Taking sides in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the fulcrum of Middle East politics for decades, is always bound to cause an international uproar. But when the supposedly neutral peace-broker declares an arbitrary decision to hand over Jerusalem – the bone of contention at the heart of the perennial struggle between the Muslims and Jews – to Israel, the uproar seems warranted.
Not for very long, however. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital amounts to nothing and does not add anything new to the decades-old debate. The United States had long rejected the Corpus separatum on Jerusalem, endorsed Israeli occupation of Palestine, provided the weapons with which Israeli forces strafed Palestinian villages, supported its settlements on Arab land, vetoed UN resolutions against Israel and defended its right to occupy Muslim territory. Therefore, Trump’s recent recognition does not have much substance to it. It is merely another act of provocation from a narcissistic megalomaniac who intends to devour the Muslim world with his predatory politics.
But like every other episode of heightened tension in the decades-old Palestine-Israeli conflict, the global opposition to Trump’s declaration will soon die down, the anger will dissipate, and – contrary to the much anticipated violence and bloodshed in the Middle East – it will do little more than agitate the Muslims he had intentionally sought to offend. There will be no major changes to the current status quo and there are no storm clouds looming over the horizon.
If anything, Trump’s cavalier attitude towards the Middle East shows a lack of understanding of the basic regional dynamics. His policy declarations – expressed with such boisterousness and blithe disregard for the consequences that it is hard not to be enraged as a Muslim – disqualifies the United States as an arbitrary peace-broker in the Middle East. His recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or even the entire Palestine as part of greater Israel, for that matter, would have little impact on the security and geopolitical balance of power in the region. That is largely due to Israel’s cavalcade of obsequious Arab leaders who tacitly support Israel for various reasons and continue to uphold the Israeli-imposed blockade on Gaza.
With Israel’s loyal Arab henchmen – monarchs and leaders dressed in flowing silk garbs – brutally subjugating their own citizens and their Palestinian brothers at the behest of Israel, who does Israel have to fear other than the jihadis, of course?
For repressive regimes whose very legitimacy and survival depends on the US, the multitude of Arab states could hardly oppose Trump. Other than mouthing the usual platitudes and paying lip service to the Palestinian cause or uttering some condemnations and denunciations to placate their angry public, there is little our weak-kneed Arab leaders could do to defy Trump’s decision or challenge Israel’s hegemony in the Middle East. They are impotent and toothless.
In order to display a sense of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, however, they know how to respond with a feigned piety, as they had always been doing. They would give the Arab public, under the façade of democracy of course, a chance to vent their frustration, cautiously allowing them to let off some steam by burning American and Israeli flags and hurling insults at the benighted American leader for crossing the so-called red line before all protests sputter to a meaningless close. With the satisfaction of having contributed something to the Palestinian cause, the Arab public would then casually go back to their daily routines as if nothing had occurred. It is a theatrical performance Arab leaders have come to perfect over the decades in order to sedate the sentient public and assuage their fears with regard to Palestine. It is all just bread and circuses, nothing more, nothing less.
Arab leaders laid down the very foundations that led to the pitiful conditions in which the Palestinians exist today. The Palestinian road to peace and self-determination is hamstrung not only by Israeli aggression but also by decades of indecisiveness and the Arab leaders’ bumbling incompetency. And while they openly warn of grave repercussions in the region, they will all gracefully bow down to Trump and tacitly endorse the big boss’ order in exchange for keeping their thrones intact and receiving additional diplomatic and military assistance in the region.
As for the Palestinians concerned, what does it matter whether they protest or not? For a population that lives under the occupation of Israel and cannot even travel freely between Gaza and the West Bank, farm or irrigate their ancestral lands without Israel’s permission, there is little they could do. Languishing under the throes of humiliation for decades, the Palestinians are a defeated people; not conquered by the Israeli military might but clobbered by Arab betrayal, crushed by their half-hearted leaders’ insincere attempts at a farcical peace process and crippled by greater Arab indifference to their cause.
For Israel, Palestine is a nothing more than a large prison where the inmates are forcibly confined to live in the most appalling conditions. The domineering prison guards have divided the prisoners into tiny, squalid cell blocks, kept all prisoners on a tight leash, confiscated all their property and expect all prisoners to obey the peremptory orders bellowed down at them.
Occasionally, the leash is loosened and prisoners are allowed to throw stones and stage riots, allowing the guards to justify the incarceration of millions and to procure more weapons and funding from their American benefactor to quash the ‘unruly’ terrorists. The prisoners are bound, their activities monitored, their cells ransacked for weapons, and when found, they are tortured and summarily executed. Their only contact with the outside world is through small openings on their cells and a back tunnel manned by Israel’s unrelenting Arab henchmen.
For the Arab leaders, Palestine is a problem too difficult to deal with. They neither have the political mettle nor the military might to bring about a decisive solution. So they helplessly observe the prison from outside the tall, heavily-guarded iron fence. All they could afford are simple words of consolation, coupled with the distant, discordant chants and elusive hopes of freedom.
The Western world, apathetic to all this, watches as though it is reality TV unfolding onto their screens as Trump positions himself as the latest monolithic block on the path towards peace in the Middle East.
Torn between Trump’s arrogance and Arab indifference, the poor Palestinians continue to eke out a miserable living in the world’s largest prison filled with despondency. The world has neglected them and their leaders have failed them. But despite their weakness, they still retain the Trump card up their sleeve. Israel can continue to lay claim to Jerusalem, but the hard facts on the ground dictate otherwise. Israel’s legitimacy is inextricably linked to Palestine’s destiny. That is the unassailable truth.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.