Clamoring for Israeli Approval: Trump’s Election Policies Will Haunt Him
President Donald Trump promises to be pro-Israel in every aspect. “I’m the best thing that could ever happen to Israel” he boasted at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Forum in Washington DC, in December, 2015.
For a brief moment, Trump appeared as if rethinking his unconditional support for Israel, when, in February 2016, he pledged neutrality between Palestinians and Israelis.“ Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” he said during an MSNBC town hall meeting. Since then, this position has been surpassed by regressive rhetoric, beginning with his speech before the Israeli lobby (AIPAC) conference, the following month. As for Israel, its expectations of the U.S. President are very clear: unconditional financial and military support, a blank check to expand illegal settlements in Occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank and an end to any form of political “pressure” through attempting to revive the so-called peace proces. Not that Trump has had any qualms with these expectations.
This is the kind of political landscape that Trump, essentially a businesperson not a politician, needed to navigate. In a foray of hasty moves, he agreed to give Israel what it sought, but went further than any other U.S. president in modern history by promising to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It was a clever move at the time, making Trump the darling of Israel’s rightwing politicians who now control the government. The fall-out of that promise, if implemented, however, will prove very costly. If Trump goes through with this, he is likely to unleash chaos in an already volatile region. The move, which is reportedly in the “beginning stages” is not merely a symbolic one, as some have reported in western mainstream media. Trump is threatening to eradicate even the little common sense that historically governed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Jerusalem was occupied in two different stages, first by Zionist militias in 1948 and then by the Israeli army in 1967.
Understanding the centrality of Jerusalem to the whole region, British colonialists who had won a League of Nation mandate over Palestine in 1922, were keen for Jerusalem to remain an international hub. Israel, however, took the city by force, referencing some self- serving interpretation of biblical text that supposedly designated Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people. In 1980, Israel officially annexed Jerusalem in violation of international law to the dismay of the international community that has continually rejected and condemned Israeli occupation. Even countries that are considered allies of Israel—including the United States—reject Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and refuse the Israeli invitation to relocate their embassies from Tel Aviv to the illegally-occupied city. Yet, since 1995, the U.S. position has vacillated between the historically pro-Israel U.S. Congress and the equally pro-Israel, but more pragmatic, White House.
In October 1995, the U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act. The Act was passed by an overwhelming majority in both the House and Senate. It called Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel and urged the State Department to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
U.S. administrations under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama signed a presidential waiver that deferred the Congressional bill, six months at a time.
The last time the waiver was signed by former President Obama was on December 1, 2016. Now, the opportunistic real-estate mogul has an agenda that looks identical to that of the current Israeli government of right-wingers and ultra-nationalists.
“We have now reached the point where envoys from one country to the other could almost switch places,” wrote Palestinian Professor, Rashid Khalidi, in the New Yorker. This comes as new bills are springing up in the Israeli Knesset to annex even the Jewish settlements rendered illegal by Israel’s own definition, and to remove any restriction on new settlement construction and expansion. Over the course of just a few days following Trump’s inauguration, the Israeli government has ordered the construction of thousands of new housing units in Occupied Jerusalem. Even traditional allies of the U.S. and Israel are alarmed by the grim possibilities resulting from the nascent Trump-Israel alliance.
Speaking to the Paris peace conference on January 15, French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, warned Trump about the “very serious consequences” that await in case the U.S. embassy is, in fact, moved to Jerusalem.
Palestinians and Arabs understand that moving the embassy is far from being a symbolic move, but a carte blanche to complete the Israeli takeover of the city—including its holy sites—and complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Muslims and Christians. The Trump administration’s gamble in moving the U.S. embassy is likely to ignite a political fire throughout Palestine and the Middle East with horrific and irreversible outcomes. Considering the significance of Jerusalem to Palestinian Muslims and Christians, and hundreds of millions of believers around the world, Trump might, indeed, be igniting a powder keg that would further derail his embattled presidency. In a recent interview with Fox News, Trump restated the tired jargon of how badly Israel has been treated and that relations between Washington and Tel Aviv have been repaired. But he then refused to talk about moving the embassy because it was “too early.” This might be his way of back-tracking in order to avert a crisis. It is a downgraded position from that stated by his senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, who had recently stated that moving the embassy is a very big priority.
Even if the embassy move is delayed, the danger still remains, as Jewish settlements are now growing exponentially, thus compromising the status of the city. The fact is that Trump’s lack of clear foreign policy that aims at creating stability—not rash decisions to win lobby approval—is a dangerous political strategy. He wants to reverse the legacy of his predecessor, yet has no legacy of his own, which is the very formula needed to invite more violence and to push an already volatile region further into the abyss.
Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, author of several books and the founder of Palestine Chronicle.com. His website is www.ramzy baroud.net.