US EMBASSY RELOCATION A POWDER KEG
Yasmin Helal takes stock of the impact of the provocative relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem on the on-off Israeli-Palestinian peace process
The Palestinian crisis has been a key element of Arab identity ever since the occupation of Palestine by Israel back in 1948. Even when all hope was lost and the problem threatened to be overshadowed by the plethora of issues that emerged following the Arab Spring, Palestine and the destiny of its people continued to be close to the hearts of Arabs the world over.
However, Israel’s growing aggression and the strengthening of its military capacity doesn’t leave much room to anticipate the emancipation of Palestinians anytime soon.
Even after the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the Levantine region continued to hold out hope for a few years and demanded the return of the land to its rightful owners. Nevertheless, as the plan to wipe Palestine off the world map became clearer over the years, Arab demands were reduced to humanitarian consideration for the residents of whatever is left of Palestine.
Despite a few small victories here and there such as the UN’s recognition of Palestine as a state in 2012, the defeats have abounded. Therefore, the big picture is gloomy with precious little light at the end of what is a long and dark tunnel.
When US President Donald Trump was elected, few expected anything less than what he has delivered to date. While there were many strong reactions in Palestine and the region when the so-called leader of the free world first announced his intention to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, surprise was definitely not among them.
As Palestinians live in dire conditions and Arabs confront their injured pride, anger strongly trumps (no pun intended) surprise.
After the US announcement in early December, Palestinian demonstrators took to the streets and many of them died during the protests. Politicians in the know described the move as a slap in the face of the Palestinian people. They claimed that the decision made Trump and his administration part of the problem rather than being any part of a possible solution to the crisis.
Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Programme at the Center for a New American Security Ilan Goldenberg had served on the US team during the 2013-2014 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He told the Israeli press that the situation between Palestine and Israel could not have been more delicate, and that “it is irresponsible for the US to be dumping gasoline on this potential fire.”
Most world leaders seem to share Goldenberg’s sentiment. Given that Palestine is a disputed territory, the Palestinians too should have been included in the dialogue prior to making the decision to relocate the US embassy.
Speaking to journalists, Director of the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem Zakaria Odeh said that “it is the first time that the US has taken such a decision in violation of the international community, consensus, international law, conventions and UN resolutions,” which the United States is a part of.
He added: “Trump’s decision will give the Israeli government the green light for more colonial and discriminatory policy actions, more land control, more settlements, more Palestinian displacement, more closures and restriction of Palestinian movement and access to their city, and more revocation of Palestinian residency rights.”
The Israeli government was on high alert shortly before the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. It deployed forces across the borders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Once again, protestors were met with brutal force and once more, the casualties were many.
During the opening ceremony, with protesters dying some 80 kilometres away, Trump addressed the crowds through a brief video message. He had sent his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner to attend the event on his behalf.
Speaking at the ceremony, Kushner predicted that the journey to peace would start with a strong America recognising “the truth.” These words could well reflect the denial among members of the Trump administration that America is not that strong anymore.
In an article in The Observer, security expert and former National Security Agency analyst John R. Schindler notes that “2017 gave unmistakable signs that American hegemony, which has been waning for a decade, has now ended. A new age has dawned even though it’s still early and the sun is far from full.”
He elaborates: “As commander in chief, in his first year in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump has ranted and raved on Twitter almost daily with no effect save to confuse our allies about what exactly is going on in Washington. De facto, America has two foreign and defence policies – what the president says and what our national security bureaucracy does.”
The Trump administration, which inherited a much greater country than it would like to believe, is seemingly oblivious to the geopolitics of today. Not only will the decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem hamper the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it will also damage American relations with its allies in the region.
If the situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank spirals into a civil war, those hostile to the United States will not stand by and watch. The conflict could spread to the entire region and Trump’s Twitter storms will continue to be disregarded by the rest of the world.