If ever there was any doubt the world would reject the idea of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as proposed by US President Donald Trump, the UN General Assembly vote on December 21 emphatically removed such doubts. The motion introduced by Yemen was that the U.S. decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was “null and void” urging all “peace-loving countries” to vote in favor of it. The motion passed 128-9. The nine ‘nay’ votes included those of the United States and Israel. The other recognizable names were the vassals — Guatemala, Honduras and Togo; the rest were tiny, non-descript countries,difficult to place on a map – Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau. The Palestinians thus won a massive moral victory. At the Security Council, they had also won 14-1, but the US had used its veto.
The US had pulled out all the stops –badgering friends, twisting the arms of allies, threatening fence-sitters, and bullying everyone else. It was a blatant power play such that its Special Representative, Ms. Nikki Haley, was shamelessly reminding the world that the US was the largest contributor to the UN and that America was now being “asked to pay for the privilege of being disrespected.” Ms Haley said “no vote in the United Nations will make any difference” on the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, which will go ahead because “it is the right thing to do.”
“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very right of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon once again to make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations, and we will remember when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.” Ms Haley said the vote “will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN, and this vote will be remembered.”
Turkey which is leading Islamic nations to oppose the US on the issue had hosted a 57-member summit of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The Arab League had also held a summit conference condemning the US stance. Most Third World countries, the so-called Group of 77, were opposed to the US position. Even European Union nations which tend to automatically gravitate toward US positions found the US decision untenable, some of them, including France, actually denounced the US decision.
President Trump’s radical approach was a total departure from the caution commonly applied by past presidents. Like other presidents, he nurses the hopes of being the president who finally does the impossible – bring a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and by so doing remove the perpetual political tension that has been a fact of life in the Middle East for generations.
When Trump named his son-in-law Jared Kushner as his topmost adviser for Middle East peace, the appointment was an indication that Mr. Trump is putting the Middle East as top priority because of all his advisers Kushner appears to command his absolute confidence. When he chose the Middle East as the destination of his first foreign trip, he left no more doubt he intended to engage the region. Since then, he has developed what appears to be a special relationship with the Saudi Kingdom whose influence with Palestinians is overwhelming. It is noteworthy that the Saudis’ reaction to Trump’s Jerusalem proposal has been judged as “mild” which is a departure from its traditional hardline on such issues in the past.
The expected game plan is that the President wants to use the Israel-Palestine issue to test out his deal-making artistry by driving the Palestinians into a state of despair, then turning round to make them an offer they cannot refuse. In this scheme he would be banking on the support and encouragement of his Saudi friends and a majority of the members of the Arab League with whom he got acquainted during his trip. These influential Arabs would be willing to lean heavily on the Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas to accept such a deal. Given Trump’s special relationship with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel would readily sign up on the deal and the world would be happy thereafter.
It is not in doubt that this is a gamble. Adroitly pursued it could work especially if the peace plan could add a renewed and credible impetus to the two-state solution, which for years has enjoyed overwhelming Arab support but which has been languishing and was beginning to appear abandoned. The US would need to guarantee the compensation to Jewish settlers who would have to move. Direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians must resume with all issues on the table, not excluding the status of Jerusalem. The US would also need to enlist the support of Iran by agreeing to stick with the Iran-nuclear deal and obtain the assurance that Hezbollah and other armed militia groups would behave themselves.
The danger, however, is that if the above scenario fails, a major outbreak of violence in the neighborhood should be expected. Already so many groups are beginning to think that the Israeli occupation cannot continue and needs to be challenged. The so-called Armageddonists have lost all hope for justice in this world, and are begging for martyrdom. To them anything is better than the present stalemate which offends Arab dignity. The terrorists want to resume their high risk occupation. They want to blow up things. Above all, the Arab population is in a state of despair and hopelessness. They see their leaders as a feckless bunch, lacking the balls to confront Israel whose arrogance and oppressive tactics are goading Arab youths to violence. At one point or another those Arab leaders are bound to succumb to their sentiments.
Jerusalem, on its part, ought to be left alone as ‘holy city’ and celebrated as a world heritage city, given its place in the history of the world’s great religions. Politics should be taken out of the city so it can justify its name. The world has reaffirmed by the UN vote that territories cannot and should not be acquired by force of arms. Israel’s claim is problematic because the Holy Bible cannot be a title deed 4,000 years after the Exodus, and the inheritance of the Promised Land. History attests that politics is not good for Jerusalem. Chris Akiri in his insightful article on the subject (Daily Sun Dec. 28, 2017 p. 17) noted that “Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times, captured and re-captured 44 times, besieged 23 times and destroyed twice.” Ramallah and Tel Aviv can do well as the capitals of Palestine and Israel. Both sides should relocate all political institutions out of the city, and have a joint control of the city. Jerusalem has for centuries begged for peace as a holy city, and not the city of blood which it will become if it is forced to assume Israel’s capital.