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Trump's Jerusalem announcement? It just puts the finishing touches to an Israeli victory

Trump’s policy is a toxic mixture of ignoring law, morality, blatantly harming America's wider national interests, humiliating the Palestinian national movement and ignoring Jerusalem's symbolic status for Muslims and Arabs

With the deftness of a bull in a china shop, US President Donald Trump has ignored the advice of several close advisors, disregarded the fervent pleas of Israel's Arab neighbours, ignored warnings of America's closest allies in the Middle East and Europe, and ruptured a key element of an international consensus that had long prevailed at the UN, and gone ahead to proclaim formally Washington's view that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel.

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Such a declaration serves also to rationalise moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv, the city where every other country in the world insists on maintaining its government to government relationship with Israel.

Worst possible alternative

The most obvious question to pose is one of motivations: why? Strange as it may seem, the most persuasive explanation is that Trump saw this act of recognition as an opportunity to show his most fervent supporters at home that he was being true to his campaign promises.

Trump has been frustrated during the first year of his presidency by his embarrassing inability to carry out the programme that got him elected in 2016.

It has become clear that the Israeli government has no current willingness whatsoever to end the conflict if this means creating an independent Palestinian state delimited by 1967 borders

In essence, Trump seems to have taken this internationally controversial step because he cared much more about pleasing the Christian Zionists and the Israeli lobby in America than he does about ruffling the feathers of UN diplomats, angering the Arab masses, removing the last shred of doubt among Palestinians that the US could play the role of "honest broker" in pursuit of a two-state solution, and perhaps most of all, connecting American foreign policy in some sensible way with strategic national interests.

From this perspective, Trump has once again demonstrated his extraordinary talent for choosing the worst possible alternative in delicate international situations where dire consequences could follow from the wrong policy turn.

This gross instance of Jerusalem unilateralism rivals the geopolitical stupidity of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement a few months ago. There also the Trump approach to foreign policy seemed designed to burnish America's already secure reputation as the first rogue superpower of the nuclear age.

This global spoiler role is also dangerously evident in the apocalyptic threat diplomacy adopted by Trump in response to Kim Jong-un's nuclear weapons programme.    

Picture taken on 19 September shows part of Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of Rock (left) and the dome of Al-Aqsa mosque. (AFP)

Final touches on Israeli victory

Liberal opinion in the US and abroad lamented the Trump initiative on Jerusalem for the wrong reasons. Especially prominent was the assertion in various forms that Trump had damaged, if not destroyed, the "peace process".

Such a concern presupposes that a peace process actually existed. While promising "the deal of the century", Trump turned over his supposed peace offensive to pro-Zionist extremists (David M Friedman, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt) whose obvious goal was not peace, but putting the finishing touches on what they regarded as an Israeli victory.

Working in tandem with the Netanyahu leadership, the Trump effort has been so far focused on killing "the two-state solution", facilitating the continuing conversion of the 1967 "occupation" of Palestinian territory into a permanent reality that unlawfully blends the annexation of the West Bank with the maintenance of control over the Palestinian people by means of apartheid structures of subjugation.

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If this assessment is correct, then moving the American embassy to Jerusalem can be seen as supportive of Israel's version of the end-game of this 100-year struggle between the national aspirations of these two embattled peoples.

In this regard, the bluntness of the Trump approach exposes to the world an ugly reality that should have been obvious all along to anyone looking at Israeli behaviour with a critical eye.

Zionism's double-coded message

This substantive analysis helps us grasp the geopolitical context that makes recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital a kick in the groin of Palestinian delusions about a viable peace diplomacy. It also underscores the hypocrisy of the international community's call for reviving the peace process when it should long have been evident that Israeli settlement expansion, as well as Tel Aviv's approach to Jerusalem, had passed the point of no return.

On the basis of its recent behaviour, it has become clear that the Israeli government has no current willingness whatsoever to end the conflict if this means creating an independent Palestinian state delimited by 1967 borders, thereby encompassing the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

From the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to this historic day of acknowledging Israel's claims to Jerusalem, Zionism and since 1948, the state of Israel, have disseminated a double-coded message to the world.

No where has Israel's double-coding been more evident than in relation to Jerusalem

In its public utterances, Israel's public posture is one of a readiness for compromise and peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians, while in its practices and actual objectives, it can only be understood as a consistent pursuit of the visionary ideal of Greater Israel or Our Promised Land.

The present Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, in the course of thanking Trump for standing so strongly with Israel, told a TV audience that Jerusalem has been truly the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years.

Nowhere has Israel's double-coding been more evident than in relation to Jerusalem.

On the public discourse side stands Israel's public acceptance of the partition arrangements embodied in General Assembly Resolution 181, which included the internationalization of Jerusalem under UN administration.

Manipulating Jerusalem's demographics and heritage

More critically viewed from a behavioural discourse perspective, Israel's actual conduct flagrantly defied international law by formally enlarging and annexing Jerusalem as "the eternal capital" of the Jewish people and manipulating the demographics and cultural heritage of the city in ways that made it seem more credible to regard the whole of Jerusalem as a Jewish city.

It is difficult for even prominent Israeli apologists, such as Elliot Abrams or former American ambassadors to Israel to defend the actual Trump decision. Such apologists prefer to adopt a default position.

Yes, the timing of the White House initiative was tactically questionable, but its condemnation greatly exaggerates its importance.

They view criticisms and concerns as overblown, amounting to a display of "heavy breathing". In effect these apologists agree with Trump's core contention that the acceptance of Israel's claim to have its capital in Jerusalem is an overdue recognition of reality, nothing more, nothing less, and that the rest of the world will have to learn to live with this recognition.

US President Donald Trump (L) and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering a speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on 23 May 2017 (AFP)

Downplaying fears

Time will tell whether this downplaying of fears of renewed violence of resistance and anti-Americanism are anything other than a feeble attempt by apologists to reaffirm Israel's legitimacy in the face of a geopolitical fiasco.

What should dismay the region and the world the most about Trump’s Jerusalem policy is its peculiar mixture of ignoring law, morality, and the international consensus while so blatantly harming America's wider national interests.

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This mixture becomes toxic with respect to Jerusalem because by humiliating the Palestinian national movement and ignoring the symbolic status of Jerusalem for Muslims and the Arab peoples, it makes violent extremism more likely while lending support to postures of robust anti-Americanism.

How stupid to proclaim the defeat of Islamic State (IS) and political extremism as the top American priority and then make this Jerusalem move that is virtually certain to produce populist rage and an extremist backlash. No IS recruiter could have wished for more.  

- Richard Falk is an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for 40 years. In 2008 he was also appointed by the UN to serve a six-year term as the Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: US President Donald Trump pauses while making a statement for the press before a meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 18, 2017, in New York. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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