What will rational governments do?

17-12-2017 09:09 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

Trump: Jerusalem capital of Israel

The people’s wrath boiled over…inside and outside the Arab World. President Trump had just made an announcement that the US recognised Jerusalem as capital of Israel and would accordingly move its embassy there from its current place in Tel Aviv. The US President’s declaration was nothing new; it put into effect a 1995 Congress decision eschewed for 22 years by three former US presidents: Clinton, Bush and Obama. In Egypt, newspapers headlines reflected the shock, anger, and resentment that vibrated in the streets; “Trump the non-owner gives the non-deserving”, “A century between the Balfour Declaration and Trump’s declaration” and “Slap of the century on the face of the sacred city”. But is this enough to change the reality on the ground created by the US President’s decision?
As soon as Trump made his announcement, waves of wrath set off demonstrators howling, denouncing the US decision and describing it as treacherous and ruinous for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Demonstrators burned US and Israeli flags and effigies of Trump. Will this change anything?
If we in the Arab World are serious about becoming doers rather than mere responders to what others do, we must first contemplate the facts. The wrath of the masses is understandable and justified since they are helpless to do anything but express their anger. But governments and ruling regimes must do more than denounce or reject the US decision, or export news of their people’s angry protest against it. They should instead adopt political stances and decisions that would demonstrate to the US and its President the magnitude of their wrongdoing. This cannot be achieved through demonstrations or the burning of effigies and flags. We must realise that the US is driven by its strategic interests and national security; this was what made three former US presidents persuade Congress to put off the 1995 decision going into force, in order to avoid anticipated escalation in the Middle East crisis. The three former presidents chose to stabilise the peace process before igniting the spark of a new crisis by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
So what has changed today? We must admit that the last 22 years have seen the weight of Arab and Islamic States dwindle, also the clout of oil States. Arab States became increasingly fragmented, and they failed to attain any form of regional unity that would have transformed them into a politico-economic bloc to be reckoned with. The Palestinians, riddled with internal divisions, compromised their cause as they indulged in conflicts and questionable alliances that stocked them with funds and arms. They gave the Israelis the perfect pretext to walk out of peace negotiations; they claimed they could not know who to talk to: Ramallah’s Palestinian authority or Gaza’s Hamas. The Palestinians compromised their own case even before the US, which has long bragged that it fostered the peace process, did. Egypt, for its part, repeatedly attempted to achieve Palestinian conciliation but did not succeed because of non-ending Palestinian procrastination and stalling. The Palestinian people’s dream to settle down in a State of their own was effectively dashed.
What now? Will we swallow Trump’s decision to the last bitter drop? Will we merely curse our incapacity and make do with burning effigies and flags? This will definitely be our fate if we do not wake up, review our positions, and rise above personal interests and conflicts. Arab countries ought first to sit to their own negotiation table and come up united in one hefty politico-economic bloc that would impose itself on the world according to well-recognised measures. The Arab League must rise from its sleep—not to say its death—and take decisions that would make the US and its President realise that their recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel comes at a very high cost of US interests and national security. We cannot make the world listen to us and take us seriously unless we attain this and achieve Palestinian conciliation.
I go back to an editorial I wrote seven months ago under the title “Amman Summit: embellishment, ranting, incapacity”; it accentuates my frustration and helplessness. In that editorial I presented and analysed the resolutions of the summit and the Arab capacity at evading the issues and challenges that face Arab States. When it came to the Palestinian cause, there was nothing but the customary clauses of denouncements and rejection, decrying Israeli attempts to change the legal and historical situation of Jerusalem. Again, members of the Arab League appealed with world States not to move their embassies to Jerusalem. However, the summit did not decide how its member States would proceed if Israel persists in its violations, or if any State moved its embassy to Jerusalem. No one dared remind the Arabs of the Arab League’s 1991 decision to sever ties with any State that moved its embassy to Jerusalem; the decision which was only applied to El Salvador. No one dared ask what if the US does it? If the Palestinian cause was compromised by the Arabs, why are we surprised that the US compromises it too? Will the Arab States recall their ambassadors from the US? Will they sever relations with the US? Or will they find it enough to burn effigies and the US and Israeli flags?

Watani International
17 December 2017

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