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Trump on Jerusalem: a quintessential Netanyahu

As Donald Trump parrots Netanyahu's talking points, Arab leaders are doing little more than issuing empty statements.

By Marwan Bishara

Al Jazeera English, 7 December 2017

US President Donald Trump paid his first official visit to Jerusalem in May, 2017 [Reuters]

Arabs and Muslims hoping to hear directly from Donald Trump on his new policy on Jerusalem on Wednesday must have been shocked to witness the United States president deliver an Israeli speech instead. The tone was Trump, but the words and spin were all Benjamin Netanyahu

Trump's claim that officially recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was merely "recognising reality" is pure Israeli reasoning - central to the occupation's strategy of creating facts on the ground.

Palestinians know this. Arabs know this. The international community knows it, too. They all know that if you give an inch of Jerusalem to Israel, it will take the lot, and in the process, undermine peace efforts and cause havoc.

The US Congress also knew this, which is why they put a waiver clause in the original 1995 US Embassy Act in the first place. Three previous US presidents also knew it, which is why they used the waiver to avoid implementing it for more than 20 years. And everyone - from the world leaders who called Trump to warn him, to the state department officials and diplomats who advised him against his decision - knew that as well. 

Netanyahu knows it too. Did Trump? Maybe, but it was too late. He had drunk Netanyahu's Koolaid.

If there was ever doubt in the Arab mind about Israeli tail wagging the US dog, it dissipated with Trump's latest statement on Jerusalem. Within minutes, the Israeli premier appeared smug on television to thank the American president for recognising Jerusalem as capital of the "Jewish state", and encouraged others to follow suit.

"For decades, many of ruling elites of Arab states exploited the cause of Palestine and Israeli desecration of Jerusalem for their own interests."

Mahmoud Abbas was furious. He accused the Trump administration of rewarding aggression and inflaming religious extremism. It was a humiliating moment for the Palestinian president who long placed his bets on Washington and the peace process only to see it destroyed with one speech.

For all practical matter, the speech is the product of President Trump's closest advisers since before he became president and the trio entrusted for the "Peace Process": David Freedman, Trump's ambassador to Israel, Jason Greenblatt, his diplomatic ambassador at large, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. The three New Yorkers are ultra-Zionists and stand to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu on the questions of unconditional support for Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. They are actual sponsors of illegal settlements themselves.

Imagine if an American president appointed three American-Islamist Hamas sympathisers to run US Israel policy.

Trump's announcement is a violation of international law, to cite French President Emmanuel Macron. The speech in its totality is a declaration of war on Palestinian rights, wrapped in peace rhetoric. It's devoid of any mention of Palestinian plight or US commitment to a two-state solution. Which explains the appearance of the UN Secretary General briefly right after the speech to insist that there's no alternative to two states solution with Jerusalem as capital of both states.

It humiliates the US' Middle Eastern friends and as Palestinian leaders say, disqualifies for good the US' role as broker in any peace process. Its emphasis on historic if not exclusive Jewish rights to Jerusalem and Palestine will further weaken the so-called moderate Arab camp, and embolden US detractors and extremists across the region, especially in Iran.

Even before the speech, Arab and Muslims leaders, including Trump's newfound friends, expressed their concern, criticism and outright condemnation of Washington's decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. After the speech, these leaders called for emergency meetings of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has 57 members, in the coming days.  

"If [Arab leaders] don't rise to the occasion and meet the expectations of their bitter and angry citizens, the US will continue to reward Israel for its aggression and Trump's much anticipated 'ultimate deal' will be no more than the ultimate humiliation that pushes the region towards the brink."

So what? Ask the sceptics.

US haters couldn't hate the US any more than they already do, and US allies wouldn't jeopardise their relations with Washington for the Palestinians' sake. The Arab regimes issue statements and declarations for public consumption only. In reality, they are too weak or too divided to do anything about it. The entire Arab order has imploded in recent years under the pressures of civil wars and regional conflicts. 

For decades, many of ruling elites of Arab states exploited the cause of Palestine and Israeli desecration of Jerusalem for their own interests. And today, a new generation of leaders is willing to abandon the Palestinians and Jerusalem altogether to enhance their power base with US and, yes, Israeli support. This was best expressed last week in a new Saudi hashtag gone viral: "Riyadh is more important than Jerusalem", as its new rulers began to warm up to Israel under US tutelage.

All of which explains the timing and aggressive temperament of the US position.

The US's longest-serving envoy to the peace process, Dennis Ross, has written an entire book, Doomed to Succeed, to reel against Washington obsession with balancing relations between Israel and the Arab world and caring too much for Arab sensitivity. A vocal Zionist, he argued that American leaders didn't learn from the lessons of their predecessors who naively give weight to Arab positions on Israel, when according to Ross, Palestine is not the Arabs' priority. 

Regardless of whether his claims are true or otherwise, the current US administration seems to subscribe to Ross's theory. Trump called his Arab allies to inform not consult them about his dangerous decision on Jerusalem. 

Despite their plea for a softer and slower approach, Trump decided to kick them where it hurts, while at the same time, express support for their stance against Iran - in return for their compromises on Palestine. However, it's Iran that has come out on top this week, thanks to Trump's Netanyahu emulation.

The so-called moderates may have registered their rejection of the US move, but it remains to be seen in the days and weeks to come whether Arab leaders will do more than hold meetings and issue empty statements.

If they don't rise to the occasion and meet the expectations of their bitter and angry citizens, the US will continue to reward Israel for its aggression and Trump's much anticipated "ultimate deal" will be no more than the ultimate humiliation that pushes the region towards the brink.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


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