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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Jerusalem retreats into fear, anger and frustration

After 'delivering' on his campaign promise, the US president has destroyed any notion that America is an 'honest broker' in the peace process

Palestinian women react as an Israeli mounted policeman disperses protesters in Jerusalem.. Ahmad Gharabli / AFp
Palestinian women react as an Israeli mounted policeman disperses protesters in Jerusalem.. Ahmad Gharabli / AFp

Even the most cynical observers of this region have been left appalled by how the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory – an injustice that has already prevailed for five decades – has been upended into something altogether more troubling in the past few days. As The National reported, Donald Trump broke with tradition on Wednesday, declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. At the same time, he instructed the US state department to start the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The peace process had stalled in the hands of Mr Trump’s predecessors, but what fragile hopes of progress that existed were almost certainly smashed when the president said “today, I am delivering”, a reference to his campaign promise to change the status of Jerusalem.

An avalanche of commentary and condemnation has been delivered back to him in the days since the announcement. On these pages, our columnist HA Hellyer argued the decision didn’t “really change much” because there was no evidence to suggest Mr Trump had any interest in ending the occupation. Hussein Ibish, writing today, said that Mr Trump had made peace “impossible” and “foreclosed” any new opening between Israel and Arab states that the US president sought to foster.

Officials from across the spectrum of the international community have expressed their frustration with the US: the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation said it was “a complete defiance of the rights of the Palestinian people”. Saudi Arabia said the US had made an “unjustified and irresponsible step”. UN officials said there was “potential risk of a violent escalation”, words given added credence as news broke of Palestinians being reported injured in clashes with Israeli security forces.

While it serves no one to actively talk up the prospects of a “third intifada”, violence rarely provides the correct answer to any question, what we are seeing now is the consequence of a unilateral, ill-conceived decision. Wednesday also marked the end of any suggestion that the US could continue to fill the role of “honest broker” or “neutral mediator” of the peace process. This point was unwittingly underscored by the out-of-step comments by Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the UN, who described the organisation as a “foremost centre of hostility” towards Israel.

Should Mr Trump or Ms Haley seek counsel in diplomatic history, they should look no further than the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offers the most viable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The document calls for “the acceptance of the establishment of a Sovereign Independent Palestinian State on the Palestinian territories occupied since the 4th of June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital.” The API, an admirable and concise political road map, makes clear in one sentence why Jerusalem matters, why the occupation must end and, indeed, why Mr Trump’s declaration has been met with anger, frustration and fear.