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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Ivanka, Israel, and an indelible image

Could the Trump family’s presence next to images of a massacre prove a turning point?

Ivanka Trump at the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. Abir Sultan / EPA
Ivanka Trump at the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. Abir Sultan / EPA

It was a day of bleak and bloody contrasts. Dressed in their finery, Americans and Israelis took their seats in a sun-drenched courtyard in Jerusalem for the opening of the US embassy, symbolically recognising the divided city as Israel’s capital.

Fifty miles away, Palestinian protesters were being killed and maimed, the sunshine blocked by a cloud of tear gas.

The Jerusalem affair seemed entirely divorced from reality. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat next to Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, both elevated by a US administration that values nepotism above merit. Mr Kushner, ostensibly tasked with brokering a Middle Eastern peace, has become the face of its destruction. In a bizarre speech, he claimed: “Peace is within reach”, before condemning protesters – among them children aged just 12 – as provocateurs of violence.

As the speeches rolled on, each round of applause punctuated the swiftly escalating death toll: first 16, then 22, then 41. Overall at least 60 died and more than 2,700 were wounded.

In an era of fake news, the pictures and videos filling social media – of unarmed protesters throwing stones being picked off by live gunfire – exposed the lie. Nor did the incongruity go unnoticed by US media, who have been largely supportive of Israel and its powerful lobby in America but rallied behind Palestinians in a manner never before seen in any previous conflict.

Something has changed. The New York Daily News yesterday led with “Daddy’s little ghoul” alongside a beaming Ms Trump, seemingly gesturing towards an image of the wounded and weeping in Gaza. Others called the spectacle "grotesque".

It showed a turning of the tide of those who might have once been empathetic towards Israel but have been appalled and sickened by the obsequious parade of US dignitaries while the dispossessed lay dying a few miles away.

A chorus of condemnation from the UAE and Gulf states has been joined by those of liberals and human rights groups in Israel and the Jewish diaspora, who are beginning to wonder whether they want to be associated with a US president who seems so tone-deaf to injustice.

East Jerusalem is where Palestinians foresee their future capital; by delivering the city to Israel, Mr Trump has vanquished hopes of a two-state solution, with no sign of the “deal of the century” he once promised. Indeed, in their celebratory speeches, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump touted the word “peace” 13 times, yet Palestinians were mentioned just once.

Without Palestinians being part of the equation, there can be no realistic, long-lasting peace or resolution. The apartheid state of Israel is built on the narrative of a democracy under threat. Monday's violence showed just how precarious that myth is.

Palestinians face a deeply uncertain future but there might be some shred of hope that the widespread revulsion to Israel’s brutality will topple the mythical house of cards it seeks to perpetuate.

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