Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Martin Henry | Washington and Jerusalem - Softly growls the dragon

Published:Sunday | December 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM
US President Donald Trump.
US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, speaks at the UN General Assembly on Thursday. President Donald Trump's threat to cut off US funding to countries that oppose his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital raised the stakes in last Thursday's overwhelming vote in favour of the resolution.

Standing alone against the world like Athanasius contra mundum, and standing astride the bewildered world like Colossus, the government of the United States, led by its strange president, Donald Trump, on December 6, a truly historic day, has "acknowledge[d] the obvious: That Jerusalem is Israel's capital."

"This," the president said to worldwide disapproval, is nothing more than a recognition of reality." What the president did not say, but surely meant, is that the United States did not need multilateral agreement or support to so act and was not going to continue to be constrained by multilateral disapproval.

The New York Times, in its December 15 editorial, 'Donald Trump seems confused about Jerusalem', powerfully contributed to the near-consensus mainstream media charge against what they consider the ham-fisted stupidity of President Trump. "Do you maybe find Middle East politics a bit confusing? Hard to tell all those claims and counterclaims apart, to sort out just who deserves to govern which piece of land?" one of America's leading newspapers and opinion makers charmingly queried. "Well, the Trump administration is here to make matters more bewildering and stressful for everyone," The Times answers itself.

"First, out of the blue, President Donald Trump announced on December 6 that he was formally recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital, tossing aside 70 years of careful American neutrality and infuriating Palestinians, who also want their capital to be in Jerusalem ... . With the president having made a typically grandiose and poorly thought-through political gesture to domestic supporters in this case, those who staunchly back Israel's hard-line Likud government wiser heads in the administration are trying to mollify Palestinians and other Arabs antagonised by his posturing," the Times tinkers, without a shred of evidence.

So I went directly to the 11 1/2-minute speech video itself and the transcript, both of which the same paper provided, and, lo and behold, found a lucid, thoughtful, and data-supported unilateral declaration by the government of the United States through its derided president, even if one does not agree.

"When I came into office," Mr Trump began, "I promised to look at the world's challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking. We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. All challenges demand new approaches. My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians."

As it turns out, in 1995, the US Congress had adopted, "by an overwhelming bipartisan majority", "the Jerusalem Embassy Act urging the federal government to relocate the American Embassy to Jerusalem and to recognise that that city ... is Israel's capital. This congressional decision "was reaffirmed by unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago," the president reminded.

It was the presidency that was refusing to act on the matter by applying a waiver position provided in law.

"After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result. Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel ... . I've judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a long-overdue step to advance the peace process, and to work towards a lasting agreement," Trump said.


Serious int'l dispute


West Jerusalem, the part of the divided city under Israeli control since 1949, one year after the establishment of the State of Israel and not the subject of any serious international dispute, has been the de facto capital of the state of Israel since then. "Today," Trump pointed out, "Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. It is the home of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli Supreme Court. It is the location of the official residence of the prime minister and the president. It is the headquarters of many government ministries.

"For decades, visiting American presidents, secretaries of state, and military leaders have met their Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem, as I did on my trip to Israel earlier this year."

The foreign embassies, including the American embassy, are in Tel Aviv as an act of international appeasement. But, "consistent with the Jerusalem Embassy Act," President Trump said, "I am also directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem."

Restating American commitment to seeking a lasting peace in the Middle East, the president made it abundantly clear that the US government was "not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved."

The Palestinian control of East Jerusalem, which could conceivably become their capital in a two-state arrangement for the area, was implicitly acknowledged. "The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides. In the meantime, I call on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem's holy sites ... ," the president said.

Hardly a rash and unthoughtful declaration by a bumbling buffoon.

Mainstream media trawled the world for unfavourable responses to the Jerusalem declaration of the US Government. Opposition was not hard to find. The 15-member UN Security Council convened an emergency meeting at the request of eight members to condemn the declaration 14-1, with only the United States itself voting against the Egypt-drafted resolution and subsequently vetoing the majority vote. Staunch allies, the EU, the UK, Germany, France, and Italy, have come out against the declaration, as well as Russia, a major international player.

Al Jazeera, the flagship news medium out of the Arab world, has documented "the latest developments around the world," both on the diplomatic and street front.

Key among these developments was a meeting of Arab MPs in Morocco. Coalitions of Arab states have been five times defeated by Israel in wars since 1948, and very well know that they would be decimated in any new conflict. The Arab 'parliaments are relying on multilateral assistance. "Heads of Arab parliaments convened on Thursday in Morocco to coordinate their action following Trump's Jerusalem decision. The conferees decided to form a parliamentary committee to be in contact with the European Union and continental parliaments to tell them about the "repercussions of Trump's move on the peace process in the Middle East region". They also agreed to "make all efforts to set up headquarters for the Palestinian Legislative Council in the city of Jerusalem," Al Jazeera reports.

Hamas, the Islamist extremist group and political organisation that controls the Gaza Strip, said Trump's decision on Jerusalem "opens the gates of hell."

But Armageddon hasn't exactly broken out. And won't, just yet. Despite expectations, The mighty New York Times was forced to correct fake news on Palestinian-Israeli conflict it had carried in the wake of the Trump announcement. With egg all over its face, the Times wrote, "An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly implied that hundreds of Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and Gaza were injured by live fire in clashes ... with Israeli troops. While Israeli troops fatally shot four Palestinians, the Palestinian Red Crescent reported that other protesters sustained wounds after being hit by Israeli tear gas canisters and rubber bullets." There have been five deaths associated with weak protests.

"So why didn't the regional instability materialise as predicted?" Vox voices ... : "Part of the reason protests in Israel and the West Bank are not being sustained is that the primary feeling among Palestinians right now is not rage, but rather despair and fatigue."

Trump, the political and diplomatic dunce, whether one agrees with the decision on Jerusalem or not, has made a brilliant political and diplomatic calculation, backed by his keen sense of unrivalled American power at this juncture in world history. The multilateralists, he deeply understands, will scream and convene councils and cast opposing votes, but will do absolutely nothing to seriously contest American power. And they really can do nothing in trade or diplomacy, or war for that matter, which will not hurt their own interests more than America's.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, denounced the Security Council resolution as "an insult", and ominously declared that it "won't be forgotten." The US Government says that it will be closely watching the votes, "taking names", the ambassador says, when the resolution went to the UN General Assembly last Thursday, and has threatened to cut aid to countries that vote against the US unilateral decision. Jamaica joined 34 other mostly aid-dependent countries, including four other CARICOM countries, in dodging deciding by abstaining. Seven Caribbean nations voted in favour of the resolution.

The dragon growls - softly now. And a disgruntled world lines up.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to and