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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Jerusalem: the US is rewarding Israel for violating international law

The legal and geopolitical ramifications of Mr Trump’s move are profoundly troubling

Guatemala has chosen to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Getty Images
Guatemala has chosen to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Getty Images

The fevered speculation is over and the foreboding of every responsible stakeholder in the Middle East has been confirmed. Donald Trump is, after all, trampling on a longstanding US policy that has kept alive hopes for a just resolution to one of the world’s ugliest spectacles of colonial oppression by deciding to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Mr Trump shared his decision with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, France and Israel. With the exception of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, every one of those leaders warned him against the move. Saudi Arabia and France have already made their objections public, and the King of Jordan released a statement that made plain his grave reservations. Mr Trump’s decision was not abrupt. The US has for weeks been putting in place security measures to deal with the immediate fallout from the president's announcement. There is no guarantee that the anger his move will provoke can be contained.

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Mr Trump has dispensed with the wisdom and equanimity of Ronald Reagan, who believed that Washington had “no right to put itself in the position of trying to lean one way or the other” in the Arab-Israeli dispute over Jerusalem, in his haste to propitiate the most rabid reactionaries both in the US and in Israel. The president’s aides have attempted to portray his decision as part of a broader plan for peace in the Middle East. But a plan that dismisses the concerns of every key player in the Middle East from Jordan and Saudi Arabia to Turkey and the Arab League can scarcely claim to be in the best interests of the Middle East. Contrary to what the president’s aides say, Washington is not merely accepting “reality” by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It is, rather, sanctifying Israel’s self-serving conception of “reality”. The very fact that Israel was able to erect symbols of its statehood over stolen land recognised in international law as occupied territory is evidence of the world’s failure to hold Israel to account.

The legal and geopolitical ramifications of Mr Trump’s move are profoundly troubling. If illegal occupation is rewarded with legal title, can anyone deter Israel from annexing even more of what’s left of Palestinian land? And what of the Palestinians themselves? For years they have tolerated the coarse insults of Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu, but if the result of their patience is the loss of East Jerusalem, seen by them as the future capital of a Palestinian state, it will bring their patience to an end.

Mr Trump’s aides say that he “understands Palestinian aspirations”. If so, he must appreciate that no self-respecting people can endure indefinitely what the Palestinians are enduring. King Abdullah of Jordan warned Mr Trump that his decision “will undermine efforts to resume the peace process and will provoke Muslims and Christians alike”. There is no solace in the knowledge that these words are likely to be proved right.

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