Declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel was meant to be a major part of US President Donald Trump’s master plan in striking what he called the “deal of the century”. Fast forward one hundred days and the decision to break with international consensus is proving to be more like the failure of the century.
The famed deal maker reasoned that he was “taking Jerusalem off the table” because neither parties “ever got past Jerusalem” during negotiations, but in truth, Trump has emboldened the most extreme and reactionary elements within Israel; sabotaged the political process and disqualified the US as an honest broker.
Trump’s declaration, which is seen by Israelis as the ultimate vindication of their ongoing settler colonisation project, was greeted with aggressive measures to expand Tel Aviv’s control of the holy city. Emboldened by Washington’s announcement, hard-line members of the Knesset quickly moved to secure control over the holy city by pushing through new laws that will in all likelihood destroy any chance of reviving the peace process.
Israel’s ruling party, the Likud, also swiftly moved to take advantaged by passing a resolution to formally annex parts of the West Bank and allow unlimited construction in the illegal settlements. There was nothing to distinguish between Trump and the Likud party which voted on a resolution declaring: “Fifty years after the liberation of Judea and Samaria, and with them Jerusalem, our eternal capital, the Likud Central Committee calls on Likud’s elected leaders to work to allow unhindered construction and to extend Israeli law and sovereignty in all the areas of liberated settlement in Judea and Samaria.”
Of course illegal occupation and annexation predates Trump. Throughout Israel’s 70-year occupation of Jerusalem, Israel adopted a series of policies and measures to change its religious and demographic character. The consequences have been described as a form of cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing. But in Trump the most extreme sections of Israeli society had a willing partner in the most powerful office in the world. It was further confirmation that the Israeli extremists are in control of the fate of Jerusalem.
Trump may have been playing to his domestic Christian base but his nod to Israeli extremists weakened the presence of Christians in Jerusalem. In the weeks after his declaration, church leaders in Jerusalem shut the Church of the Holy Sepulchre due to the “systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land”. Even members of an interfaith group led by a US church were detained for holding a Palestinian flag in Jerusalem.
It was however the political implications of Trump’s announcement that provoked universal opposition to his decision. The UN swiftly passed a declaration denouncing Trump’s decision. In the eyes of the international community Trump’s decision has been disastrous for the so-called “peace process”. Not only did it go against international law and consensus it also destroyed any hope of a solution based on the two-state solution. By taking Jerusalem “off the table”, as Trump suggested, he was in effect telling Palestinians that there is going to be no deal.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the major sticking points in negotiations. While its fate is to be decided in future negotiations along with other final status issues – refugees, borders and settlements – Jerusalem carries a greater symbolic status. Removing Jerusalem off the table was probably the most effective way to dismantle the existing structure which governed the political processes between Israelis and Palestinians.
Finally, Trump’s decision has meant that the US, which has presided over negotiations, has disqualified itself – as if it hadn’t done so already – from a role as an honest broker between the conflicting parties. The Palestinian Authority (PA) signalled this shift by requesting the EU take on a bigger role while declaring American “exclusivity and monopoly” in the process was finished. The initiative is also supported by Palestinian campaign groups.
Did the self-proclaimed ultimate deal maker have something else in mind when he pronounced his intention to make “make the ultimate deal?” Jerusalem was and remains central to the two-state solution. Why would Trump decide to strike such a blow to what had been a fig leaf for occupation and ethnic cleaning? It may have had more to do with the vision of the “ultimate deal” amongst Israeli rejectionists and extremists within Trump’s own administration.
Aligned solidly with the Israeli right, Trump seems to have had something else in mind when he spoke about making peace. If Michael Wolff the author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”, is to be believed, then it appears that the Trump administration fully backs the plan proposed by extreme right-wing Israelis whose ultimate deal include handing parts of the West Bank to Jordan and letting Egypt take Gaza.
Of course it all sounds outrageous but when has anything Israel has done and Trump proposes been anything other than outrageous?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.