Another day, another outrageous Trump stunt. News reports today say that Trump has finally decided to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. embassy there. This would have enormous complications both for the U.S., Israel and the Arab-Muslim world. It would topple decades of U.S. policy, which refused to recognize the contested city as the capital because the Palestinian portions of it are occupied by Israel in violation of international law.
Considering the budding bromance between Israel and Saudi Arabia, it’s unclear how the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would react to such a radical step. The Saudis consider themselves the keepers of the Muslim holy places and express a special connection to the Haram al Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam. Such an action by Trump would force bin Salman to choose between two starkly divergent options: Islam or an intra-Muslim quarrel with Iran. If he chooses to put his alliance with Israel ahead of his responsibility for Jerusalem, it will further erode his claims to be a leader of the Arab world. It will also strengthen Iran’s stature as a strong rival for Muslim leadership.
It is highly likely the move would profoundly upset the Palestinians and lead to prolonged unrest in the Holy City. In the past two years, Israel faced the “Knife Intifada” in which scores of Palestinians, aggrieved over Israeli suppression of their right to worship freely at the Haram al Sharif, attacked Israeli civilians, military and police targets. Scores of unarmed innocent Palestinians were also murdered by trigger happy Israeli security forces and settlers. Over 200 Palestinians died and Although it’s hard to know precisely how this will play out, odds are the coming violence will far overshadow the last Intifada. Arab anger will be deep and not easily assuaged.
The Lawfare Blog wrote this:
The worst case scenario would be if Trump makes a decision on short notice and announces the establishment of an embassy in Jerusalem without any diplomatic groundwork being laid. In this scenario, we are likely to see a high decibel reaction throughout the Arab world as both Arab leaders and their constituencies react to the United States’ surprise reversal on such a sensitive issue. Popular reactions…could result in widespread protests and even violence, and would likely put pressure on key Arab allies. Jordan, with its large Palestinian population, may face pressure to chill its relationship with Israel or face serious unrest. And Saudi Arabia may feel the need to back away from the close relationship it appears to be forging with the Trump Administration. At a minimum, Palestinians will almost certainly be outraged and any ongoing peace negotiations are likely to go on an extended hiatus.
Though no media outlets have reported this element of the policy change, it clearly is meant as a tit-for-tat statement against the Palestinian leadership, which has resisted the trumped-up peace plan proposed by Trump and his son-in-law consigliere, Jared Kushner. After being summoned to Riyadh for “talks,” Abbas clearly didn’t react favorably to the deal cooked up by the Saudis and Americans. When the U.S. notified the PA, again in retaliation for its intransigence, that we would close the PLO mission in Washington DC, the Palestinians again responded truculently and warned they would shut down all contacts with the Americans if that happened. A placating phone call from Kushner was refused by Abbas.
So the embassy move is clearly yet another petulant U.S. attempt to shame the Palestinians and tell them that if they don’t cave, the U.S. will pull the rug out from under them entirely. The problem is that the Palestinians have virtually nothing except their own honor. They don’t have wealth. They don’t have vast trade links. They don’t have military might. They don’t even control their own land. So what can you do to them? Can you erase them from the Middle East? Can you cancel their existence? Hardly.
So this is yet another totally ineffectual move by the Trump administration which will backfire. The only question is how badly it will fail and how many thousands of dead Israelis and Palestinians will result. Not to mention another little remarked result of such machinations. The Arab world knows who is stealing the Palestinian patrimony. They know who is aiding and abetting Israel in staining the Muslim holy places with Arab blood. U.S. diplomats and military personnel will inevitably become targets. Not to mention that the states in the region where we have a military presence will be targets for Islamist militants to attack U.S. forces. As a U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman once told a Congressional committee: the ongoing unrest between Israel and the Arab world causes blowback and inevitably the death of U.S. troops.