The New US Position on the Palestinian Issue: A Radical Change in the Rules of the Game
By Mohammed Masharaqa *
Translated from Arabic by the Center for Arab Progress
US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a critical turning point in the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a historical move given that it is perhaps an end to an era of the USA settling this complex conflict using political tools. Instead, now this seems like an end to the USA administration monopolization of mediating the conflict for nearly two decades. The US decision came as a shock for all the US allies in the region and even to the US diplomatic elite, since it is in fact a departure from the political approach taken by successive US administrations.
It is also in violation of the UN resolution that considers the territories of 1967 including Jerusalem, as occupied territories. Further, it is an obliteration to all the promises made by the US president and his staff towards creating a comprehensive initiative to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This also contradicts the current strategy of the campaign against terrorism and limiting of Iranian influence.
- The motives of the American position
There are varied opinions and analysis on the reasons and motives for such a move, ranging from religious and ideological interpretations of a Christian-Zionist group surrounding the president (believing in the rebuilding of the Temple in anticipation of the return of Christ the Savior). The transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the city of Jerusalem are is a result of the promises made by Trump during the 2016 elections.
Alternatively, Trump’s motives can be a result of the pressures of the investigations into the Russian intervention in the 2016 US election. This has started to affect the circles around the president especially his brother-in-law, Jared Kouchner, who is a close ally to Israel and seeks to attract the support of Jewish lobbies and Christian Zionists in Washington. Other analysis are centered on the personal qualities of the president, which are characterized by recklessness, lack of balance and limited experience in international political affairs.
All the above factors may be fundamental, substantial and effective, yet this paper will go on to the presumption that Trump’s decision is profoundly strategic. It comes as a byproduct of extreme right-wing analysis published in research centers in the United States and the West. Further, it is a result of the post era of the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, post 9/11, and the theory of “creative chaos” which is all about reconstructing the map of the Middle East. This is due to the region regarded for many years as “the root source of terrorism and with an inherent hostility towards the Western civilizations.”
It is in the fragile Arab states structure that has fostered an ideal environment for the destruction of the remaining Arab national states which emerged after the Second World War. The establishment of the Israeli entity in the heart of this region was the prelude, which was founded to follow the Western colonial pattern with all its historical and cultural aspects and its ideological, economic and political goals. Israel is an entity whose function was to control the rhythm, growth and development of the region to serve modern colonialism. And today it is getting revived in the name of terrorism and chaos on the borders.
In the past seven years, we are witnessing a predicament that impedes the prospects of developing an actual legitimate political system. This is in light of the so-called Arab Spring, which has resulted in civil wars and the disintegration of the national states of Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. There is still a clear threat for the remaining Arab states, some of which still live the problem of national identity and preoccupation with the endeavors of security, stability and development, and crises related to the legitimacy of the political system, democracy and public freedoms. The best evidence of this is in the fragmentation of nationalism and national identities in favor of other religions, ethnicities, tribalism and sectarian perspectives, before the formation of statehood and lack of political structure.
Perhaps the American administration and its various institutions will not find any better circumstances to diminish the Palestinian cause through the formation of a state in Gaza with an economic solution, along with some communities in the West Bank. The Palestinian cause has witnessed a collapse in the meaning and structure of Palestinian national identity since the assassination of the Palestinian national founder Yasser Arafat. The situation of the Palestinian Authority has experienced a state of unprecedented political and moral disintegration, and the systematic destruction of the national movement represented by Fateh. It has also transformed Fateh to become a party belonging to an exclusive group in Ramallah. The lines between the Palestinian Authority and Fatah have become blurred.
In the same context, the role of the PLO and its historical factions has been marginalized and transformed into an empty structure that has no serious impact on the political life. It has also become the monopoly of President Abbas, the group surrounding him and those who are satisfied with him. The deep Palestinian division that has been going on for 10 years has not only been disastrous for the vertical division between Fatah and Hamas, but also for a deep social, and cultural divide between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. “The sanctions were necessary to serve reconciliation and we will not stop sanctions until Hamas recognizes the (legitimate) government,” said Jamal al-Muhsin, a member of Fatah’s central committee. “The sanctions were necessary to serve reconciliation, Full of tasks, and its powers in the Gaza Strip “.
- The Effects of the Decision
The deep American mind recognizes the ramifications of the decision to declare Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. Furthermore , most international and regional parties can afford the cost of the final liquidation of the Palestinian cause or the ending of the 1999 Peace Process. The promises from the peace treaty which assumed the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital is no longer applicable. It is highly improbable that Israel would lead a foreseeable future of: “There is not a single concession on the land for the Palestinians, nor a second state between the sea and the river.” The American gift to the Israelis came to strengthen the trend of the right-wing religious and national extremism. The gamble on excluding Washington from its crucial role in running a stalled negotiations, for the benefits of the European Union or Russia, remains in the realm of unrealistic wishes in the near future. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has tested these potential roles in Moscow and Brussels. And he has witnessed the difficulty of making a decision on any of the international disputes because of the vacillation of decision-making mechanisms in the Security Council. The countries aspiring to play major roles alongside the United States are involved in external and internal conflicts that prevent them from paying the cost of effective global leadership. On the other hand, the desire at the moment is to share with the United States in some conflicts. Note the Russian example in the war on terrorism in Syria, and Iraq and NATO countries in the war on Libya.
Because of this conviction based on the reality of the international situation in this region, the United States is strongly attacking historical and cultural aspects of societies without consideration for the Arab and Islamic moderate countries. The USA did not pay attention to the cries of liberals from the political, academic and diplomatic elite of the USA, who warned Trump’s administration’s dangerous risk of destroying the efforts of seven decades of US policy in the Middle East (as positions of former ambassadors in Israel). Washington is abandoning the role of mediator today, instead it is imposing a coercive solution in favor of one party. A solution that eliminates the legal basis enshrined in international resolutions, including partition resolution 181 of November 1947, concerning Jerusalem, the establishment of a Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967, ending the refugee issue and all decisions guaranteeing the right of return and compensation. The precise description of this plan on the state of the “farce” of the cantons or the seclusion is that “it is an insult to the apartheid regime in South Africa and no Palestinian leader who respects himself can accept it.”
Therefore, the decision maker who promised Jerusalem as the continuation of the Balfour Declaration a hundred years ago, knows that this step would weaken the national historical leadership of the Palestinian people. Further, it is an end to an entire stream of political realism that cannot continue to play its leading role, especially with the solution that is ending decades of the Palestinian narrative. This narrative is inherited in the source of legitimacy of all Palestinian political parties. If Trump’s catastrophic decision on Jerusalem and his draft of a settlement in the context of the “deal of the century” is right, then this will govern the current Palestinian leadership with political death, leaving no choice but to disappear from the scene.
This decision would embarrass the moderate Arab regimes and put the brakes on the internal transformations that America had demanded a year ago to protect from external and Iranian threats. In particular, its rulers would have to listen to the voice of their peoples, where Jerusalem is deeply engrained in their national and religious conscience. The current Arab regimes are experiencing a desperate attempt to protect their stability from the repercussions of US policy, or alternatively to openly participate in ending the Palestinian cause.
- Possible Implications of Trump’s decision:
- The possible direct repercussions of the American intervention in the Middle East, which is ending the Palestinian chronicles and tampering with the Jerusalem issue, is shocking and provoking the Palestinian and Arab consciousness. It is no less dangerous than the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947. The Palestinian and Arab situation lacks any political, intellectual, and organizational leverage at the moment. It is barely enabling them to confront, or to ensure legitimacy and the ability to regain a leadership role accepted by the general public.
- Preliminary estimates and its axiomatic in politics to say that new / old forces will seek to seize the opportunity and fill the void created by the intended shake up. In the region, Tehran, Ankara and Israel appear to be the parties to deal with the implications of the new US policy and protect its interests and the vital area of its security. There is a tempting role for the three parties to work on national unity, yet there is the continuation of civil war, chaos and the collapse of the state in a number of countries. Further, there are formulas of fragile states who do not have a national project for the region or in a number of countries, as well as, the collapse of the national security and national defense.
On the other hand, the current Arab and Palestinian situation also calls for radical forces in the Middle East that will seek to reproduce themselves after the strikes they have received in Iraq and Syria from the Al-Aqsa Gate and the city. It is also not unlikely that the various jihadist allies will find new allies in some Arab nationalist and leftist movements that share resentment against regimes and hostility to America. This means re-producing chaos and turmoil in the Middle East, and threatening the rest of the Arab states and their preoccupation with internal wars and an extremist religious character that lasts for many years. According to some estimates, this is exactly one of the goals of the American resolution that targets Jerusalem with all its religious and national dimensions. It is the gateway to the re-production of the so-called war on terror, which former defense Minister Leon Panetta estimates may last for 30 years.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan was one of the topics on which the jihadists relied on to promote the narrative of the Islamic victimization against the infidel other. It is therefore not surprising that al-Qaeda affiliates and a long array of moderate and radical Islamist and Sunni Islamist movements around the world to deal with the US decision on Jerusalem as a “war on Islam.” The Islamic state, known as “Daesh”, chose to attack other Islamist movements by using the Palestinian cause for their interests. They also stated that that, “the focus should be instead to work hard to defeat the Arab countries that surround Israel, like a bracelet that protects the Jews from the strikes of the Mujahideen”.
- There are tremendous efforts to weaken the moderate Arab states especially Saudi Arabia. “While the US claims it will step up its actions against Iran, we declare that we are not an honest broker in the peace process,” said Andrew Lupine Paghat, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Further, “The Saudis and the US have sold the traditional Arab interests to the Israeli interests,” Tehran said.
- The moderate states will be the first target of Islamic extremism and will not be able to succumb the waves of rationalism and realism in the Arab world. In return, they will witness a decline in their role and position in the Arab region. Some Western analysis estimates that Americans have stunned their allies politically and socially in the region. Further, there is a re-call in religious extremism to support the regimes in the face of new changes and visible competition between the Turkish-Sunni and Iranian-Shiite relations, politics, and sectarian tensions.
- There is the unpredictable chaos in the Middle East and sharp polarization of the situation on the basis of religion and nationalism. This will cast the spotlight on the European capitals, which will be the closest to the repercussions of this chaos in terms of migration and terrorism. Further, it will give impetus to extremist nationalist trends in Europe who call for isolation and rejection, migration of immigrants from the Middle East and the Islamic countries. This will bring in a decline in the forces of globalization and moderation, and reveal the reactions of the major European capitals individually and collectively, who reject the decision of the US administration, and sensing the risks it carries on the continent and international peace and stability.
The Palestinian position:
In spite of the weakness and division among the Palestinians, and the Palestinian Authority’s lack of popularity and isolation, it does not continue to be a key player among the Arab states and internationally. The Palestinian Authority is in an unenviable position as it is continuously fighting for its position as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians. They face continuous pressures and demands from the people for the leadership to resign from its role and “hand over the keys to the occupation forces to assume its responsibilities”. This is a naive idea popularized by the sideliners of the political process or the Islamic forces and jihadist who believes that this may provide a revolutionary environment and a direct connection between the people and the occupation. As though that “the idea of revolution and resistance is open to the sky, and its success is not linked to impartial environmental conditions regionally and internationally “.
The Palestinian Authority does not have realistic options other than sticking to the two-state solution as the only way out now for the historical conflict between two people, which has an international legal foundation and regional and international support. Given that the other alternatives such as the one-state solution or bi-national state require other solutions in the international and regional environment. In other words, leaving the peace process as it is for now, after the resignation of the US sponsor, in favor of a new formula is not clear at this time. The paper does not claim that it is a success, as much as it is at best a maneuver for exploiting the regional and international situation to hinder the Americans and Israelis from eliminating the Palestinian cause. Since, the emotional responses to the situation or the demands for resigning the position and role are in fact a jump away from any real representation of the Palestinians who are in need of structures and frameworks. This is especially significant for maintaining ties between the villages. This is reminiscing of Mustafa Dodin (an activist from 1978 who requested for forming a village league in the Hebron area) who was once considered a traitor, yet his vision of a village league is especially relevant these days.
Adhering to the political and peaceful course of the conflict will preserve the minimum momentum and cohesion in the Arab and international positions, given that there are no options and alternatives to them. It would be significant to re-launch an international conference under the umbrella of the United Nations and its governing bodies, especially after the US administration has destroyed the foundations of the peace process. This could be an opportunity for the Palestinian side to disintegrate the Oslo Accords that ended the peace process in 2000, which provided the grounds to destroy the Palestinian points of power, allowed the occupation to expand in building settlements in the Palestinian territories and judaization of Jerusalem.
After the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, the Palestinians can actually work on correcting the peace process and negotiations by returning to the basic principles of justice, equality and the right to self-determination, which have become an essential part of contemporary culture. Perhaps the item in the Oslo accords of the PLO’s recognition of the State of Israel is now the subject of a substantial and legitimate review. The proper context is to position the recognition of the state of Israel in front of the recognition of the state of Palestinian, and openly share Jerusalem as the capital of these two entities.
The presumption is, that the success in stopping the US surge has its possible objective factors, especially since the divisions between the two parties Fatah and Hamas. For various motives and reasons, they have remained the key powers in the Palestinian scene, both of which live today a structural and political crisis suffocating to overcome previous reservations on the path of reconciliation and entry. Both parties do compromises that include unified leadership frameworks and the reconstruction of the political perspective on new grounds. Both depend on the popular demands of the people in the occupied territories who seek to prevent junta corruption, and to reduce new maneuvers of the US administration with Israel. Further, both parties seek to facilitate the lives of Jerusalemites, and revive the economy of the West Bank.
This paper perhaps calls for a consensus in achieving and mobilizing a unified Palestinian position. There is a need to provide a “survival rope” to the Palestinian leadership which has caused in the past decade the disintegration of the Palestinian cause and instead has encouraged antagonism. The importance of the cohesion in the Palestinian position constitutes as the main lever to mobilize the Arab officials to stop the states from collapsing in the Arab world. At the same time, it will not stop the exit of key countries (Iraq, Syria and Libya) from the political effectiveness, or terrorism suffered by Egypt, as well as the internal conflict among the Gulf States. The restoration of an active Palestinian role is the basis that can block the project of terrorist forces and Arab radicalism in all its expressions, and taking the initiative in more than one region. The return to the strategy of the war on terror from this approach is the main objective of the Israeli-American project at this stage.
- Restructuring the position of the unified Palestinian program away from the Oslo Accords that is based on international legitimacy resolutions and under the umbrella of the United Nations, is not only a Palestinian interest but a lever to help in the Arab position to recover to the status quo. This prevents the forces of extremism, terrorism and regional aspirants from using the “foothold” of entering the Palestinian cause as the gate, especially in using Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem as their slogan.
- Trump has made a historic contribution to the efforts that brings the Palestinian cause back to the center of Arab and international attention. The world has never before felt the dangers of destroying the peace process in the Middle East, especially that it is targeting international security and stability.
- The Palestinian, Arab and international efforts opposing the American step isolates President Trump’s administration internationally, and deepens his internal crisis. Further, it increases the growing voices among the Republican and Democratic parties, who warned of the dangers of the president’s decision to fuel the Middle East conflict deep religious, historical and cultural symbols. They also warn against the rise of hostility towards the United States, threatening its interests and the security of its citizens.
- It is important to maintain a disciplined level of the Palestinian protest movement and diversify its forms to the official and popular civil disobedience, especially in relation with the occupation. Clinging to armed violence is primarily an Israeli goal, while the peaceful civil protest will perpetuate the Arab and international action, and push Tel Aviv and Washington to the corner.
Director of the Arab Center for Policy Progress – London
 1 * There are at least 50 million Evangelicals in America who, according to research, are convinced of the literal truth of biblical prophecy. A recent survey found that 82 percent of white evangelicals believed that God had given Israel to the Jewish people, a conviction shared by only 40 per cent of American Jews. Among those evangelicals who believe in the prophecy of the “Day of Judgment” that proves the Jews’ control over all of Jerusalem, Jews have no choice but to adopt Christianity or die from God’s wrath.
“The Jerusalem decision reminds us of the remarkable impact of the global Christian fundamentalist outlook on Republican foreign policy over the past four decades, especially those of Christian Zionists who believe that the return of Jews to the Holy Land is in line with the will of God and the biblical prophecy.” Brookings Institution: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/markaz/2017/12/15/trumps-jerusalem-decision-is-a-victory-for-evangelical-politics/
 2 **Washington and Tel Aviv launched the “New Middle East” project publicly, with Lebanon expected to be the point of pressure to reorganize the entire Middle East and thus unleash the forces of “constructive chaos.” The engine of violence and war throughout the region – will in turn be used to enable the United States, Britain and Israel to redraw the map of the Middle East according to their needs and strategic geographic objectives.