Trump’s folly



M Ziauddin

He may not have realized it and perhaps those he had intended to harm and even those that he had wished to help may not have grasped it but what he has actually done by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is, he has initiated a seemingly tentative process of unification of the Muslim Ummah which just a day before had stood divided on so many lines including the bitterest line of them all—the Shia and Sunni divide. Declared enemies—Iran and Saudi Arabia—have echoed similar sentiments on the issue.
Palestinians have the right to Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, Saudi King Salman said Wednesday, echoing calls at an Islamic summit in Istanbul.
“The kingdom has called for a political solution to resolve regional crises, foremost of which is the Palestinian issue and the restoration of the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights, including the right to establish their independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” the king said.
Salman’s address to the kingdom’s Consultative Council came as the world’s main pan-Islamic body held an emergency summit in Istanbul in response to last week´s US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Iran, locked in a regional rivalry with Saudi Arabia, said the Muslim world should overcome internal problems through dialogue so it could unite against Israel.
“America is only seeking to secure the maximum interests of the Zionists and it has no respect for the legitimate rights of Palestinians,” President Hassan Rouhani told the summit.
Also, the US President perhaps without knowing what he is doing has thrown Israel into the midst of its enemies without any life-line, as very soon the US that has become a net exporter of oil, thanks to its booming shale franking industry is likely to realize that it no more needs Israel to play its proxy policeman in the oil-dwindling Middle East.
All these 70 years Israel has ably served as proxy policeman of the US in the Middle East securing for its Washington masters what is called the black gold on which had crucially depended America’s prosperity and its global leadership.
The US had kept pampering Israel since the first Arab-Israel war with guns and gold creating in that tiny little country an artificial David who was able to keep the mythical oil-gushing ‘Goliaths’ in the neighbouring Arab countries well within the commercial line drawn by the US.
But today since the US itself has become net exporter of oil the question is, how long would a Trump’s US afford to continue pampering Israel politically, logistically and financially in the same way as it has done over the last 70 years? One can find an answer to this question in President Donald Trump’s declaration that the pursuit of narrow national advantage will guide his policies.
So, at this point in time one cannot say for sure what fate awaits Israel, say, five years or ten years hence. But it defies logic to assume that the US would continue pumping billions in guns and gold to Israel while it serves no strategic interests of Washington in a region that had lost its importance for the US along with whatever reserves of oil it is left with.
There are ways to solve the Jerusalem problem, such as by carving out some neighbourhoods in the eastern part of the city and allowing the Palestinians to claim those as their capital. Trump’s announcement actually did not specifically foreclose this possibility, which makes the move even more puzzling. It actually achieves little on the ground, all the while offending millions of Palestinians, hundreds of millions of Arabs, and public opinion almost everywhere. When China, your European allies, the Pope, the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan all voice strong opposition, it is surely worth questioning the wisdom of the policy.
Trump certainly doesn’t need to solidify his pro-Israel credentials; three of his key Middle East advisers are known to be sympathetic with the Israeli right. More importantly, the American public, including his Republican core, already thinks his policy is pro-Israel. A University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll (among a national sample of 2,000 American adults, fielded by Nielsen Scarborough November 1-6 and released at the Brookings Institution last Friday) found that 59 percent of Americans said they preferred that Trump lean toward neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In contrast, 57 percent of Americans, including most Republicans, said he is in fact leaning toward Israel. The poll also shows that 63 percent of all Americans oppose moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, including 44 percent of Republicans.
How about the Evangelical Christians whose support has been critical for Trump, and who are known to support declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. embassy there? Two-thirds of Evangelicals say Trump’s policy is already leaning toward Israel—a proportion that’s even higher than that of the rest of the population. Even on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the support is hardly overwhelming: While 53 percent of Evangelicals support the move, 40 percent oppose it.
Evangelical leaders undoubtedly bring this issue up with the president, but none will abandon him for not making the declaration. Trump has been the president who has arguably given the Evangelical right more than any other president in history has: from favourable key appointments such as Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to highly favourable policies toward religious schools.
In the meantime, the administration’s assumptions about the limited costs of the move are based on little more than a leap of faith. In fact, the move would go against the very priorities that the administration has set for itself in the Middle East: fighting Islamist militancy and confronting Iranian influence. Jerusalem is the perfect issue for Iran and Islamist militants to use to mobilize support against the United States and those who endorse its policies.
The move would go against the very priorities that the administration has set for itself in the Middle East: fighting Islamist militancy and confronting Iranian influence.
The United Nations partition plan drawn up in 1947 had envisaged Jerusalem as a separate “international city.” But the war that followed Israel’s declaration of independence one year later left the city divided. When fighting ended in 1949, the armistice border — often called the Green Line because it was drawn in green ink — saw Israel in control of the western half, and Jordan in control of the eastern half, which included the famous Old City.
During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied East Jerusalem. Since then, the entire city has been under Israel’s authority. The city marks “Jerusalem Day” in late May or early June. But Palestinians, and many in the international community, continue to see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Roughly 850,000 people live in Jerusalem — 37% are Arab and 61% are Jewish, according to the think tank Jerusalem Institute. The Jewish population includes around 200,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews, with the rest split generally between religious Zionist and secular Jews. Of the city’s Arab population, 96% is Muslim; the other 4% is Christian.
The vast majority of the Palestinian population lives in East Jerusalem. Although there are some mixed neighbourhoods in Jerusalem where both Israelis and Arabs live, most of the neighbourhoods are split.
Before 1980 a number of countries, including the Netherlands and Costa Rica had their embassies in Jerusalem . But in July of that year, Israel passed a law that declared Jerusalem the united capital of Israel. The United Nations Security Council responded with a resolution condemning Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and declared it a violation of international law.
In 2006, Costa Rica and El Salvador were the last to move their embassies out of Jerusalem, joining the rest of the world in locating their embassies in Tel Aviv.
Some countries do maintain consulates in Jerusalem, including the United States, which has one in the western part of the city. Other countries — such as Britain and France, for instance — have a consulate in the eastern part of the city, which serve as their countries’ main representation in the Palestinian territories.
In 1989, Israel began leasing to the US a plot of land in Jerusalem for a new embassy. The 99-year lease. To this day, the plot has not been developed, and it remains an empty field.
In 1995, the US Congress passed a law requiring America to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Proponents said the US should respect Israel’s choice of Jerusalem as its capital, and recognize it as such.
Every US President since 1995 — Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama — has declined to move the embassy, citing national security interests. Every six months, the President has used the presidential waiver to circumvent the embassy move. Trump has also signed a waiver officially delaying the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for six months.

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