May 16, 2018
President Trump has called his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “recognition of the reality”.
His National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaking to ABC’s “This Week” on May 13 said, “If you’re not prepared to recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that’s where the American Embassy should be, then you’re operating on a completely different wavelength. Recognizing reality always enhances the chances for peace.”
If recognizing the reality indeed enhances the prospects of peace, then what about the reality of:
- Turkish Cypriots having a state of their own for decades;
- South Ossetia and Abkhazia being independent states; and,
- Crimea being a part of Russia?
At the inauguration ceremony of the new embassy PM Netanyahu said, “Remember this moment, this is history. President Trump, by recognizing history, you have made history… The Israeli people thank you for keeping your word, for your courage, for your determination, and for your firm, unwavering stand alongside the State of Israel.”
Making history! Not many would agree.
On March 21, in an article titled “Liberal World Order, R.I.P.” Richard N. Haass, stated the following (*):
“But the weakening of the liberal world order is due, more than anything else, to the changed attitude of the US. Under President Donald Trump, the US decided against joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. It has threatened to leave the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. It has unilaterally introduced steel and aluminum tariffs, relying on a justification (national security) that others could use, in the process placing the world at risk of a trade war. It has raised questions about its commitment to NATO and other alliance relationships. And it rarely speaks about democracy or human rights. “America First” and the liberal world order seem incompatible.
“My point is not to single out the US for criticism. Today’s other major powers, including the EU, Russia, China, India, and Japan, could be criticized for what they are doing, not doing, or both. But the US is not just another country. It was the principal architect of the liberal world order and its principal backer. It was also a principal beneficiary.” (emphasis added)
Pros and cons of the “liberal world order” aside, there is no doubt that the US is not just another country. It is world’s leading power. However, in today’s dangerously unpredictable world Trump administration’s lack of well-thought and publicly stated strategies has also become a principal source of concern not only for America’s adversaries but also its traditional allies.
In the Middle East context also, the US is not just another country. Had it been Guatemala to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital there would have been protests but nothing like the massacre where sixty Palestinians were killed, and thousands wounded. America’s fire-breathing UN Ambassador Nikki Haley referring to the massacre said, “Make no mistake: Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday.” One may not be so very sure about Hamas, but Al-Qaida, ISIS and Al-Nusra must have been delighted.
It has been twenty-five years since Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn. President Clinton said at the time that the peace of the brave was within reach. Yet, a final settlement has remained as elusive as ever. Israeli-Palestinian relations have increasingly come to be characterized by words “repression”, “intifada”, “incitement”, “terrorism”, “stabbing”, “rocket fire”, “bombing”, “civilian casualties” and “massacre”. Contrary to initial optimism the Arab spring has brought chaos instead of democracy to the region. Over the last six years international attention has focused on the Syrian conflict, more because of the diverse interests involved than the enormity of human suffering. President Obama’s and Secretary Kerry’s efforts to energize the talks failed causing disappointment in Washington and beyond. Thus, achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace on the two-state vision took a back seat. Nonetheless, EU countries became more vocal in their criticism of the PM Netanyahu and his government. And, on December 23, 2016 UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 condemning Israel’s settlement policy.
President Trump, however, has upended Washington’s more balanced Middle East policy by giving PM Netanyahu unreserved support, thus emboldening him. The participation of royal family members at the inauguration of the embassy was no doubt designed to underline the personal dimension of his commitment. Thus, Mr. Netanyahu no longer heeds calls to stop settlement activity and make life more bearable for the Palestinians. He seems ready and willing to take steps to throw the Middle East into further chaos. No wonder why many analysts have called the moving of the US Embassy the final nail on the coffin for the two-state vision.
The world has condemned the latest massacre. The Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation will meet and issue statements but not much is likely to change. However, continuation of the status quo can only mean the lack of peace if not war.
Israel always refers to itself as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. It underlines its achievements in multiple fields ranging from agriculture to advanced technologies. There is much truth in all of that. However, its oppression of the Palestinian people casts a dark cloud over Israel’s claim to a flawless democracy. It turns Israel into just another Middle East country. A better investment in Israel’s future is to become a source of democratic inspiration for the entire Middle East rather than remaining the oppressive eternal adversary. Because, sadly for the Middle East, there is no aspirant for such a role.