Pence Jerusalem Trip ‘A Kick in the Diplomatic Gut’

| Emile Nakhleh
Emile Nakhleh
Former Member, CIA's Senior Intelligence Service

The American vice president delivered another kick in the diplomatic gut to Palestinians, when he announced this week that the U.S. embassy would open in Jerusalem by 2019.

Vice President Mike Pence made the statement to the Israeli Knesset during a visit to the Mideast – an unnecessary provocation likely to rile not only the Palestinians but also America’s Arab and European allies.

Like President Donald Trump’s earlier pronouncements recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and declaring his intention to move the U.S. embassy there, Pence’s declaration places Egypt’s strongman, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II in a very delicate and difficult position vis-à-vis their people and other Arabs and Muslims.

Both leaders had counseled Pence during his recent visit against making such precipitous moves regarding Jerusalem and the embassy. They made it clear to him that the status of Jerusalem should be determined at the negotiating table in the final status talks, not through tweets and off-the-cuff presidential announcements. Both Arab leaders consider East Jerusalem as the capital of the future state of Palestine. Pence should have been aware of the fact that more than half of the population of Jordan is of Palestinian origin.

The Trump administration is underestimating the looming domestic threats to the Jordanian monarch that such rhetoric can cause. Pence’s announcement will likely galvanize and coalesce the domestic opposition to King Abdullah.

In Egypt, Islamist activists – extremists and mainstream alike – will also mobilize in their opposition to Sissi. It’s clear by now that neither Trump nor Pence have a clue about the political and social dynamics in the region and the emotional hold that Jerusalem has on many Muslims and Arabs.

Pence’s trip also solidified for Palestinians the view that the Trump administration could not serve as a legitimate peace broker, certainly not from the perspective of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian leader and Pence were actually in Jordan at the same time, but Abbas refused to meet with him.

The uncomfortable reality for Abbas, however, is that the U.S. remains a central player in any future peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, as has been the case since 1967. Although Abbas has been justifiably angry at Washington’s unilateral announcements on Jerusalem, and although he has received the support of the European Union and many other countries, in the final analysis, he will have to pivot back to the U.S. for any possible deal to work.

As such, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and in the diaspora, including Hamas in the Gaza Strip, should start a new and realistic conversation among themselves about what kind of political future for their imagined state they can realistically attain over the next five to 10 years. Once they arrive at such a formula, they must initiate high-level discussions with Israel – at first clandestinely and through quiet mediation, much as they did on the eve of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Of course, they could still wait out the Trump administration with the hope that Trump and his hard-right, pro-Israel advisers would have only three years to go.

As for Pence, his visit to the Middle East produced nothing substantive, other than giving him the opportunity to escape the government shutdown in Washington. His trip to Egypt and Jordan accomplished very little, beyond proving that those leaders would now meet with him, when they initially declined, in the days just after Trump’s Jerusalem announcement.

Pence may as well have reached out via Skype to reassure the Israelis about Trump’s commitment to Israel, instead of traveling thousands of miles at a cost to the American taxpayer of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Nor was he even able to sell our values to his hosts, especially as he failed to raise publicly the issue of repression and serial violations of human rights in Arab countries, particularly as practiced by America’s closest Arab allies. He did ask Sissi about the two American citizens who’ve been held in Egypt for nearly five years – but came home empty-handed.

The Author is Emile Nakhleh

Emile Nakhleh is a retired CIA Senior Intelligence Service Officer and founding director of the CIA’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program Office. Nakhleh is currently a Research Professor and Director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico. Since retiring from the government in 2006, he has consulted on national security issues, particularly Islamic radicalization, terrorism and the Arab states of the Middle East. Nakhleh holds a... Read More

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One Reply to “Pence Jerusalem Trip ‘A Kick in the Diplomatic Gut’”
  1. With all due respect, this post accomplished little of substance other than to play to the base bigotry of the Muslims who would deny that Jerusalem has been the capitol of the Jews for 3000+ years. One does not have to be a Trumper, and I am not, to understand that. What has the policy of bigotry towards Israel on the matter of Jerusalem gotten US policy in 70+ years? Israel is the only country apparently not allowed to declare what city is its capital. Having been to Jerusalem myself, I can say from 1st hand experience that the city should not be divided again. That does not mean that the needs and rights of non-Jews should not be respected. Objective people can make space for legit Muslim/Arab reps in Jerusalem. However, it is only when Israel has been in control that rights of everyone have been respected. Sharia Law, Dhimmi Status of Infidels, Jizya, Pact of Omar, Hudabiya, etc… These are the problems that should be rectified /reformed within Islam itself before their leaders can/will be capable of accepting real peace. If this analysis is what passes for American intel it is no wonder there have been so many high level blunders by the CIA. Not to mention so little progress towards real policy solutions by the people they advise.