Trump, Jerusalem and American Exceptionalism

Baha Erbas
THO Fellow

A few days ago the OIC (The Organization of Islamic Cooperation) gathered in Istanbul, and 57 Muslim countries rejected US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and recognized the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital. The OIC declaration stated that "[We] consider that this dangerous declaration, which aims to change the legal status of the [city], is null and void and lacks any legitimacy,". As the host of the Summit, President Erdogan’s very strong initiatives had a great share in the declaration. 

President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel probably will be the one of the watershed moments of who knows which, either Middle East history or the US in the Middle East; however, with a set of unprecedented consequences for the US in the long run. It’s too early to see whether the President shows a sign of American exceptionalism or Trumpian exceptionalism. Afterwards developments showed that including the UK and other EU actors, no one in the world is accepting the proclamation that Trump put on the table. When we take into consideration that Russia and the EU stated that Jerusalem was to be the two-states capital, the US is left alone among the great powers without any support. 

Right after the recognition, Israel’s attacks on Gaza clearly showed that the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not something that would bring stability in the region, nor a new impetus for the Israeli-Palestine talks. Another thing that Israel showed one more time bluntly and clearly that it has no interest either in dialog or in peace. 
 
Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Israel has been the great beneficiary of the situation in the quagmire of the Middle East. Israel has a much greater ability to maneuver than ever while the Middle East bogged down in myriad troubles, from the ongoing calamity in Syria to instability in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, and civil war in Yemen. Israel has been relaxed while all eyes are on Syrian civil war, the Muslim Brotherhood’s removal from the power in Egypt, and Turkey under attack, having to put down a coup détente. In the midst of all that, Saudi Arabia has been getting closer to the US-Israeli alliances with a prize of Trump’s first foreign visit to Riyadh, and more than that after its inroads in Syria and success keeping Assad regime in power a more assertive Iran day by day is drawing region into a Sunni-Shia divide. In all this turmoil, Israel has been getting the best outcome and benefits from the game without having spent a bullet other than pouring death on Gazza. The Arab World who fought with Israel four times now have no time or driving incentive to focus on Israel. So, Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem came as one more distraction amid all these troubles that the Islamic world has. 

While the Saudis have made many mistakes, lingering with Trump and Netanyahu to beat Iran in the Gulf, and trying to show its muscle to Turkey while Turkey backs Qatar in the crisis and also deploys a Turkish military base in Qatar. Iran too found another narrative to cover its sectarian expansionism through threatening Israel and pointing to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem. 

Recently on CNN Aaron David Miller, a Middle East negotiator for administrations of both parties said that he always gave the advice of keeping America’s hands off that most volatile question of Jerusalem and now Trump has upset the possible success of a future agreement that he supposedly wishes to foster. But such a rapidly pro-Israel announcement now is a symbolic impediment to such a solution. 

This recognition seems to have a short-run benefits for Israel with massive risk hidden in it for the long run. Right after the recognition, millions of protesters walk through throughout the Islamic world from Morocco to Indonesia. While having  anti-American sentiments are at an apogee, after this point  the relations with the US and Israel will turn much more difficult for the Saudi-led Gul States. No matter what calamity is going on in Syria, public opinion and attention harshly will turn against Israel again. The US will not have any convincing, legitimate role in the future in any Israeli-Palestinian talks. 
 
 The answer to the question of “Who sabotage the allegedly soon to come Kushner plan for the Israel-Palestinian issue” is literally Trump himself. This step in the long run will jeopardize not only the US’s alliances in the Middle East, but also, will unexpectedly undermine the US-backed Saudi led Gulf alliance against Iran. For the sake of containment of Iran closing eyes against Israel will put those Gulf states in a very difficult light to their public. 

In the face of almost universal opposition to such a move, of course especially from the Arab world it will not change the reality of the situation or the ultimate terms of an agreement. Everyone knows that even though the US will be a part of the solution to a final peace agreement, Israel and Palestine must still mutually negotiate the fate of Jerusalem and the reality of the two-state future. In any future agreement Israel will have to withdraw form occupied Palestinian territory and Palestine will establish its capital in East Jerusalem and most likely Israel in the West which is already the seat of their government, but with the city, as even Trump re-iterated, open to people of all religions, including Muslims and Jew.