From the Arab perspective—and my own—the timing of President Donald Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem makes little sense. The peace process has been slow in developing under Trump, if it has developed at all, offering little sign of any progress that could temper the furor such a decision might generate.
Further, at a time when Trump and Israel are highlighting Iran as a threat, this announcement will reinforce Iran’s position in the region, because the leadership in Tehran will be viewed as opposing an anti-Muslim/Arab move with no real quid pro quo to the Palestinians from the Israelis or the Americans.
Administration officials supporting this decision appear to have forgotten history. The Palestinian and related rejectionist movements/groups of the 1970s to 1990s were born of a lack of hope for a Palestinian state as much as they were from animus toward an Israeli state. Those groups—Wadi Haddad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), Black September, Abu Nidal—proved effective in targeting aircraft, attacking airports, taking hostages, etc.
They were defeated as much by the progress of the peace process and the Camp David Accords as they were by the actions of the various intelligence services aiming to take them down. In short, when there is hope, extremist organizations born of political motivations will stand down or whither from a lack of support.
I worked to compromise these very dangerous groups and was involved in supporting various iterations of the peace process. Hope and the belief that the U.S. was a balanced mediator were crucial in stopping the cycle of violence.
I fear that these groups will rise again with this announcement, because it so undermines both of those factors. This unilateral decision, without real consultation with affected countries outside of Israel, will dash hopes for a Palestinian State, strike at the core issue of Jerusalem and again reinforce the perception that U.S. interests in the region rest solely with Israel.
Further, having seen the cycle of violence in the Middle East over Jerusalem or the peace process, we can anticipate both peaceful and violent demonstrations, with the most pronounced coming out of Gaza and Lebanon. The Israelis then will react with force, which is their standard operating procedure, fueling a further generation of Palestinians and others who will see no way to respond but with more violence, as they see the U.S. reneging on its commitment to all sides in the peace process.
The U.S. administration’s action on this front, as with its attempted support of the crisis the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia contrived with Qatar, only pushes allies closer to Iran, fragmenting alliances that have helped us regionally and globally.
Trump is likely to seize on any outpouring of frustrations and resulting protests against the pronouncement, especially if the reaction includes violence against Israeli or U.S. interests, to fuel his “build the wall” mantra and anti-Muslim/Arab measures. The Arab world, like everywhere else, has witnessed how the president is quick to circulate unfounded commentary on Twitter or elsewhere on the internet about actions by Muslims without apology or concern over the consequences, further substantiating the belief that the president is a bigot against Muslims and Arabs.
This pronouncement, without coordination with any country but Israel and accompanied by the president’s blatant dismissal of concern over the consequences, reinforces the already mounting questions over U.S. reliability and stability. The impact on the U.S. will be profound.