Peace is too great a prize to aban­don

Western Mail - - WM2 -

AWEEK af­ter Don­ald Trump used Twit­ter to share an­tiMus­lim videos with his mil­lions of fol­low­ers, he has an­gered Pales­tini­ans and dis­mayed al­lies by an­nounc­ing plans to move the US em­bassy in Is­rael from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Ev­ery­thing would be dif­fer­ent if this was a part of the his­toric peace deal he once boasted he would de­liver.

There would be cel­e­bra­tions if Is­raeli and Pales­tinian lead­ers reached agree­ment on a shared Jerusalem as part of a two-state so­lu­tion. Then, with a dou­ble dose of fan­fare and self-con­grat­u­la­tion, the US could open twin em­bassies in the city to en­gage with Is­rael and Pales­tine re­spec­tively.

But Mr Trump’s an­nounce­ment is un­likely to edge a peace deal closer to re­al­ity. If any­thing, it has dam­aged the prospects for an agree­ment that would spare an­other gen­er­a­tion ex­pe­ri­ences of vi­o­lence, con­fine­ment and fear.

To the Pales­tini­ans, it looks as if the US un­der Mr Trump has no in­ter­est in play­ing the role of an ar­biter in a peace process. Rather, it is strength­en­ing the po­si­tion of Is­rael’s highly con­tro­ver­sial prime min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.

The de­ci­sion would be less alarm­ing if Mr Trump had se­cured a range of con­ces­sions, such as a deal on set­tle­ment ex­pan­sion in the West Bank and mea­sures to ad­dress Pales­tinian griev­ances.

In­stead, the an­nounce­ment looks like a clumsy at­tempt to ful­fil a cam­paign promise and please his base. He may have cal­cu­lated that crit­i­cism from al­lies would con­vince his core sup­port­ers that he is shak­ing up the in­ter­na­tional es­tab­lish­ment by tak­ing bold de­ci­sions that timid past ad­min­is­tra­tions shied away from.

A sim­i­lar strat­egy may have lurked be­hind his de­ci­sion to retweet odi­ous videos that had been shared by a far-right group and then chide Theresa May af­ter she crit­i­cised him.

Pick­ing fights may be part of his brand of po­lit­i­cal show­man­ship but it is no sub­sti­tute for lead­er­ship, and the world needs the United States to work for peace rather than fuel ten­sions. Just as he de­lights in in­sult­ing the leader of North Korea, he revels in con­tro­versy when he re­ally needs to en­gage in the de­mand­ing and la­bo­ri­ous work of diplo­macy.

The dan­ger is that if hopes of a two-state agree­ment dis­in­te­grate com­pletely, then in ex­as­per­a­tion peo­ple in both Is­rael and the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries will in­creas­ingly turn to hard-liners to fight for their in­ter­ests. If moder­ates are squeezed out of cru­cial de­bates about the re­gion’s fu­ture, there is less chance that vi­tal com­mon ground will be iden­ti­fied.

Mr Trump shows lit­tle in­ter­est in work­ing in con­junc­tion with tra­di­tional al­lies. His will­ing­ness to in­sult in­ter­na­tional coun­ter­parts is matched by a will­ing­ness to dis­re­gard their coun­sel.

If the US is un­likely to make a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to this smoul­der­ing cri­sis then Euro­pean na­tions, which al­ready pro­vide much hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, should step up their own diplo­matic ef­forts. Peace is too great a prize to be aban­doned.

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