Did you hear the news? United Kingdom Prime Minister, Theresa May just declared that her government will recognize Sioux City, Iowa to be the new capital of the United States! She has ordered the relocation of the UK’s embassy by the end of December, and the embassy staff are busily preparing for the move. When asked the reason behind her announcement, Ms. May said that Donald Trump wished it, and as the nation’s leader, he should be able to place the capital wherever he wishes, and that besides, Iowa is considered the heartland of the U.S., and the home to the first party contest, the Iowa Caucuses, in election years.
Okay, that is a ridiculous notion, isn’t it? And no, it is not true. Ms. May has far more urgent worries this week than where the U.S. capital should be located. But apparently, Donald Trump has no other concerns on which to concentrate his efforts than where the Israeli capital should be. Not only that, but apparently he believes that it is his call to make, that his word is final ‘round the globe.
The announcement …
On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump announced …
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering. My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. “
The situation between Israel and Palestine is a powder keg, as is much of the Middle Middle East these days. Donald Trump is no expert on the situation, nor has he had, so we are told, the inclination to read, study or even listen to his foreign policy advisors.
On the campaign trail last year, Trump claimed that he would bring about peace to the Middle East. I believe it was one of those “only I can do this” brags, but then he went on to say that the ‘blueprint’ for peace in the Middle East could be found in his book, The Art of the Deal, which wasn’t even written by Trump, but rather by ghostwriter Tony Schwartz.
The history …
Jerusalem is a city that is considered sacred to three of the world’s largest monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and each has sites of great religious significance there. It has been fought over for millennia by its inhabitants, by invading Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans and the British Empire, and by the modern states of Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The problem …
The division of Jerusalem is the most emotional and volatile of all the issues in dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The dispute between Israel and Palestine goes well beyond Jerusalem and well beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that it is complex, and since it has not been solved in seventy years, despite the efforts of highly knowledgeable and skilled experts in the field of International Relations like Henry Kissinger or benevolent diplomats such as Jimmy Carter, then it goes without saying that Donald Trump, who has likely never read a single book about the Middle East, is not going to solve them. But he can, no doubt, further stir the fire and make it burn hotter, which is what he may well have done yesterday.
Currently, Jerusalem is the capital of both Israel and Palestine. Israel has its capital in West Jerusalem, while the Palestinian capital is in East Jerusalem. While Trump did not specifically state that Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel alone, tensions are high, and he has made enough remarks in the past that implied that to be his goal, thus it may be that the damage was done even before his announcement.
The criticism …
Jordan, France, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Palestine, Morocco, Kuwait, Germany, Arab League, Iraq, Azhar all warned Trump against declaring recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and intent to move the embassy, but of course, he did not listen.
“King Abdullah stressed that the adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East, and will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process and fuel the feelings of Muslims and Christians,” a statement from Amman read.
The Turkish government’s spokesman on Wednesday said that the United States’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will plunge the region and the world into “a fire with no end in sight”.
“A decision such as this is both morally wrong and politically dangerous,” Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told Today’s WorldView. “Not only is Donald Trump deliberately insulting the Palestinian people, but also Arabs and Muslims around the world. In doing so, he is relinquishing what little credibility the United States had left in a region that is already rife with conflict and division.”
Ayman Odeh, an Arab Israeli lawmaker and head of the third-largest bloc in Israel’s parliament, said, “Trump is a pyromaniac who could set the region on fire with his madness,”
The effect thus far …
Palestinian factions jointly announced three “days of rage,” beginning Wednesday, to protest the potential U.S. Embassy move and recognition of Jerusalem. In a statement, they called on supporters around the world to gather in city centers and at Israeli embassies and consulates to voice their anger.
The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem urged American citizens in Israel to avoid large crowds or areas where security had been increased, and ordered its staff members and their families to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank except for “essential” business.
Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said that the US had effectively abdicated its role as a mediator in the region. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said: “President Trump just destroyed any policy of a two-state solution.”
The full results are yet to be seen. I hope that the Turkish prediction of ‘a fire with no end in sight’ is an overstatement, but I am certain that Trump’s declaration will further the unrest in an already upended Middle East. Trump acted with impunity, but without knowledge, and there will likely be a price to be paid by the U.S., our allies, and the Middle Eastern nations. Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.