Emma Emeozor [email protected]
United States President Donald Trump has defied all entreaties not to relocate the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as it could exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last week, he made good his vow when he announced through his deputy, Mike Pence, that the embassy relocation exercise would take place before the end of 2019. Pence, an evangelical Christian, made the announcement while addressing the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, during his visit to the Middle East.
Following the announcement, Trump’s claims that he supports a two-state solution as agreed by the United Nations and other mediators, including the US, can best be described as a ruse.
Pence did not stop there, he also visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall located in the Old City, an area that falls within East Jerusalem, the proposed capital of a future Palestinian state. The area was captured by Israel in 1967 and formally annexed in 1980.
“It is considered to be occupied Palestinian territory by most of the international community but Israel disputes this,” says a report. Prior to the VP’s trip, a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security programme at the Centre for a New American Security, Ilan Goldenberg, had issued a warning in an article titled “Pence visit to the Middle East serves no purpose,” that: “In the long history of foreign trips by senior US officials, I am hard pressed to find one that is likely to be more counterproductive than this visit. Pence should cancel.”
Goldenberg was quick to draw attention to the pledge made by White House officials after Trump announced his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. White House officials acknowledged that the Palestinians would need a “cooling off period” before they could return to constructive discussions. “But, instead of waiting patiently for the Palestinians to cool off, the Trump administration is throwing gasoline on the fire instead,” he said, describing the visit as “just the latest in a series of escalatory steps.”
The reactions of the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli-Arab politicians and other Arabs were a clear signal that the international community should expect violence, if Trump fails to back down on his plan.
At the Knesset, angry Israeli-Arab politicians heckled Pence after he made the announcement. Security forces had to forcibly remove the riotous politicians from the building after they made signs forbidden in the parliament. Meanwhile, Abbas had refused to meet Pence though he was in Jordan at the time Pence visited King Abdullah of Jordan. Rather, a day after Pence’s visit, Abbas reportedly flew to Brussels “to appeal to Europe for support for a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines.”
Abbas, who met with top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini, argued that “such recognition would not be an impediment to peace. Mogherini’s response was obvious when he assured Abbas that “the EU’s position has not changed.” The EU’s position has been total support for a two-state solution with Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side. Already, Abbas has said he would go to the UN to ask for the recognition of Palestine as an autonomous state, pointing out that its current status as Palestinian Authority gives credence to such a demand. Palestinians have declared that they would no longer accept the US in a mediator role, having lost confidence in the Trump administration.
Also, the Joint List, Israel’s third-largest political party, reportedly boycotted Pence’s visit. The party represents much of the Arab section of Israeli society, according to reports. The position of Israeli-Arabs aligns with that of the Arab world.
A joint communiqué issued at the end of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit reportedly described Trump’s decision as “irresponsible, illegal and unilateral” and “null and void legally.”Incidentally, two enemies within the Arab community, Iran and Saudi Arabia, signed the communiqué.
The desire for enduring peace in the region surpasses religious sentiments. This, Trump has failed to acknowledge.Pope Tawadros II, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, the largest Christian community in the Arab world, reportedly boycotted Pence’s visit. Ahead of the VP’s visit, Christian leaders in the Middle East had denounced Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. Reports said the patriarchs and heads of Jerusalem churches published a rare joint letter addressed to Trump, beseeching him to reconsider his position.
“Our solemn advice and plea is for the United States to continue recognising the present international status of Jerusalem,” the letter said. The letter, which was signed by 13 church leaders from Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and other traditions, warned Trump of “potential repercussions,” according to The Los Angeles Times.
“We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land,” they stressed. Also, the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis, has expressed his strong opposition to Trump’s decision. And while Abbas was in Brussels lobbying the EU, his Fatah Party called for a general strike of all Palestinians to protest Pence’s visit and Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem.
Currently, there are no fewer than 86 embassies in Tel Aviv while none exists in Jerusalem. This is to say all countries of the world are being cautious not to take any action that could inflame the fragile peace in the region. The desire to find a lasting solution to the conflict in the region cuts across religious and political divides. Up till December 2017 when Trump made public his plan that would predictably isolate the US, by declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, there was a ray of hope that there would be progress in the next round of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Evidently, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are hungry for peace. The people are ready to make sacrifices to attain peace and harmony. They are tired of bloodshed in the region. They have since realised that it is only under a tranquil atmosphere that they can survive. There is the fear that, if the ugly situation being foisted by Trump is not properly handled, there would be a repeat of the intifada (Palestinian uprising) that occurred following the failure of peace negotiations at Camp David in 2000.
Even with the outrage that trailed his decision, the ‘Machiavellian’ American leader, who might have silently adopted ‘Jerusalem Second’ as his second mantra after his ‘America First,’ is racing to Jerusalem to plant a time bomb that could throw the region into a mutually destructive war.
Trump is not the first American President who has made a similar campaign pledge in order to win the political support of American Jews and evangelical Christians, who are supporters of his decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. But his predecessors were cautious and alert to both divine and human sensibilities. They were conscious of America’s role as chief negotiator between the parties to the conflict. America has been a key architect of peace in the region, following the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967.
Jean J. Kirkpatrick, senior fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Max Boot, may have said it all in his article titled “Trump is the Worst Salesman America Has Ever Had.”
He said Trump “seems intent on changing America’s image abroad from largely positive to unremittingly hostile,” adding “He cares so little about this troubling trend that he is wrecking the State Department.”
Rather than listen to the voice of reason and suspend his Jerusalem ‘project,’ Trump has reacted violently to the snub Pence received from Abbas and other Arab leaders during the VP’s Middle East visit. He has suspended a $65 million payment to the United Nations Relief Works Agency that “provides education, health care and other social services to over five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants scattered across the Middle East.”
Twenty-one international humanitarian organisations were quick to react to the decision, wondering why the White House should not draw a line between politics and aid. They called on Trump to rescind the decision because of its “dire consequences.” The group reportedly wrote the US ambassador to the UN Nikky Haley saying the decision marks a “dangerous and striking departure from US policy on humanitarian assistance.”
Also, the international community has condemned the decision and appealed to the US government to release the fund unconditionally; 25 celebrities and public figures have reportedly expressed “horror” over Trump’s decision.
In a joint statement, they said “the real target of this lethal attack is the Palestinian people themselves. It has been launched with the clear aim of dismantling their rights, by dismantling the institution that is charged with protecting them.”
Reports said the statement was released by the Hope Foundation, a London-based group that assists Palestinian children.
But Trump, who chose to cry louder than the bereaved, said: “When they disrespected us last week by not allowing our great vice president to see them, and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support, numbers that nobody understands … that money is on the table and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”
This is even as he failed to explain how he plans to address the US policy that says Jerusalem’s “status must be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.” The US has consistently maintained that “no state has sovereignty over the city of Jerusalem,” a policy that continued until Trump’s bombshell.
Instead, he reportedly said his declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital took it off the negotiating table. For the Palestinians, it might have sounded ridiculous when he said that “Israel will pay for that” and that “they’ll do something that will be a very good thing.” He did not explain what he meant by “a very good thing.” Trump’s advisers must return to the drawing board and impress on him the danger of his decision. It is not too late to rescind the decision.
Doing just that could save America the trauma of the consequences that it might face in the troubled region, particularly a new regime of terrorists.