What transpired on the fateful day of May 14 in Palestine could not have been put more symbolically and succinctly than it was in a cartoon published by The New York Times, in its international edition of May 16.
Depicting the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, the cartoon showed the inauguration ‘celebrations’ taking place as ‘fireworks’ at the Palestine-Israel fence in Gaza went on, in which the Israeli forces killed at least 60 Palestinians including children, and injured thousands others in what has been termed the bloodiest day in Palestinian history since 2014.
The symbolism did not escape the eyes of the region’s keen observers, who cannot help but see more bloodshed and chaos in the coming months as the Middle East descends into more uncertainty. Trump’s move to shift the embassy is not an isolated incident, and is replete with grave implications, not only for the multilateral global system but also for the Middle East.
The Trump administration’s decision to walk the talk of opening the US embassy in Jerusalem on the day when Israel was founded 70 years ago was meant to convey a powerful message that with Trump in office, the Israelisation of the US is complete and all nuances of diplomacy are nothing in his global worldview, which is based on the principle of ‘might is right’.
On the eve of the US presidential elections, the US presidential hopefuls, belonging to both Democratic and Republican parties, wrestle with each other to over-commit greater loyalty to Israel. This is done to win over the crucial support of the powerful Israeli lobbies, including the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). However, the hopefuls somehow refrain from pushing the envelope lest the US loses its credibility as a broker of peace in a conflict that has defied all efforts at finding a permanent solution and which continues to serve as a reminder of the historical injustice done to the Palestinians.
When President Trump made the crucial announcement of relocating the US embassy in December 2017, it sent shockwaves across the world. Many of the US’ Western allies warned it of deviating from the policy of apparent neutrality, and that the deviation could upset the existing status quo in the Middle East. They reminded the US president of the international consensus regarding the decision on the status of Jerusalem: to be determined through negotiations between Israel and Palestinians themselves, following a peace treaty that would lead to a two-state solution.
Disregarding international opinions and apprehensions of his allies, Trump went ahead with his audacious plan and sent his son-in-law and daughter, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, to inaugurate the new embassy building. How crucial was the move for Israel’s years-long dream of Jerusalem being considered its capital – a claim severely contested by the Palestinians – was manifest in the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s triumphant remarks: “President Trump, by recognising history, you have made history”, and “We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay.”
The Trump administration’s unilateral move has grievously hurt the US’ image of a neutral peace broker. It tore apart the longstanding consensus within Washington over the American policy on the Palestinian conflict. The message that the US administration has sent across is that the US, under Trump, is least bothered about optics and morality. It will do what it wants to do, no matter what the world thinks as long as doing so comes within the broad definition of ‘making America great again’, the slogan that has marked the current administration’s review of the US policies, including its engagement with the international community.
Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is yet another addition to the new and more threatening era of unilateralism. It is a move aimed at reversing the global consensus as the US, under the present administration, has unilaterally pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and more recently the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
This sweeping push towards unilateralism is rooted in the thought that the world has been ungrateful and unfair to the US, which has carried others’ weight for too long under the rubric of being the leader of globalisation. There is this feeling within the US administration that the cost for global leadership has severely impacted its own population, who have been facing the challenges of terrorism, insecurity, unemployment and economic losses.
This mindset also explains Trump’s erratic policy of trade with China, which he has singled out for leveraging bilateral economic relations to the long-term disadvantage of the US.
The second implication of the Trump administration’s Jerusalem move has to do with a total disregard, nay rejection, of the UN as the central arbiter of disputes between its member countries. The move has severely dented the UN’s credibility at a time when the international body is already struggling to remain relevant in an environment marked by reduced funding commitments by the sole superpower, and the increasing trust deficit of the member countries.
Despite China’s advocacy in favour of the UN’s system being at the core of consensus-building on key global issues, its gradual belittling augurs ill for peace and stability. Now this is a very serious and ominous development that should alarm the world community into deliberations to save the world that is already at a precipice. While some of the questions raised on the role of the UN, and calls for its reformation, may be logical, but the fact is that the world body has been the last ray of hope for the not-so-powerful countries, despite all its imperfections.
One way or the other, the UN has been the forum for correct diagnoses of the ailments afflicting the global community and articulating the right kind of responses, even though it has been found wanting in implementation of its resolutions for reasons which can easily be understood. The Trump administration’s move of relocating its embassy to Jerusalem will hasten the process of UN’s irrelevance.
The already turbulent region of the Middle East is now further exposed to the grave prospect of more disorder, chaos and violence. After Trump– to the complete bewilderment of the US’s European allies – scrapped the Iran nuclear deal painstakingly struck by President Obama and other Western allies in 2015, the Middle East has been set for a renewed competition of regional supremacy between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This war to acquire more turf will end up taking on a more sectarian colour, effects of which will be felt beyond the Middle East, exporting instability in other Muslim regions.
Trump’s Jerusalem move has made the OIC look more irrelevant and outdated than before. Though Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has been at pains to inject some vitality and direction into the pan-Islamic organisation, and has also presided over two extraordinary sessions of the OIC in Istanbul in a span of six months, the fact that Muslims together have been unable to draw up a comprehensive policy against Israeli oppression of the Palestinians cannot be masked.
The OIC’s helplessness in the face of combined challenges of Tel Aviv and Washington is stark. Other than issuing cliched communiques, the Muslim organisation has failed to make its presence felt, emboldening the Israeli prime minister to implement the policy of ‘systematic genocide’ of the Palestinians.
With the organised Muslim states failing to rein in Israel in the face of its policy of mass slaughter along the Gaza border, the resulting dismay among Muslims runs the risk of making some of them more susceptible to the message of terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda and Isis. The effects of Trump’s decision of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will continue to be felt for a long time.