An Israeli dream might come true if Trump declares Jerusalem the capital – but so will a Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim nightmare.
Amid three catastrophic Middle East wars, it would be difficult to imagine anything more provocative, dangerous – or just plain insane – than for the Americans to move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Yet that is just what Donald Trump is this week thinking of doing. In a way, we should have expected this: mad presidents do mad things, Robert Fisk said in a report published by the Independent.
But is there no one in the White House able to restrain him? Not even Jared Kushner, who is supposed to be Trump’s Middle East hand? Or is Kushner too bound up in his latest scandal – just revealed by Newsweek, that he failed to disclose his co-directorship of a foundation funding illegal Jewish colonies in the West Bank when he filed financial records with the Office of Government Ethics this year – to speak out?
For it’s not that the embassy itself is just a symbolic move. It means that the United States would acknowledge that the city of Jerusalem, sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians, is the capital of the Israeli state, and that the Palestinians can never share it. The slovenly “peace process” – abandoned by the Israelis, then by the Palestinians and then by the Americans years ago, although “statesmen” still talk about it in the dream world in which they live – would no longer exist even in our imaginations.
That’s why everyone from Macron to Erdogan, from the Saudis to the EU, and of course the poor old Palestinians, have been variously criticising and condemning Trump’s potential decision. If he doesn’t sign the old waiver – which has to be renewed every six months – to the US law to move the embassy, then he will indeed, to quote the Palestinian leadership, be risking an “ethnic” conflict.
Aren’t there enough wars in the Middle East to keep even the crazed White House busy? Trump has long ago taken the Sunni side in the Sunni-Shia conflict – but now he risks turning up the heat by infuriating both of them. The Arabs all know – and many Israelis agree – that President Trump is bananas. But the ramifications of any movement of the embassy – or acceptance by Trump that Jerusalem is indeed the capital of Israel – will be enormous. It will tell the Arabs, both Muslims and Christians, that their second most holy city belongs to the Jews of Israel and not to them. It will tell the Iranians the same. It will mean the same to all the Muslim countries of the world.
Could Trump expect another warm welcome and traditional sword dance in Riyadh? Would the Saudis choose to buy all those billions of weapons from the US if it hands Jerusalem to the Israelis? Muslims generally believe that the Prophet, born in Arabia, ascended from Jerusalem to heaven.
In the West, it will further tear apart the relationship between Washington and the EU, it will damage Canadian-American relations – for Ottawa is surely not going to follow Washington’s move – and the EU, still fondly believing in the famous “peace process”, is certainly not going to respond by moving its own embassies to Jerusalem. There are, of course, European consulates in Jerusalem – but to cover the East Jerusalem and the West Bank, not Israel.
Bibi Netanyahu and his extraordinarily right-wing Israeli government will certainly be happy, for it will unleash a new and far greater expansion of Jewish colonies – which we still oddly call “settlements” – on Arab land, further aggravating the Palestinians. The Israelis have been stealing land from their legal Arab owners for years, but President Trump would be taking from them even the hope of a capital in East Jerusalem.
And how would the Palestinians of the refugee camps in Lebanon respond? There is scarcely a Palestinian home without a photograph of the Al-Aqsa mosque on the wall. How will Hezbollah respond? Can they merely satisfy themselves with rhetoric – or will they need to fire some missiles over the Israeli-Lebanese border to express their fury?
And the Russians, the greatest ally of Syria – where Bashar al-Assad would surely declare his regime the standard bearer in a new battle for a “liberated Jerusalem” – can scarcely let such a moment pass without taking the Arab side. And selling them the warships, fighter aircraft and missiles which they have hitherto bought from the Americans.
An Israeli dream might come true if Trump announces Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But so will an Arab nightmare. At least when Jerusalem remained the subject of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Arabs of the West Bank could believe in the vague hope of a share of the city. But if Trump goes ahead, then America can never field another “peace process”, even an imaginary one. “A colossal blunder” will be the least the world will say about the United States if Trump does not sign the waiver.