Is­rael bet­ter be ready to pay for Trump’s gam­bit

The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent’s move car­ries mean­ing for the Pales­tinian and Is­raeli ne­go­tia­tors alike

Gulf News - - The Views -

rom the stand­point of pro­duc­ing Mid­dle East peace, United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to recog­nise oc­cu­pied Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael can only be called ir­ra­tional. It raises the risk of vi­o­lence that could de­rail peace ef­forts by his son-in-law Jared Kush­ner. It makes it harder for cru­cial US al­lies like Saudi Ara­bia to side with Trump and push the Pales­tini­ans to a deal. It won’t make Is­rael feel more se­cure. And it will hearten right-wingers in the US and Is­rael whose endgame is ac­tu­ally to avoid a two-state so­lu­tion.

Yet, there is one pos­si­ble sil­ver lin­ing to the com­ing storm — a con­se­quence of the de­ci­sion that may af­fect the cal­cu­lus of the peace process more pos­i­tively. Trump, in­ten­tion­ally or not, is sig­nalling to all con­cerned that he is un­afraid of back­ing Is­rael in ways that go fur­ther than the tra­di­tional pro-Is­rael US stance. That’s a huge threat to the Pales­tini­ans — if peace talks fail, Trump could be pre­pared to sup­port Is­raeli an­nex­a­tion of more of the West Bank. And it’s an im­plicit prom­ise to the Is­raelis that also con­tains an im­plicit threat: Given how gen­er­ous Trump is be­ing to Is­rael, its lead­ers had bet­ter agree to what­ever deal Trump will seek to im­pose on them — or else.

To see why Trump’s move is so ex­tra­or­di­nary, you have to un­der­stand that the recog­ni­tion of “Jerusalem” as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal amounts to a recog­ni­tion of Is­rael’s uni­lat­eral an­nex­a­tion of oc­cu­pied East Jerusalem — and its sub­se­quent ex­pan­sion of Jerusalem mu­nic­i­pal­ity far be­yond the cities’ tra­di­tional lim­its, to in­clude mul­ti­ple Pales­tinian vil­lages and newly-built Jewish neigh­bour­hoods.

If recog­nis­ing oc­cu­pied Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal only meant ac­knowl­edg­ing that the Knes­set and the rest of Is­rael’s gov­ern­ing in­sti­tu­tions are there, it wouldn’t be quite so big a deal. They’ve been in the western part of the city since Is­rael’s in­de­pen­dence in 1948. Coun­tries pre­sum­ably have the right to choose any city they want as their cap­i­tal. The tricky part is that since 1967, Is­rael has con­sid­ered East and West Jerusalem to be a sin­gle, uni­fied city, at least as a le­gal mat­ter. The act of an­nex­ing Jor­da­nian ter­ri­tory into Is­rael has not been recog­nised by the in­ter­na­tional community, in­clud­ing the US.

Is­rael has deep­ened the prob­lem by suc­ces­sive fur­ther ex­pan­sions of oc­cu­pied Jerusalem that them­selves have come with fur­ther an­nex­a­tion. To­day, the Jerusalem bor­der ex­tends al­most all the way to Bethlehem, south of the city. When you drive from oc­cu­pied Jerusalem to Bethlehem, there’s al­most no no­tice­able break un­til you get to the Is­raeli se­cu­rity bar­rier and cross into Pales­tine. And from Bethlehem, you can see new oc­cu­pied Jerusalem neigh­bour­hoods loom­ing on nearby hills.

Hints for all par­ties

Trump’s move car­ries mean­ing for the Pales­tinian and Is­raeli ne­go­tia­tors alike.

It hints that Trump is will­ing to threaten the Pales­tini­ans with en­dorse­ment of Is­raeli an­nex­a­tion of more Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory — a night­mare from the Pales­tinian per­spec­tive. The fact that Trump is so bla­tantly pro-Is­rael sug­gests that the Pales­tini­ans had bet­ter bend over back­ward to ac­cept what­ever deal is on of­fer, lest the con­se­quences be dire.

For some in Is­rael, the idea that Trump could sup­port an­nex­a­tion might sound like a good rea­son to block a deal. But that would be a mis­taken read­ing of the tea leaves.

The ba­sis for the se­cret threat to Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu will have to be that, as the most nakedly proIs­rael Amer­i­can pres­i­dent ever, Trump has the clout to blame Ne­tanyahu if he is truly re­spon­si­ble for the break­down of the deal. Trump can say what no other pres­i­dent could: That the world, in­clud­ing pro-Is­rael Amer­i­can Jews, will believe him if he says Ne­tanyahu is the prob­lem and that he should no longer be Prime Min­is­ter. Trump could even cred­i­bly threaten that US sup­port for Is­rael would be sub­stan­tially re­duced in the fu­ture if Ne­tanyahu blinks.

Re­mem­ber: “Amer­ica first”, which means Trump first, is per­haps the only prin­ci­ple that can trump Trump’s pro-Is­rael ap­proach. Is­rael will need to re­mem­ber it, too. The Is­raelis have got the recog­ni­tion they wanted. Now they will have to pay for it, one way or an­other.

Noah Feld­man is a pro­fes­sor of Con­sti­tu­tional and In­ter­na­tional Law at Har­vard Univer­sity. His seven books in­clude The Three Lives of James Madi­son: Ge­nius, Par­ti­san, Pres­i­dent and Cool War: The Fu­ture of Global Com­pe­ti­tion.­ions

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