There is a cost to Trump. We are see­ing it now in Gaza

The Guardian - Journal - - Opinion - Jonathan Steele Jonathan Steele is a for­mer chief for­eign correspondent of the Guardian

Imag­ine the out­rage west­ern gov­ern­ments would ex­press if ter­ror­ists were to kill more than 50 Is­raelis on the streets of Tel Aviv in a sin­gle day. Yet when it comes to the killing that Is­raeli forces car­ried out on Mon­day at the gates of Gaza – and have been do­ing for the past sev­eral weeks – the si­lence from most west­ern min­is­ters is deaf­en­ing. Worse still, there are at­tempts to jus­tify the deaths as le­git­i­mate self-de­fence. The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment ar­gues that the crowds of mostly young Pales­tini­ans at the Gaza fence of­fer a lethal threat to peace­ful Is­raelis. The claim is as lu­di­crous as it is cyn­i­cal. Even if one or two pro­test­ers broke through the fence they would have nowhere to go ex­cept into the arms of the Is­raeli se­cu­rity forces, who could eas­ily de­tain them. The Pales­tinian in­ter­lop­ers have no al­lies on the Is­raeli side of the fence, nor any trans­port to take them to pop­u­lated parts of Is­rael. Nor are they armed. It is clear from video footage that they have no sui­cide belts round their waists, or guns in their hands. Oc­ca­sional stones were the only weapons.

Nor­mal po­lice meth­ods of ar­rest and trial would be per­fectly ad­e­quate to han­dle the is­sue. Yet in­stead, Is­raeli snipers used live am­mu­ni­tion against de­mon­stra­tors, wound­ing thou­sands in the legs but also killing dozens.

In spite of the out­rage from in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights groups on Mon­day, matched by a few coura­geous Is­raeli groups also, there was no sign yes­ter­day that Is­raeli com­man­ders had given their troops any new rules of en­gage­ment. With ten­sions raised as the fu­ner­als of vic­tims got un­der way, the risk of new deaths re­mained high. A chief cause of the protests is the mis­ery and de­spair cre­ated by 11 years of block­ade that the peo­ple of Gaza have had to suf­fer – be­cause they had the temer­ity to vote in a Ha­mas gov­ern­ment in 2006.

Egypt shares some of the blame for the col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment in­flicted on Gazans. So too does the Pales­tinian au­thor­ity, which held back the pay­ment of civil ser­vants’ salaries in Gaza. But the lion’s share of the blame rests with Is­rael, which ini­ti­ated and or­ches­trated the em­bargo and has re­peat­edly re­fused to end or even re­lax it sig­nif­i­cantly.

Of­fers by Ha­mas to de­clare a cease­fire or truce with Is­rael in re­turn for an end to the em­bargo have been spurned. The re­sult is the hope­less­ness that en­cour­ages young Pales­tini­ans to risk their lives at the bor­der fence.

Ha­mas cer­tainly en­cour­ages the protests, seek­ing to high­light Is­raeli in­tran­si­gence and cru­elty; but to dis­miss the young de­mon­stra­tors as though they were ro­bots be­ing ma­nip­u­lated to act as “Ha­mas’s hu­man shields” – as of­fi­cial Is­raeli spokes­peo­ple do – is to min­imise the gen­uine frus­tra­tion and agony that many Gazans feel.

The sec­ond deep cause for the protests is his­tory. Pales­tini­ans see them­selves as a send­ing a re­minder to the world that Is­rael’s foun­da­tion 70 years ago in­volved the de­lib­er­ate eth­nic cleans­ing of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans. Their de­mands for com­pen­sa­tion or resti­tu­tion have been rou­tinely ig­nored for decades. Pales­tini­ans are strug­gling to keep the un­re­solved is­sue from fad­ing from view.

This week’s car­nage in Gaza is not di­rectly linked to the US pres­i­dent’s provoca­tive de­ci­sion to trans­fer the US em­bassy to Jerusalem and recog­nise the city as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal. But this move has added to the anger and frus­tra­tion. Un­der pre­vi­ous US ad­min­is­tra­tions, of­fi­cial pol­icy on all as­pects of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian dis­pute has al­ways been skewed over­whelm­ingly to­wards the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment. Few Pales­tini­ans have been naive enough to see Washington as an hon­est bro­ker. But most US pres­i­dents have at least tried to re­strain the vi­o­lence and seek po­lit­i­cal com­pro­mises. This re­mains true for any of the vari­ants of the two-state so­lu­tion that have been put on the ta­ble.

Don­ald Trump is dif­fer­ent from his pre­de­ces­sors. He makes no ef­fort to un­der­stand the Pales­tini­ans’ cur­rent pro­pos­als for peace, let alone the his­tory of the con­flict. Choos­ing to move the US em­bassy to Jerusalem on the very day Is­raelis marked their state’s an­niver­sary while Pales­tini­ans mourned their Nakba (“catas­tro­phe”) showed in­sen­si­tiv­ity at best. At worst it was a de­lib­er­ate provo­ca­tion, deny­ing to the Pales­tini­ans all pre­tence of US even-hand­ed­ness. But then, of course, Trump has form. He has shown that blend of ig­no­rance and ar­ro­gance which is the hall­mark of many would-be as­pi­rants to the high­est of­fice in the United States, and which some who get elected never over­come.

On the nu­clear deal with Iran, he took ac­tion with­out con­sid­er­ing the con­se­quences. He did not lis­ten to those al­lies who had ne­go­ti­ated for years with the Ira­ni­ans. He also chose to ig­nore the find­ings of the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency that Iran was not vi­o­lat­ing any of the nu­clear deal’s terms. Trump failed to ex­plain why tear­ing it up was bet­ter than hav­ing a less-than-per­fect deal.

No two is­sues in the Mid­dle East are more tense than Is­rael’s dis­pute with the Pales­tini­ans and the west’s dis­pute with Iran. They re­quire care­ful anal­y­sis of each side’s le­git­i­mate as­pi­ra­tions as well as griev­ances, and ma­ture dis­cus­sion and com­pro­mise to find so­lu­tions. Trump failed to con­sult the scores of ex­perts from his own coun­try or from the Mid­dle East who had warned him that jump­ing to en­dorse the cur­rent Is­raeli gov­ern­ment’s am­bi­tions for Jerusalem – also held by its set­tler con­stituency – would de­stroy any chance of suc­cess­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions in the fu­ture. In­stead, Trump thinks he can sim­ply tell the Pales­tini­ans “you’re fired” and they will meekly go away.

He makes no ef­fort to un­der­stand the Pales­tini­ans’ cur­rent pro­pos­als for peace, let alone the his­tory of the con­flict

PHO­TO­GRAPH: AMIR CO­HEN/REUTERS

Is­raeli sol­diers on the bor­der of the Gaza Strip

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