylum.” But was Trump’s decision really an act of lunacy, or a bone thrown to his base of right-wing Christian evangelists? After all, Congress voted to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel back in 1995. Since then, successive American presidents have fudged the issue by certifying every six months that moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv would be against the national interest.
Even though the move has been roundly condemned around the world, Trump is well aware that there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Though isolated, he has calculated that Palestinians — and the rest of us — will have to accept the new reality. And apart from some desultory protests across the Muslim world, we have all come to terms with the reality of Jerusalem as the Israeli capitol.
The truth is that the Palestinian cause no longer resonates as deeply as it once did with Muslims. Although we pay lip service to the Palestinian aspirations to statehood, and condemn daily Israeli atrocities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, few are prepared to actually go out to demonstrate. Surveys indicate that a majority of young Arabs are not very enthusiastic about supporting Palestinians.
And if this is the reaction on Arab streets, it is even more tepid in Arab capitals. Sissi is a good friend of Israel, as is Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel decades ago. A number of Arab states — in particular Saudi Arabia — have all kinds of links with the Zionist state. Iraq and Syria have effectively been rendered incapable of playing any active role in the conflict.
The only Muslim country that can stand up to Israel is Iran, and the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are all plotting ways to render it impotent. Other Muslim states have issued feeble statements condemning Trump’s decision, but the Americans and Israelis know they are meaningless words meant for domestic audiences.
In a sense, none of this is new: for years, Palestinians have struggled alone, abandoned by their Muslim brethren. Apart from a bit of largesse to make sure that desperation did not lead to violence, the Arab world has scarcely lifted a finger after the military defeat Egypt and Syria suffered at Israel’s hands in the 1973 war.
For years, the Israeli position on peace negotiations has been that given the divisions among the Palestinians, there was nobody to talk to. In any case, they claimed that Hamas could not possibly be a partner in peace talks because the party refused to accept Israel’s right to exist.
Thus, the narrative accepted by most Americans is that despite Israel’s efforts to make peace, the Palestinians have refused to accept these generous offers. The opposite, of course, is true. One thing we forget is the deep cultural affinities between Americans and Jews. The fact that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East was emphasised recently by Trump in his speech on Jerusalem. Jews play a disproportionate role in the American entertainment business, the arts, literature, the media and finance. AIPAC, the powerful Israeli lobbying group, can make or break politicians.
Obama tried to chart an independent path in the Middle East, but his efforts were nullified by Israel’s supporters in Congress. The last American president to successfully put pressure on Tel Aviv was the senior George Bush, who then failed to get re-elected after angering AIPAC that activated its members to campaign against him.
With the two-state solution now dead and buried, it seems Palestinians are doomed to suffer decades more of Israel’s humiliating occupation. Ironically, what little support they have comes from European countries that have been highly critical of Israel’s apartheid. Muslims couldn’t care less.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2017