Trump's Jerusalem decision renders Mideast peace elusive

THE EDITORIAL BOARD
ISTANBUL
Published

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and pledged to move the American Embassy there – which he called "a long overdue step to advance the peace process."

Unlike Mr. Trump, world leaders do not believe that his controversial decision will lead to "an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians." A number of countries and international organizations – including the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League, Germany, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and the State of Palestine – urged, to no avail, the U.S. president not to upend 70 years of American foreign policy. It is important to note that no single event had united so many countries and organizations against the United States before.

Turkey was no exception. The Turkish Parliament on Wednesday evening issued a joint statement condemning the Trump administration's decision. "It is unacceptable that the United States, which had distanced itself from Israel's efforts to make Jerusalem its capital, seem to have come to support them," the statement read. "We must not forget that humanity won't be able to enjoy peace and stability until there is a fair, lasting and balanced peace between Israel and Palestine." Echoing the same sentiment, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned that "nobody has the right to place at risk billions of people for the sake of their personal ambitions" and urged the Islamic world to work together to preserve the status of Jerusalem under international law. "Contrary to what [President Trump] claims," presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın added, "this undermines any hope left for peace."

Although it will reportedly take years to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, millions of ordinary Americans – not to mention diplomats and policy makers – have already started experiencing the negative side effects of Mr. Trump's ill-conceived effort to cozy up to the Israel lobby in Washington. The U.S. Embassy in Jordan, among others, announced yesterday evening that it was going to suspend public services and warned American citizens of heightened security risks.

In addition to having a negative impact on Washington's ongoing efforts to broker peace talks between Israel and Palestine, the Trump administration's latest publicity stunt could potentially drive a wedge between regional countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, whom Washington had been trying to unite against Iranian expansionism in the Middle East. Although the Palestinian issue appeared to have taken a back seat to the Trump administration's Iran strategy, the renewed interest in the plight of the Palestinian people could have unanticipated side effects for Mr. Trump's Middle East plans.

At the same time, the Trump administration's announcement is a classic example of American unilateralism, provided that a number of countries had moved their embassies to Tel Aviv in light of a 1980 resolution by the U.N. Security Council condemning Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem. Moreover, the fact that the White House went to such lengths to distract attention from allegations haunting the Trump administration and to shelter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of corruption charges is an excellent reminder that the rise of populism around the world could have disastrous consequences for global peace and security. Turning his back on the tradition of American multilateralism did not serve President George W. Bush well in Iraq. And this rash decision will not serve Mr. Trump well either.

President Trump's decision will also hurt the interests of his regional allies, as it creates a rupture between the Arab street and ineffective leaders across the Arab world. Arab leaders have been unable to adequately represent their people and failed them. Instead of gathering outside Israeli or U.S. embassies, the Arab crowds should meet outside government offices in their own countries and hold their leaders accountable for letting this disaster happen. To make matters worse, President Trump's decision fuels anger toward America in the region and deepens Washington's isolation in the world. One thing is clear: The U.S. cannot pursue a meaningful policy in the Middle East if it alienates the Arab people.

This decision is an embodiment of Israeli opportunism and American recklessness. It establishes yet again that problems in the Middle East cannot be solved by outsiders. By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the U.S. made it clear that it was part of the problem – not the solution. But it is still possible to turn this crisis around. Jerusalem is sacred for various groups in the Middle East. The important thing is to ensure that it unites, as opposed to divides, the region.

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