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Trump's promises will haunt him
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 02 - 02 - 2017

US 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, the Republican presidential nominee 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 the most regressive rhetoric, beginning with his speech before the AIPAC conference the following month.
As for Israel, its expectations of the US president are very clear: Unconditional financial and military support, a blank cheque 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 process”.
Not that Trump has had any qualms with these expectations. The real challenge was that his main rival, Hillary Clinton, was an unprecedentedly ardent supporter of Israel. She was completely brazen in her grovelling before the pro-Israel lobby.
Reflecting on the death of former Israeli president Shimon Peres, she told Jewish leaders, “when he spoke, to me it was like listening to a psalm, and I loved sitting and listening to him, whether it was about Israel, the nation he loved and did so much to defend, or about peace or just about life itself.”
She promised them to “protect Israel from de-legitimisation”, as reported in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz — “de-legitimisation” meaning the attempts by civil society groups around the world to boycott Israel for failing to respect international law and the rights of the Palestinians under occupation.
This is the kind of political landscape that Trump, essentially a businessman not a politician, needed to navigate. In a foray of hasty moves, he has agreed to give Israel what it sought, but going even further than any other US president in modern history by promising to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It was a clever move at the time, enough to match Clinton's love offerings for Israel and make 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 now reportedly in the “beginning stages”, is not merely symbolic, as some have reported in Western mainstream media. Trump, known for his impulsive nature, is threatening to eradicate even the little common sense that historically governed US foreign policy conduct 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 designates 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 US position has vacillated between the historically pro-Israel US Congress and the equally pro-Israel, but more pragmatic, White House. In October 1995, the US 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 US embassy to Jerusalem.
US administrations under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama have 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 1 December 2016.
Now, the opportunistic real estate mogul enters the White House with an alarming 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 at the worst possible time, as new bills are springing up in the Israeli Knesset to annex even the Jewish settlements rendered illegal by Israel's own definitions, 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 ordered the construction of thousands of new housing units in occupied Jerusalem. Even traditional allies of the US and Israel are alarmed by the grim possibilities resulting from the nascent Trump-Israel alliance.
Speaking to the Paris Peace Conference on 15 January, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, warned Trump about the “very serious consequences” that would await in case the US embassy is, in fact, moved to Jerusalem. Palestinians and Arabs understand that moving the embassy is far from being a symbolic gesture, but rather would be carte blanche to complete the Israeli takeover of the city — including its holy sites — and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
The Trump administration's gamble in moving the US 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 already 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's too early”.
This might be his way of backtracking 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 push an already volatile region further into the abyss.
The writer is founder of PalestineChronicle.com.


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