Trump, Jerusalem and the Middle East

January 28,2018

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The latest of Mr Donald J Trump idiosyncrasies popped up when he announced recognition of Jerusalem by the US as the capital of Israel. The Trump's statement raised dire warnings from around the globe that this very act would spark mass violence and widespread instability across the already fragile Middle East. Soon after this declaration, the 22-nation Arab League cautioned that Trump’s announcement “deepens tension, ignites anger, and threatens to plunge the region into more violence and chaos”. Similarly Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, declared that Trump’s decision on Jerusalem “opens the gates of hell.” Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia tabled a resolution in the UNGA against this ill-intentioned US move and the same got approved by the majority member nations. Taking lines from Nicholas Boileau's quote, same as "a fool always finds one still more foolish to admire him", the United States also found few supporters at the UNGA for its irrational decision that mainly included couple of South American countries and Israel.

As soon as the decision was made public, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Lebanon, Morocco, Yemen, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey. Leaders around the world condemned Trump’s decision, and the entire region therefore remained on precarious edge. Four Palestinian protesters were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces, and hundreds were wounded. Seeing the intensity of the reaction, the US State Department cautioned American diplomatic staff and their families to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank, and to steer clear of crowds, besides instructing US embassies to be on alert for a backlash. The Israeli army sent in additional battalions to the West Bank following the announcement. As a protest, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas announced that he will not meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his oncoming visit to the region.

Since Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed that half of the city, the international community views that land as occupied territory with clear understanding that Palestinians would like it to be their capital one day. Since 1988 and the beginning of a peace process that envisioned a two-state solution to the conflict — that is an independent Palestinian state and an independent Israeli state side by side — US policy has been to leave the status of Jerusalem to be decided by the two sides as part of a final peace agreement. In 2000 however, Ariel Sharon, opposition leader at that time, made a highly criticized visit to the central area of Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. The move sparked riots in the city that eventually resulted in the second intifada -- the bloody uprising against the Israeli occupation.

With such an explosive milieu around, this US decision is purely uncalled for especially in the backdrop of ongoing intifada that has already caused the death of over 3,000 Palestinians, more than 1,300 Israelis, and thousands more wounded on both sides. Palestinians are already under lot of despair on account of growing Jewish settlements in and around the East Jerusalem.

The Israelis have continued to build neighborhoods around the city, whereby its two sides, East and West, have become more and more intertwined. Few months back, Israeli security measures restricting access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex set off another wave of protests and clashes between Palestinians and Israelis. So when there is such a state of utter frustration, there is no way to predict what will trigger people. It further means the situation in the coming days will become potentially more volatile as acts of violence by charged individuals or groups may occur any time with unpredictable intensity and length.

Experts on the Middle East opine that there is a lot of frustration on the part of Palestinians directed at their own leaders over their decision to try and work with the Trump administration, despite widespread public concerns about Trump’s whimsical approach. It is now a general perception that Trump has busted the two-state solution process. As a matter of fact, Trump's decision has the potential not only to further inflame tensions across the Middle East, but it could also cause a ripple effect much further. It is very much capable of further stoking the flames of anti-Western Islamic movements in the Muslim world and the West alike, where the Jerusalem and the Palestinian issue has always occupied the centre stage. Trump's decision also seems unmindful of the fragility of coexistence in the city between its Israeli and Palestinian inhabitants; ignoring the significance of Jerusalem in Palestinian national identity and national aspirations, and the devastating impact on the future of a waning peace process.

According to Josh Ruebner, an analyst for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, the announcement may be “part of a posture to threaten and pressure Palestinians into accepting a weak deal for them when Trump unveils his oncoming peace proposal". The world at large understands well however that the conviction within the US administration has always been 'to keep on harping upon a two-state solution of the issue while ideologically staying committed to Israel retaining control over the entire Palestine, without affording any national or human rights for the Palestinian people. One very apt comment about an individual's behavioural disorder goes like this," There is nothing wrong with childhood and the frolics associated with it. But what if someone acts childish throughout his life. Some of the people have this self-destruct quality that never let them grow up. For them to think is to act, and the consequences be damned". Mr Donald J Trump is blessed with a console full of such self-destruct buttons and he keeps on pressing them indiscriminately every now and then.


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