By: Roger Cohen; nytimes.com
My colleagues Anne Barnard, Ben Hubbard and Declan Walsh captured well the Palestinian and Arab reaction to President Trump’s official recognition this week of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: “An explosion of violence could still come,” they wrote, “but so far there is something more like an explosion of sighs.”
Jerusalem, city of passions, has long been a tinderbox. The Second Intifada, or uprising, began in 2000 with Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. But that was 17 years ago, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still stood at the core of Middle Eastern conflict, and Arab backing for the Palestinian cause was more than rhetorical.
Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, is now calling for a third intifada. But he’s up against exhaustion, cynicism and shifting priorities in the Arab world. Trump’s announcement did not destroy the “peace process.” There is no peace process to destroy.
The Arab Spring has come and gone, and the Syrian state has gone, since the Second Intifada. Iran, the Shia enemy, looms much larger than the Palestinian cause for most Sunni Arab states. Everyone knows how much democratic legitimacy Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has — none — and what purported reconciliation between his Fatah faction and Hamas is worth — very little.
The Palestinian cause, undermined by disunity and the cultivation of victimhood, is weak and growing weaker. International indignation does not change that. Israeli force has been implacable.
I confess to a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger reaction to Trump’s announcement. It did have the merit, as the president noted, of recognizing a reality, and that reality reflects perhaps the deepest of Jewish sentiments. It was, at least, not more of the same peace-process blather.
Real frustration would require belief that maintaining the unresolved status of Jerusalem as a final-status bargaining chip in the “peace process” would make a decisive difference in that process. But, as noted above, there is none. If anything the “process” has been ideal camouflage for the steady growth in the number of Israeli settlers (now more than 600,000), favored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government. It has given steady Israeli expansionism the international benediction of mythical reversibility. I am not convinced Trump gave a lot away.
Well, some would argue, Trump put paid to any notion that the United States is an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. I don’t know anyone who believes that: America supports and favors Israel over the Palestinians for a variety of domestic political, strategic and sentimental reasons.
Well, Trump has provoked the unswerving ire of the Palestinians (who now refuse to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his upcoming visit) and destroyed any chance of peace. But there is nothing unswerving about Palestinian policy. It is big on rhetoric, feeble in action, reflecting powerlessness. Abbas will come around if the right offer ever comes along.
Well, Trump undermined America’s international credibility and ability to lead. Sorry, he’s already done that many times over. American international authority is spent, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discovered this week in Europe.
Well, the president broke ranks with all major powers. In fact, he joined President Vladimir Putin. Earlier this year, Russia declared, “We view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
However, the Russian statement was more balanced. It also said, “We reaffirm our commitment to the U.N.-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.”
Israel, of course, claims all Jerusalem as its capital (including East Jerusalem, where more than 200,000 settlers live). The Palestinians will not accept a peace plan in which some part of Jerusalem is not their capital. Trump said his statement did not prejudge “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem,” but its most damaging aspect was to give strong implicit backing to Israel’s claims, with no mention of Palestine’s. It also put American lives in danger and humiliated a people, the Palestinians, whose lives under a 50-year-old occupation are a daily exercise in humiliation. It flouted United Nations Security Council resolutions, so undermining international law.
Trump’s was a silly, reckless gesture. What else is new?
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, is now supposed to produce his peace plan. Poor, pale, languid Jared! He will try to get his friends the Saudis to offer big blandishments to the Palestinians and Israel. That’s all he’s got. It won’t work. The Greater Israel project has gone too far for the “ultimate deal.”
Since the killing of Yitzhak Rabin 22 years ago, at a moment when peace was within reach, the ethno-nationalist Israeli religious ideologues that believe all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea was deeded to Israel in the Bible (and never mind who lives there now) have gotten the upper hand, with Netanyahu’s complicity. This was a successful assassination.
These are the facts. Trump’s statement will not change them. It was directed largely at a domestic audience of evangelicals and major American Jewish groups. This, he said, was “a long overdue step to advance the peace process.” That’s nonsense. Sigh.