Editor’s Note: James Zogby is co-founder and president of the Arab American Institute. He is director of Zogby Research Services, a firm that conducts surveys across the Middle East. He served two terms as an Obama appointee to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and is the author of Arab Voices. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
The opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem is dangerous, reckless and cruelly insensitive to the Palestinian people. The smiling Israeli and American guests at the opening ceremony on Monday – juxtaposed with the deadly protests occurring on Gaza’s border, where Israeli military forces have killed dozens of demonstrators – only highlights how removed from reality the Trump administration is.
And the White House’s invitation to two pastors, both of whom are known for making bigoted remarks toward other faiths, particularly Islam, to be part of the ceremony can only be seen as further evidence of the administration’s thoughtlessness.
While we have all grown weary of hearing the mantra – “this is the end of the peace process” – Trump’s decision may indeed be the nail in the coffin for any negotiated solution. In the first place, there is no peace process. It had instead been replaced by Israelis and Palestinians waiting for Trump aides to cook up “the deal of the century” – that is, until Donald Trump made his Jerusalem announcement in December.
And the situation has only deteriorated since.
From the beginnings of the modern “peace process,” there have been two fatal flaws that have hampered the effort: the asymmetry of power in Israel’s favor and the clear US bias in support of Israel. Trump’s action has accented both flaws. It has emboldened and rewarded the most hardline and intransigent elements in Israel, while weakening and compromising those Palestinian and Arab leaders who have put their trust in the United States. Since the United States under Trump doesn’t even pretend to be an honest broker, the President’s follow-up appeal to both sides – to continue to focus on achieving peace – doesn’t pass the smell test.
It must be recalled that when Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, its Republican authors, working with Israel’s Likud Party, or conservative party, viewed it as a poison pill that would sabotage the then still barely operational Oslo Peace Process. The legislation was a GOP/Likud slap in the face of both Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and President Bill Clinton.
The reason why US presidents, including Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have used the act’s waiver provision to defer its implementation was precisely to avoid this poison pill and to preserve some US peacemaking credibility. The pill has now been swallowed.
What the authors of the act and anti-peace forces in Israel and the United States knew was that Jerusalem is not to be toyed with. It is central to the narratives of all three Abrahamic faiths. For this reason, the architects of the UN partition plan set it aside as an international zone. When Israel entered the western side of the city in 1948 and later declared Jerusalem as its capital, the international community refused to recognize this decision. When Israel annexed a substantial area of Palestinian land in 1967 and declared the entirety of West and East Jerusalem as “Greater Jerusalem,” insisting that it was its “eternal undivided capital,” once again the international community did not accept this decision. Trump’s action, however, puts the US stamp of approval on Israel’s record of unilateral decision-making that runs counter to the resolutions of the United Nations and other international bodies.
Get our free weekly newsletter
For Arabs and Muslims worldwide, Jerusalem has become a powerful symbol, representing a century of betrayal by the West. Like the issue of Palestine itself, mention of Jerusalem evokes broken promises, brutal occupation by imperial and colonial powers, loss of control of history and denial of fundamental rights. Jerusalem is the wound in the heart of Arabs and Muslims that never healed. With his callous embassy move, Trump rubbed salt into this wound.
It was therefore absurdly insensitive and galling for the US President to couple his provocation with an appeal to Palestinians to remain calm and peaceful. He was, in effect, saying “I don’t care what you have suffered, nor do I care how unjust and illegal Israeli actions may have been. Just sit back and take it.”
The misguided among us may celebrate this embassy opening as a “promise kept” by this President, but for the overwhelming majority of the world, this will be remembered as the day Trump solidified the US role as a participant on Israel’s project of dispossessing Palestinians of their rights, and the day his administration dealt yet another critical blow against the already weak prospect of peace.