It was a bizarre move earlier this year when a New York real estate investor, with no experience in politics, diplomacy or foreign affairs, was appointed to broker an Israeli/Palestinian settlement. He would follow in the footsteps of a succession of seasoned diplomatic hagglers who all departed empty handed. Now his task is likely to be more impossible than ever thanks to his father-in-law.
We are talking about Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, designated a Senior Advisor in the White House and given the Middle East role. For his own sake he could dispense no better advice than to tell Trump not to go ahead with his reported intention this week to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Certainly there is something to admire about democratic governments being bold in taking radical and unpopular decisions to bring about change to cobweb-encrusted policies. However, this is not one of them. It would be potentially inflammatory to the Palestinians and the Islamic world.
It is hard to imagine a more contentious geographical problem anywhere in the world than the future of Jerusalem. It has been ever such going back nearly a thousand years to the Crusades. It is as holy to the Jews as it is to Moslems and Christians. As a capital, it is as important to Israelis as it is to Palestinians.
Israel took control of all Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day War. Later it annexed East Jerusalem and in 1980 declared Jerusalem itself to be its undivided and eternal capital. But the international community never accepted this, its embassies remaining in Tel Aviv even though much of their business had to be done up the hill in Jerusalem.
U.S. recognition would mean it is the first country which accepts that all of Jerusalem is the Israeli capital. So where would this leave Trump’s son-in-law when the Palestinian position is that East Jerusalem must be the capital of its proposed separate state? What would be the point in even talking to him?
Hanan Ashrawi, a leading member of the PLO executive committee, said it would expose America as ‘so incredibly one-sided and biased (that) it would the total annihilation of any chances of peace or any American role in peacemaking’. She added: ‘They are sending a clear message to the world: We’re done’.
It is little wonder that morale at the State Department is so low by all accounts. But the impressionable Kushner doesn’t seem too bothered. He made a rare public appearance at the weekend. He was optimistic of fulfilling Trump’s campaign pledge to secure ‘a deal’. He added that both the Israelis and Palestinians ‘really trust’ the president. Really?
The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, said at the weekend, in effect, ‘count me out’. Recognition would be a threat to what little is left of the peace process and be unacceptable to Palestinians, Arabs and internationally, he warned. The State Department has alerted embassies to prepare for protests.
But why would Trump consider such a provocation like this at such a fragile time in the region where American actions have caused so much violent upheaval in this century alone? It may be to please his Jewish and evangelical supporters who’ve been clamouring for recognition just as Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, did within days of Trump’s inauguration. Or it may be nothing more than to save face because of another blundering ill thought out promise he made to win over American voters 13 months ago.
Whatever the reason, Jared Kushner will eventually realise that the world of real estate investment offers much better deals than that his father-in-law was so certain about in the world of Middle East politics.
FOOTNOTE. Palestinians, who see themselves as forever victims of history, must rue a couple of shortsighted decisions by their Arab brothers. One was in 1967 when Jordan, which controlled East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, ignored Israeli advice to stay out of any conflict for its own good. The subsequent U.N. resolution 242 would have seen Israel withdraw to the pre-war boundaries in return for recognition of Israel’s right to exist within secure boundaries. Israel was agreeable. But the Palestinians wanted more and now have been left with less.
John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.