Trump’s decision, while it will upset the delicate political equilibrium in the Middle East, will neither cancel nor reverse international law. It simply means that the U.S. will further isolate itself from the rest of the world by openly defying it.
President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has finally laid to rest the illusion that the U.S. was ever keen on achieving a just and lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors.
His announcement should not come as a complete surprise. The U.S. has been divesting from its political role in the Middle East, at least throughout the two terms of President Barack Obama.
In fact, Trump’s recent announcement from Washington was a tamed version of his statement before the Israel lobby last year.
In March 2016, Republican presidential candidate Trump delivered his famous speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “When the United States stands with Israel, the chances of peace really rise and rises exponentially. That’s what will happen when Donald Trump is president of the United States,” he declared. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” he announced. The mixed cheers and applause were deafening.
This new reality, in Trump’s view, renders null and void United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which have served as the cornerstone for just peace and the closest thing to reparations that Palestinians could ever hope to receive. The resolutions call for Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied since the war of 1967. Since then, East Jerusalem has been recognized by international law and even by every country that extended diplomatic ties with Israel as an integral part of the occupied territories.
Now that Trump is president, he inherited a failed Middle East policy from his predecessor, a policy that Trump finds of no benefit to his administration. What truly matters to the new president is the support of the very constituency that brought him to the White House in the first place. The Christian-evangelical constituency that believes that such an act is all part of biblical prophecy remains the foundation of his troubled presidency.
Coordination between the Trump team and Israel began even before he walked into the Oval Office. They worked together to undermine U.N. efforts in December 2016 to pass a resolution condemning Israel’s continued illegal settlement in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem.
Names of individuals affiliated with the administration’s policy toward Israel spoke volumes of the messianic nature of the government’s outlook. David Friedman, Trump’s bankruptcy attorney, was picked as U.S. Ambassador to Israel; Jason Greenblatt was appointed as the administration’s top Middle East negotiator. Both men were known for their pro-Israel views.
Chosen to lead the “peace” efforts was Trump’s son-in-law and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s friend, Jared Kushner.
By accepting Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, Trump ends an American political gambit that lasted decades; supporting Israel unconditionally, while posing as a neutral, honest party. Now he says he can get to work and encourage Palestinians to make tough concessions that need to be made for the sake of peace.
But what baffles me, as a participant of one of modern history’s largest refugee crises, is the fact that we Palestinians have already sacrificed nearly 80 percent of our historic homeland. We are denied the most basic of human rights; the right to clean water, freedom of movement, the right to a national identity, and somehow it all boils down to the notion that we face this generations-long stalemate because Palestinians just aren’t willing to make concessions on the last 20 percent of our homeland. What else could we possibly sacrifice?
Trump’s decision, while it will upset the delicate political equilibrium in the Middle East, will neither cancel nor reverse international law. It simply means that the U.S. has decided to drop the act, and walk wholly into the Israeli camp, further isolating itself from the rest of the world by openly defying international law.
And by doing so, it will, oddly enough, negate the paradoxical role it carved for itself in the last 50 years — that of “peacemaker”.