In yet another astoundingly short-sighted foreign policy move from the Trump White House, the announcement from Washington that the U.S. had recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel touched off a firestorm of Palestinian protest and violence that continues to sporadically rock the region this week.
Not that regional instability has ever been a stranger to that neck of the woods. In successive conflicts in 1948, 1967 and 1973, Israel’s Arab neighbours ruthlessly attacked the Jewish homeland in wars meant to wipe the nation from the face of the earth. In each case Israel’s enemies were eventually beaten back across their own borders. One of the consequences of these conflicts, however, was that the Israelis ended up occupying and often annexing regions of territory that were never initially part of their nation, such as the West Bank, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and of course the full occupation of East Jerusalem — originally intended to be Palestine’s capital — in 1967.
Post-WWII policy makers had initially intended for Jerusalem to be a “shared” city with the Palestinians — not unlike the hybrid occupation of Berlin after the fall of Nazi Germany — but the realities of war and politics in the Middle East soon ended that dream. There is now ample blame to be shared on both sides for why the region is still a racial and religious tinderbox — with each new decade seemingly bringing another half-hearted attempt to bring peace — while in the meantime people keep dying and the pledges and promises of Washington diplomats fall on increasingly deafer ears.
From an international perspective, not only does the move create an atmosphere of dangerous instability in a region that on any given day can be on the verge of chaos — with or without Trump’s interference — it is made all the more baffling because few can see what is actually to be gained by enraging the Palestinians. Which is probably why most wise foreign policy advisors in the past have almost always strongly opposed the recognition of Israel’s spoils of war achieved through force of arms rather than diplomacy.
At the same time, Israel has always been a staunch U.S. ally, but this support was never contingent on the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem or other occupied territories — quite the opposite, in fact. Past U.S. and international foreign policy has often been critical of Israeli moves to settle the West Bank, as well as varying aspects of its handling of the Palestinian people within its own borders. So to say that Washington’s move is a departure would be an understatement.
So much for the international perspective. With an increasingly isolationist America, one has to look domestically to find any potential gains to be made. Firstly, Jerusalem’s recognition should have Jewish voters — a not insignificant demographic in America, especially in Trump’s home state of New York — virtually dancing in the streets. In the past, such shamelessly-disguised attempts at vote getting and shoring up domestic support would have been strongly condemned at the highest and lowest levels, not so in the make-believe world of Trump’s America in 2017.
Although largely forgotten today, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol has some odd connections to federal political history in Canada. In 1979, Prime Minister Joe Clark’s short-lived PC government — the so-called ‘200 Days’ — had toyed with moving Canada’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a foreign policy disaster that was strongly protested by Israel’s Arab neighbours and contributed to the fall of Clark’s government. Even the bouncing boy from High River wasn’t immune to the vagaries of Middle Eastern politics.
Destabilizing a region which could very well descend into anarchy and war over the slightest provocation in an effort to boost your approval ratings at home is disturbing at best, and proto-fascist at its worst. Most observers have suggested that without both nations, Israel and Palestine, accepting each other as fully sovereign countries — a so-called two-state solution — there will never be peace in the Middle East.
While nominally still professing support for the idea of peace, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol speaks volumes about Trump’s true intentions. It should be clear that any two-state solution in the region has now become a one state solution, and it isn’t going to be Palestine. If war is the eventual outcome, the U.S. will have difficulty in effectively washing this blood from its hands in any quest for international absolution.