THE Trump administration’s decision to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last month could not have come at a worse time for the Arab-Israeli conflict. In retrospect, even some Israeli politicians have said that the US should not have shifted their embassy on the anniversary of the ‘Nakba’ — the period the Palestinians allege their land was forcibly annexed by Israel 70 years ago.
Coming just before the holy month of Ramazan, President Donald Trump’s symbolic move triggered massive violence in the overcrowded Gaza Strip — leading Israeli troops to shoot and kill 62 Palestinians, and wound thousands of other demonstrators.
But while the bloodshed in Gaza grabbed world headlines, the images of stone-throwing Palestinians being shot by armed Israelis barely made it on US television.
Zahid Bukhari, who heads the Centre for Islam and Public Policy in Washington D.C., criticises the “power of big money” for the “virtual media blackout”, and the ensuing silence in American public opinion. Bukhari said that with growing Jewish settlements and Israeli check posts, the ‘two-state solution’ no longer seems viable. Instead, he finds Palestinian Muslims rethinking that ‘one state’ may be the way forward, “to challenge Israel the way South Africans contested apartheid”.
Some Palestinians think that ‘one state’ may be the way forward.
Jewish-American Professor Marc Gopin, who heads the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Washington D.C., has found similar thinking among moderate Jews. He says that with 20 per cent Israelis being of Arab descent, “good Jews” are talking about a “shared democratic state” that could redistribute the ethnic and religious population and “still accommodate the Jewish and Zionist dream”.
But having worked with Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem for over 30 years — where bloodshed has plagued generations — Gopin cautions that the state can be viable “only if the ethnic populations guarantee each other’s security”. The Arab-Israeli security debate was rekindled in December 2017, when Trump announced he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.
US presidents have for decades deflected their closest ally Israel’s request to move the embassy to Jerusalem by signing a waiver every six months citing ‘security concerns’.
That changed when Donald Trump got elected president. Middle East observers trace his controversial decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem to his base of “extremist Jews and Christian Evangelicals”. Their presence was evident at the embassy shifting ceremony in Israel. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner were special guests at the ceremony, as was Jewish-American casino owner and billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Remarkably, Adelson became the president’s biggest donor after candidate Trump pledged to move the embassy in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful Israeli lobby group in Washington.
Trump’s approval ratings have also shot up among Evangelical Christians who believe Israel was created as the result of a ‘biblical prophecy’. Some 80pc of Evangelicals supported Trump’s bid for election in 2016, with their support being critical for his party’s re-election in this November’s mid-term polls.
Republican Party office-bearer in Chicago Talat Rasheed says that the president’s fulfilment of his bold campaign promises, demonstrates his “true leadership qualities”. Rasheed says that if Muslim nations are so distressed by the Trump administration’s decision, they need to come up with a solution. He questions why the Muslim world, including feuding Saudi Arabia and Iran, has failed to resolve the 70-year-old Palestinian problem.
International observers believe that the OIC meeting hosted by Turkey — coming on the heels of the violence the same week in Gaza — gave a ‘psychological boost’ to Palestinians. The final communiqué by presidents and prime ministers from 57 Muslim countries declared “East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine”. They also invited the US to rescind its “unlawful decision”, because of the chaos it could ignite in the region.
But as the US presses its thumb on the scale in favour of Israel, Iran intensifies support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. Iran’s potential to enrich uranium after Trump broke off the Iran nuclear deal is raising alarm in Israel. Palestinians still back Hamas whose designation as a ‘terrorist group’ may split the international community, but also preps the region for war.
Foreign policy observers say that for the US to be a broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict, whether it is for a two-state or a one-state solution, it will have to take a more even-handed position. Absent that, it is feared that the US will lose its leverage on an issue that is at the heart of the Middle East conflict.
The writer is a journalist based in Washington D.C. and author of Aboard the Democracy Train, Pakistan Tracks the Threat Within.
Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2018