The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel does not improve America's standing in the world nor does it bode well for peace in the Middle East. Why? Because that's not the point.
On Monday, May 14, the United States will formalise the Trump administration’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It’s the insult of all insults to both the peace process and to every Palestinian who ever believed the US could and would act as an honest broker for peace.
The fact of the matter is that the US has never acted in an even-handed manner towards resolving the conflict in the past, and it certainly has no intention of doing so now or in the future under Trump.
To add insult to injury, Trump has timed the opening of the new embassy to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations, or rather the 70th year of Palestinian mourning, an annual observance that reminds every Palestinian of the collective trauma that befell the 700,000 Palestinians who were forcibly expelled from their homes by Zionist militias in 1948—otherwise known as the Nakba (“catastrophe”)—and never allowed to return by the state of Israel.
The Israel lobby has pressured every US administration into moving its embassy to Jerusalem, but previous US presidents gave only lip service to the idea, typically while campaigning for the presidency, and abandoning the idea once in office, knowing full well that such a move not only undermines international law, but also US legitimacy in the Middle East.
The house always wins
If Trump has demonstrated anything until now, however, it’s that he’s anchored to no norm, ideal, rule of law, or act of moral decency.
Trump serves only himself and those who patron him with compliments, cash, or both – and to that end Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a recognition that defies international consensus and legality, has no grander objective than to repay the Christian Zionists who comprise his political base. People like Sheldon Adelson, the Zionist billionaire who lavished Trump with $20 million for his 2016 election campaign, and unsurprisingly, was followed by Trump’s promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
International law, the Geneva Convention, global institutions and the Palestinian people be damned – the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem seems nothing more than a repayment of a debt from one failed casino operator (Trump) to a bona fide casino magnate (Adelson). It’s the sleaziest form of quid pro quo, and it promises to have dire ramifications for both the Middle East and US foreign policy in the region.
"Moving the embassy is the same as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's united capital. It's a war crime," said Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official and former Palestinian foreign minister, in an interview.
"There's no way we or the Arab world could accept it. It would mean the end of the US as the broker of the peace process. We would fight back and mobilise the rest of the world against the move."
To this end, Trump has added gasoline to an already volatile situation.
While Nakba Day has typically spawned an aggressive and often violent Israeli response to protests in the occupied Palestinian territories, next week’s remembrance of Israeli injustice and repression will be fueled not only by heightened emotions surrounding the opening of the US embassy, but also the emotions and tensions that have accumulated over the course of the past six weeks of protests along the Gaza perimeter fence, which have left more than 40 Palestinians dead and thousands more wounded at the hands of merciless Israeli snipers.
Approximately 70 percent of Gaza’s two million residents are descendents of those who were forcibly expelled from their homes by Israel 70 years ago, and thus the protests inside the besieged Palestinian enclave show no signs of abating anytime soon.
The US embassy opening will only add to the sense of despair, frustration and betrayal Palestinians feel towards the international community, particularly the US.
While the protests in Gaza have centred on demands for Israel to allow Palestinian refugees to return and to end the crippling blockade, which has denied two million Palestinians freedom of movement, Jerusalem not only holds an unusually special place in the heart of every Palestinian, but also its eastern half is the envisioned capital of a future Palestinian state.
To that end, US interlocutors who’ve tried and failed to bring about a resolution to the conflict in the past have underestimated the importance of Jerusalem to the Muslim world.
The day after Arafat turned down an offer to partition Jerusalem at the Camp David negotiations in 2000, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stated, “Arafat did not have the authority to divide Jerusalem and the Old City. This was an all-Arab and all-Muslim matter, and whoever agrees to the partition would be considered a traitor to Arab and Muslim history.”
In sanctifying and validating Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem, Trump risks inflaming an already “toxic witches’ brew of instability” in the Middle East.
“The embassy move may pass without significant violence - just as President Trump’s announcement back in December did not trigger the type of violence and instability in the Middle East that many had feared,” observes IIan Goldberg, who served as part of the US team during the 2013-2014 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “Or it could explode - and we could find ourselves in the middle of a new war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Nobody knows, but it is irresponsible for the United States to be dumping gasoline on this potential fire.”
The question then becomes to what end does moving the US embassy to Jerusalem advance US interests in the Middle East? It’s impossible to think of a single reason how such a reckless and unlawful move can move the peace process forward or improve the standing of the United States in the region.
But that’s the thing – moving the US embassy was never about “Making American Great Again,” or about advancing the peace process. It was always about Trump repaying a multi-million dollar election campaign contribution from a Zionist billionaire.
Apparently, that's what Trump calls “draining the swamp.”
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