Pres­i­dent Trump has squan­dered his chance for Mid­dle East peace

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Opinion -

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?

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