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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 July 2018

The US president cannot ignore the region's reaction to his Jerusalem decision

From the street to the corridors of power, the region is united in its disapproval for America's recent move

Israeli forces in Bethlehem on Saturday. Musa Al Shaer / AFP
Israeli forces in Bethlehem on Saturday. Musa Al Shaer / AFP

A new wave of violence swept over the West Bank and Gaza this weekend, with four Palestinians killed and hundreds wounded as demonstrations to protest against Donald Trump’s decision on Jerusalem were met by a repressive show of Israeli force. As The National reported, news of the return of violence was also met with weary resignation by an unnamed senior official in the Trump administration, who described what has happened as “a reaction to the Jerusalem decision”. As answers go, this seemed to inappropriately downplay what amounts to a regional rupture.

The White House can, of course, no longer be in any doubt about that “reaction”. Indeed, if the Trump administration was looking for a clarifying moment, then its December 6 decision may be that occasion. Over the course of the ten days since the decision was made, senior figures in the region have stated in clear and precise terms why the Jerusalem decision was wrong and what needs to be done to rectify the US administration’s mistake.

Last week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to discuss the situation. Addressing the kingdom’s shura council, King Salman said Saudi Arabia ”has called for a political solution to resolve regional crises, foremost of which is the Palestinian issue and the restoration of the Palestinian people's legitimate rights, including the right to establish their independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital."

Against this clamour of opinion – former US defence secretary Robert Gates said last week the Jerusalem decision hurt “broader strategy” and “created problems for our Arab friends and allies” – a key representative of the Trump administration was due to travel to the Middle East over the weekend. But, as The National reported, US vice president Mike Pence’s trip has been delayed after his travel plans became mired in the Jerusalem maelstrom.

Mr Pence’s proposed visit to the holy sites of Bethlehem has been cancelled – the official reason for doing so is because he is required to stay in the US for a vote on a key taxation bill – and his visit to the region has been significantly amended. The religious leaders Mr Pence, a man of faith himself, sought to court have rejected any interactions with the vice president. In doing so, they have sent a strong message to the US administration: that the negative reaction to Mr Trump’s decision will not easily subside and that the objections to his declaration are the same in the corridors of power as they are on the street. The onus is now on the White House to correct its gross error.