What does Trump’s announcement mean for Israelis and Palestinians?

Thursday, December 14th, 2017


First of all, let’s be clear: despite the artificially contrived gravitas of the occasion, signified by Donald Trump staying more solemnly faithful to his two teleprompters than he ever has before, and the almost unanimous condemnation tinged with disappointment it occasioned in major world capitals, the announcement by the White House that the US was recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel did not shift the city’s status this way or that. Unless the US president’s words can serve to rewrite the fundamentals of international law, Jerusalem remains, as it has for over fifty years now, a city under occupation.


The UN’s partition resolution that recommended carving out two states – one Jewish, one Arab – out of Palestine was careful to leave Jerusalem out of either, instead granting it special status as an internationally administered city. History tells us the partition resolution was rejected and war broke out, leading to the birth of Israel in 1948. In the process it annexed West Jerusalem. Then in 1967, during the Six Day War, it annexed East Jerusalem as well. Both were in breach of international law. Although the first came to be more accepted, leading to the expectation that fed itself into the peace process of West Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel while the Palestinians, once they had a state, would form theirs in East Jerusalem. It is the rejection of this paradigm to the peace process initiated with the Oslo Accords of 1993, and thus the scuttling of the process itself, that may turn out to be the most lasting legacy of Trump’s announcement.


Although it resulted in some Days of Rage amongst the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,  and Hamas just declared the start of the Third Intifada as Dhaka Courier went to press this week, somehow the sense of anger or disgruntlement has lacked the conviction of previous bouts of Palestinian outrage. This is for the simple reason that for a long time now, since the early years of the Obama presidency at least, there has been no process to speak of. Just recently, an uneasy sort of calm seemed to prevail, if not quite peace, between Israelis and Palestinians. That too has broken down now in the last one week, with rockets bearing down upon Israel for the first time in a long time, and IDF planes bombing Palestinian outposts in the Gaza Strip.


So why did Trump do it, if no lasting positive change beyond a real estate project for the new US embassy in Jerusalem can be foreseen at the end of it all?  Well, as an issue of very high import and sensitivity for certain groups within the US, particularly White Evangelicals who form an important segment of Trump’s base, it is a vote-keeper. Expecting a scrap over his landmark tax reform that would be up for a vote in Congress soon after (it has since passed), Trump may well have seen this as a ploy to soften his Republican party colleagues, knowing even the smallest mutiny or boycott by GOP members could be enough to sink the entire bill. And render his first year an utter failure. So a bit of cynical give-and-take for political expediency.


The rejection presumably, now of the US-mediated, committed-to-two-states Oslo Process is not particularly something even the Palestinians resent anymore. They have seen the lengths Israel is prepared to go to,  if the US tries to play the role of a fair broker of peace. Bibi Netanyahu showed the influence he had forged in US circles during his time there, as he had the temerity to upstage a sitting American president, one of the great orators of our time, on the day he was addressing Congress.


There will now most likely be a period where the two-state solution is gradually eased out, and the one state with equal rights for all option is given some traction. Despite obviously signaling the end for Palestinian aspirations to a future state of their own, it doesn’t quite touch the raw nerve one may have expected – Saeb Erakat and Hanan Ashrawi, two of the pillars of the Palestinian negotiating team, while acknowledging the end of the peace process based on the 2-state principle, were surprisingly stoic about going forward with one state. To that end, the Palestinians may at last now be able to refocus their quest in a more fruitful and meaningful manner.


Even if that was never the intended outcome, for Messrs Trump and Kushner.

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