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Posted at: Dec 8, 2017, 12:40 AM; last updated: Dec 8, 2017, 2:24 AM (IST)

Trump’s ‘diplomatic vandalism’

Smita Sharma
US’ unilateral move of shifting its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv will not only light up the Middle East tinderbox, but also raise questions about any American attempts in being an interlocutor on the issue.
Trump’s ‘diplomatic vandalism’
OUTRAGE: Palestinians protest Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel''s capital, in Jerusalem''s Old City on Thursday. Reuters

Smita Sharma

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," said then US President Barack Obama in a famous speech on June 4, 2009 at Cairo University. Themed 'A New Beginning', Obama stressed America and Islam were not at war. 

Further, on the long unresolved Middle East conflict, he said, "If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest." The Cairo speech, as a reflection of US’ intention to bridge the divide with the Muslim world, now looks pale. Obama's successor Donald Trump, who signed into law an anti-immigrant bill affecting Muslim-majority nations, has announced the shifting of the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Trump has recognised the holy city as the capital of Israel. 

"He is declaring war in the Middle East, he is declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims (and) hundreds of lions of Christians that not going to accept the holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel," said Manuel Hassassian, chief Palestinian representative to the UK. Trump's decision was hailed as 'historic' and 'courageous' by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's corruption riddled PM at the centre of investigations. 

Trump's supporters may argue that the move is in keeping with a 1995 US law which had been promised by past Presidents Clinton, Bush and even Obama but they reneged on their word to avoid inflaming tensions in the region. Trump may have been true to his election promise, just as he was in pulling out of the Climate Change Agreement and Trans Pacific Partnership. But in stirring the Palestinian pot this way, Donald Trump has opened a Pandora's box.

Broad global policy

Trump's unilateral move will not only light up the Middle East tinderbox, but also raise questions about any US attempts in being an interlocutor on the issue. The last round of US-brokered talks floundered in 2014. For a man who promises 'fire and fury' on a North Korean rogue dictator and wants China to follow an 'international rules based order' in the Indo-Pacific, Trump has trumped the principles of multilateral cooperation by bulldozing the broad policy of  allies, countries and the UN on the sensitive Palestinian conflict. At a time when Syria to Yemen continue to witness deadly conflicts, the Gulf Cooperation Council is fractured, the Shia-Sunni sectarian strife plagues the region, status quo while pushing for a final settlement could have prevented the unleashing of a fresh turmoil. The outpouring of reactions is evidence enough. France denounced the move, NATO ally Turkey threatened to snap ties with the US, the Saudi Royal Court warned of dangerous consequences, Jordan called it legally null, and Egypt, which forged the first Arab peace deal with Israel in 1979, rejected the move saying that Jerusalem remains a disputed site. 

The "Down with America...America is the mother of terror" chants are resonating from Ramallah to Amman to Ankara, and Christmas trees in the West Bank have plunged in darkness. The region is bracing for violent attacks, with Palestinian Islamist groups Hamas and Fateh vowing to undermine US interests in the region and shunning Israel. "The ball of fire will roll until an intifada will break out," threatened Salah al-Bardawil of Hamas in Gaza.

New start or kiss of death? 

Trump's assurance that the move will not impinge upon ongoing negotiations pending final settlement is far from convincing. "It is like putting the cart before the horse and creating mischief. Jerusalem is not just a physical but also a religious space which is why there are established red lines," reminds Anil Trigunayat, former Indian Ambassador to Jordan and Libya.

While some have started rationalising that this could give the needed push to talks that have dragged for decades, Trump's personal relations that emboldened him cannot be ignored. Trump's daughter and Adviser Ivanka has converted to Judaism, her husband Jared Kushner's faith. Kushner, a conservative Jew himself, has been playing an active role in the White House and engagements in the Middle East. In David Friedman, his Ambassador to Israel, Trump has a diplomat who is an orthodox Jew and supports the controversial Israeli settlements.

The Arab Thought Forum, a noted think tank in Jordan, reminded the US that it was abdicating its responsibility. "The United States was the pioneer in producing international humanitarian law, where reference is made to the 'Lieber Code' which was formulated by President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War," said the forum.

The Arab League and the United Nations have much to answer for doing far less than could be done in resolving the conflict. But a shock therapy will only create more fissures. India in its reaction has remained consistent in its position as far as solidarity to the Palestinian cause is concerned despite Prime Minister Modi's increased bonhomie with Bibi. Trump will hardly find followers replicating his move. But any hopes of peace talks succeeding have suffered a setback. And he has surely provided ammunition to those fishing in troubled waters and wishing to exploit the Muslim world's outrage at the plight of Palestinians. 


sharma_smita@icloud.com


The conflict over Jerusalem 

At the heart of this historic conflict is the ancient city of Jerusalem, holy for three religions- Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The Palestinians dream of an independent state with the Gaza Strip and West Bank. They seek East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel after the 1967 war but not internationally recognised, as the future capital of the Palestinian state. Israel, on the other hand, stakes claim to Jerusalem as its indivisible and eternal capital. The longstanding international policy advocates a two-state solution where both Israel and Palestine can peacefully co-exist within recognised international borders with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.

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