IT was the massacre of unarmed Palestinians, and not the celebrations of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, that stood out this week. Over 60 Palestinians have been killed and 2,700 injured in Gaza as Israeli forces fired on protesters, killing mostly teenagers.
In fact, the Israelis not only used live bullets but also fighter jets and a tank to prevent protesters from breaking the barricade. According to one report quoting doctors, some of the exit wounds caused by Israeli ammunition were ‘fist-size’. This kind of brutality has not been seen since the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict.
It all happened a mere 90 to 100 kilometres from the site of celebrations at the newly built American embassy in the occupied land. The bloodbath continued as participants from both Israel and the United States sang ‘Hallelujah’ and the Israeli prime minister declared it a “glorious day”.
May 14 was also the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel. Palestinians refer to the day after as Nakba, or the catastrophe, when, in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee or were expelled from their homes and became refugees.
Donald Trump’s decision to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem has given a bloodier turn to the Palestinian issue and has led to diminishing hopes of any solution to the conflict. The move is a manifestation of the close alliance between President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The use of brute force has failed to deter the Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation.
Despite the US support to Israel, the previous administrations in Washington had refrained from taking the controversial step. There had been some effort to understand and respond to the Palestinian narrative. But Trump’s blatant support for Israeli expansionism has made the peace negotiations more difficult.
In his recorded message at the Jerusalem ceremony, Trump declared that his greatest hope is to achieve peace. Amusingly, he has also claimed that he has an interest in solving the “toughest deal of all”. While condoning the carnage of unarmed Palestinians, Trump says he still intends to present a detailed peace initiative.
His move has plunged the region into greater turmoil and effectively brought to an end any arbitration role for the US in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. While fully endorsing the Israeli narrative, the Trump administration has crossed a red line.
As one analyst put it, “it is an unravelling of the peace process framework which for the past 25 years has led to neither peace nor all-out war”. Not surprisingly, the Israeli prime minister sounded more triumphant and defiant in his celebratory speech. “We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay,” he declared.
Most shamefully, the American and Israeli officials put the blame for the violence on the protesters. The use of brute force, however, has failed to deter the Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation. Hundreds of casualties in Gaza are likely to trigger an uprising or intifada spreading to the West Bank.
It is evident that the Trump administration is complicit in the Israeli violence against the hapless Palestinian population. Washington has also blocked the call for a UN investigation into the incident. The move has further emboldened Israeli expansionism and rendered the Middle East situation more explosive.
While the US moves and the carnage in Gaza have evoked strong condemnation by the international community, there is no effective voice for the support of the Palestinians’ right to their homeland despite several UN resolutions. The silence of Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries over the plight of the Palestinian people is particularly disturbing.
It reflects the realignment of forces in the Middle East. It is true that key Arab countries seem more willing to sanction a settlement less favourable to the Palestinians than before because they want Israel as an ally against Iran.
The Jerusalem ceremony took place days after Trump announced the US would unilaterally pull out from the Iranian nuclear deal. Not surprisingly, the controversial decision to reimpose US sanctions on Tehran has been welcomed by Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Both countries have been opposed to the treaty signed by Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China besides the United States. Opposition to Iran has brought the two countries on the same side of the Middle East civil war. That has also led to Saudi Arabia’s increasing tilt towards Israel on the Palestinian issue.
The comments made by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, during his recent visit to the United States illustrate the shift in the kingdom’s position on the Palestinian issue. He reportedly scolded the Palestinian leadership for what he described as a decades-long history of “rejecting peace with Israel”, adding they should either begin to accept peace proposals or “shut up”.
A leaked Israeli foreign ministry cable sent by a diplomat from the Israeli consulate in New York said that the crown prince’s comments, made during the closed meetings, apparently caused people to “literally fall off their chairs”.
He made it clear that the Palestinian cause was not a priority for the makers of foreign policy in Riyadh and that the kingdom has to face much wider threats in the region, such as Iran. Although the king tried to exercise damage control because of his son’s outrageous remarks, it does not signify very much as the crown prince is effectively in charge.
Not surprisingly, the US move to shift its embassy to Jerusalem did not evoke much opposition from the kingdom and other Gulf countries. It has indeed emboldened Israel. There is a clear indication that the cooperation between Riyadh and Israel could further increase with the rising tensions in the Middle East following the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal.
That may also allow Israel to continue using brute force to suppress the Palestinian resistance movement. Undoubtedly, there have been mass protests in some Muslim countries, but is this enough to draw the attention of the international community to Israel’s expansionist objectives under the patronage of the United States?
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2018