by Claude Salhani
US President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that the US Embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is perhaps the most destructive, hurtful and counterproductive decision made by a US president in recent memory. I exaggerate not.
While the moves will upset millions in the Arab and Muslim worlds, the full negative effect will be primarily felt by the United States.
While generally protecting Israel’s interests and security, the United States was perceived as a viable broker in the Middle East peace process. That notion died with Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump has given up American prestige in the Arab world.
Trump’s decision places every American citizen in the region in danger of retaliation from Islamists or perhaps even from moderates irritated by this foolhardy policy.
Do not be surprised if American embassies around the world become targets of terrorist groups seeking to avenge the undermining of the very foundation of Mideast peace talks. Until now, the status of Jerusalem, which both Palestinians and Israelis claimed as their capital, constituted a major negotiation point in any peace talks.
With a stroke of a pen Trump undermined the Middle East peace process and placed American diplomats and military personnel in the area in great peril. The US president disregarded calls from world leaders not to proceed with his plan, ignoring their pleas and trepidation about renewed violence erupting because of the deluded decision.
Told beforehand by Trump of his plans to authorise the move, King Abdullah II of Jordan warned the American president of “the danger of taking any decision outside the context of a comprehensive solution that establishes a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.”
“Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world,” the king said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, alerted in a phone call from Trump, “warned of the dangerous consequences such a decision would have to the peace process and to the peace, security and stability of the region and of the world.”
Indeed, the president of the United States is desperate for a memorable victory before the end of the year allowing him to claim that he has kept one of his campaign promises. Over the several decades of the Middle East conflict, many US presidential candidates made promises to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem but, once in office, all refrained from executing that promise.
Having been unable to implement other campaign promises, Trump is hoping to deflect criticism by chalking up an easy victory. This is one decision he truly controls. To move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a decision the president can make without risking red flags being raised by Congress.
The question of Jerusalem has long been a very sensitive subject and remains one of the key issues in any comprehensive peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians. The issue of Jerusalem is more complex than the US health-care system. It constitutes one of the central pillars of any potential agreement between the two sides staking a claim to the city.
Just as Jerusalem is key to peace in the region, it could be the focus of renewed violence. The question of the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel has been the one subject that brought a usually divided Arab world together.
This decision to move the embassy is likely to give radical Islamist groups, such as the Islamic State, a boost of energy.
Finally, a point that should not be overlooked is the counterbalance that will emerge because of the loss of American prestige in the Middle East, specifically the increase in Moscow’s influence and of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Think about that if you will. Whose interests is the American president really serving in this instance, the United States’ or Russia’s?