Peace is too great a prize to abandon
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.