President Trump has squandered his chance for Middle East peace
When Donald Trump moved America’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on Monday, he might as well have tossed a lit match into an open tank of gasoline.
As wiser minds had warned, Palestinians in neighbouring Gaza — who along with the Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital — responded with fury.
Before they had stopped their violent demonstrations, 58 of them had been killed and more than 1,000 injured by Israeli soldiers trying to prevent the protesters from breaking through a border fence into Israel.
The bloodshed was appalling, the suffering profound. The prospects of reconciliation between the two sides are currently nil.
To realize how hopelessly divorced Trump is from Mideast realities, consider that on Monday, just 80 kilometres from where Palestinians were being shot down, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, stood at the embassy’s official inauguration, gushing that this was the start of “the journey to peace.”
The peace of the grave sounds more accurate.
As he has done so often as president, Trump the would-be dealmaker has blundered into a treacherous situation governed by intractable historic forces he does not comprehend.
While Jerusalem is Israel’s de facto capital and the centre of its government, virtually everyone in the international community, including Canada, maintains an embassy in Tel Aviv, aware of Jerusalem’s hotly contested status.
Trump torpedoed that long-lasting compromise last December when he announced the embassy move. As disruptive as his decision was, his timing for the embassy opening could not have been worse.
It came the day before the 70th anniversary of what Arabs call “al-Nakba” or “the Catastrophe, when Palestinians were driven from their ancestral homes and lands in the 1948 war that established the state of Israel.
To be sure, the Palestinians had been regularly demonstrating over the past month in an attempt to end the Israeli-Egyptian border blockade that has left Gaza’s impoverished inhabitants struggling in what amounts to an open-air prison.
But the embassy move raised those tensions past the boiling point.
Whatever his intention, the president did Israel no favour. Israel’s hard-line response to the demonstrators has earned international condemnation and left it even more isolated.
The Israeli government has defended the actions of its military, pointing out that many demonstrators were throwing rocks and homemade bombs, burning tires to create a smokescreen and trying to breach the security fence separating Gaza from Israel.
No one should deny that Israel has the same right any nation does to protect its borders. It should, however, be making a far greater effort to mitigate the loss of civilian life. Firing into crowds, killing children and injuring a Canadian aid worker suggests that effort is absent.
At the same time Hamas, the militant organization that controls Gaza, must also share responsibility for the carnage. Its strategy of fomenting anger and violence — and encouraging Palestinians to become martyrs — serves its own political interests far more than those of ordinary Palestinians. Why, then, is it escaping international scorn and outrage?
Another American president might have now stepped in as a calming, trustworthy peace-broker. Trump cannot. In allying himself with the Israeli government at the expense of international relationships and humanitarian ideals, he can no longer pretend to be an impartial conciliator.
So what, exactly, were the Americans celebrating in Jerusalem this week?